Lobster Diavolo

June  1, 2021
2 Ratings
  • Serves 2
Author Notes

If it's done right, Lobster Diavolo sings with the fresh, juicy tang of summer tomatoes and thrums with the gentle heat of chilis. When tossed with al dente pasta, the sauce provide a kicky backdrop that complements rather than overwhelms the sweet suppleness of the lobster itself. I like to keep the lobster in large pieces so it looks pretty on the plate, and I've always loved Esca's addition of fresh mint, so I adopted it myself. —Merrill Stubbs

What You'll Need
  • 2 pounds Roma tomatoes (or 28 ounces canned tomatoes with their juices)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for finishing
  • 2 fat cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoons red pepper flakes
  • Salt
  • 2 1 1/2-pound live lobsters
  • 1/2 pound spaghetti
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh mint
  1. Bring a medium pot of water to a boil. Core the tomatoes and cut a shallow “x” through the skin of the non-core end of each tomato with a sharp knife. Working in batches, gently lower the tomatoes into the boiling water for about 30 seconds, until the skin begins to peel away from the cuts you made. Remove the tomatoes from the water with a slotted spoon and set aside until they are cool enough to touch.
  2. Peel and then roughly chop the tomatoes and set aside. Pour the olive oil in a shallow, heavy saucepan and set over medium-low heat. Add the garlic and cook for about 3 minutes, until fragrant and softened, but not browned. Add the chili flakes (start with half if you’re not sure about the heat – you can add more later) and cook for another minute or two.
  3. Add the tomatoes and any juices, along with a few generous pinches of salt and stir through. Raise the heat to medium and let the tomatoes come to a simmer. Turn the heat down to low and simmer gently for 2 to 3 hours, until the tomatoes have completely broken down, adding water as needed to keep the sauce from drying out. When the sauce is ready, taste for salt and add more necessary. Cover and set aside.
  4. Bring an inch of water to a boil in a large stockpot. Add the lobsters to the pot and cover. Cook for 15 to 20 minutes, until the lobster’s antennae can be easily pulled off. Remove the lobsters from the pot and set aside for a few minutes to cool a little
  5. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of generously salted water to a boil. Add the spaghetti and cook until still quite al dente. Reserving about half a cup of the pasta water, drain the pasta in a large colander and set it aside while you finish up with the lobster.
  6. To remove the lobster meat, twist both claws off the body at the shoulder joint. Use a lobster cracker or the back of a chef’s knife to crack the shell and remove the claw meat. Use a pick or a small fork to pry the meat from the knuckles, twisting at the joints to separate one knuckle from the next. Twist the lobster body from the tail and discard. Twist off the fans at the tail, and then gently insert your finger into the opening, pushing the tail meat out the other end (it should come out in one beautiful piece). Clean off any roe, fat and green goo, and remove the vein if you like by peeling back the strip of meat on the top of the tail.
  7. Keep the lobster meat in a warm place while you finish up the pasta: Turn the heat to medium underneath the pan with the sauce. Add the cooked pasta and some of the pasta water, using tongs to toss the pasta in the sauce. Add a splash or two of olive oil if you like. When the pasta is well-coated in the sauce and warm, arrange it among two shallow, warm bowls. Slice the lobster tails into ½-inch medallions and arrange these, along with the claw and knuckle meat, on top of the spaghetti. Drizzle with a bit more olive oil and sprinkle generously with mint. Serve immediately.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • ChefJune
  • mrscorkhoarder
  • Merrill Stubbs
    Merrill Stubbs
  • dymnyno
  • TheWimpyVegetarian

29 Reviews

d6d July 19, 2022
It's good!
ChefJune June 25, 2014
Merrill, this sounds fabulous -- mint and all! I neither know nor care about the origins of Lobster Fra Diavolo. I only know that if you've never enjoyed it at the little tiny storefront on Hanover Street in Boston's North End (The Daily Catch) you should be sure to do that next time you're in Boston. it's divine, and the setting is perfect. The family who owns The Daily Catch (in all its locations) are also fishermen so needless to say they keep the best of their catch for themselves. :)
Julie H. November 6, 2013
I'm excited to make this 11-7 (tomorrow night) for my 15th Wedding Anniversary Dinner. I'm going to use Langoustine Lobsters instead of live lobster! Thanks for sharing this recipe!
Ann March 8, 2012
Sorry Knitbead if you took it personally. Frankly, I wouldn't make the recipe as described (particularly with mint). It was not my intention to insult a chef who took careful steps to create a new spin on a hundred year old dish. In retrospect, many Italian dishes have evolved and adopted new ingredients (depending on many factors, including the availability of core ingredients, etc).

With that said, maybe I was a bit dramatic ("...neopolitan chefs spinning in their graves..."), but I guess I used those words due to a nostalgic connection I have with the dish.

Civility is lacking in the anonymity of the internet - I take this opportunity to apologize to those offended.

We are all, however, entitled to our opinions.
Kristin M. December 31, 2018
I agreed with your comment and did not in any way find it lacking in civility. When I first read the recipe I thought the addition of mint was a misprint. I appreciate ingenuity and adaptation of recipes. However, I feel it is critical when referring to a dish that it is called a name that reflects what it really is. This dish should not be named something that insinuates it is what has been the standard recipe for generations. Fine. Add the mint. But at that point, the dish is something else. Maybe the mint is a lovely addition. But call it lobster pasta with tomato, red pepper and mint. I grew ever weary of the cultural appropriation of the culinary world these days. Especially with regards to Italian cuisine and the of them incorrect usage of Italian words. Fra Diavolo...Lobster Diavolo...What was the big difference there? I have a lot more respect for a chef who puts a spin on a classic and owns it as a new creation instead trying to call it something that rides on the coat tails of something someone else created. I'm sorry, but semantics matter, especially when you are borrowing from someone else's culture, heritage and language. That being said I am quite curious to test this recipe with the mint, the idea has intrigued me.
knitnbead February 8, 2012
Came across this recipe while perusing many others and couldn't help but read the critical interpretation that Charles D eluded to. What is that guy thinking? Maybe he should write a book on the life and times of Lobster Fra Diavlo. I found his critical and insulting view of a recipe completely out of line and not suited for comment like his. Let him not make this recipe and keep all of his insulting comments to himself. If he doesn't like this recipe, don't make it.
Ann January 3, 2012
As much as I can appreciate a variation of a classic dish, there are many neopolitan chefs spinning in their graves over the corruption of a dish that was invented in Naples at the end of the 19th century. The original dish was brought over by early Italian immigrants who settled in New York's Little Italy.

"Calamari Fra Diavolo" is cited in early food books, including "The Knife and Fork" in the 1930's. It was popularized by a restaurant called "The Red Devil" located on West 48th Street in NYC. The name "Fra Diavolo" means the Devil Monk...and the Red Devil was originally located across from Most Precious Blood Church on Mott Street - perhaps the dish was named in homage (OR insult ?) to the priests / brothers who were the restaurant's neighbors.

Later, when seasonal Maine lobster was plentiful in its summer restaurant located in Long Beach, New York , the "Lobster Fra Diavolo was born. (NOTE: Long Beach was a favorite summer retreat for wealthy Italian Americans beginning in the 1920's. Mario Puzo used Long Beach as as the locus of the family estate of the Corleone Family in his book "The Godfather")

Calamari Fra Diavolo, was a dish that sought out by ArturoToscanini, May West, and Charlie Chaplin at the the Mott Street location of the Red Devil. It was the signature dish of the restaurant.

NEVER did it contain MINT! It was simply sauteed garlic, hot pepper, white wine, tomatoes in cracked whole lobster (which became infused with the fiery flavors!) .

So, please do not bastardize a 120 year old classic dish just to make a point in a food website! That would be like making meatballs out of yak meat and yogurt! That wouldn't be a meatball! (call it something else! but don't rock tradition!)

Incidentally, my Uncle Frank Vincenti, was one of the proprietors of the Red Devil and he was a purist about that dish! He would have scoffed at the inclusion of anything other than its basic ingredients (as stated above).
Merrill S. January 3, 2012
CharlesD: While the detailed history of the origins of Lobster Fra Diavolo is appreciated (and very interesting), the tone in which you share it is not in the spirit of this site, which is about constructive community and a shared love of good food. I understand that you have personal feelings about this dish, but I specifically did not call it by its full name, "Lobster Fra Diavolo" because it is not intended to be an authentic version, rather one inspired by an interpretation of a classic idea by a chef I admire (as noted above). Regarding your second to last paragraph, I'm not sure what "point" it is you think I was trying to make -- I was simply trying to share a recipe that I find delicious.
Barb M. June 14, 2017
Good for you! I felt exactly the same way when I read Charles D's posting. Not the usual friendly, helpful, kind and upbeat postings I always find here.
Gia August 28, 2021
My Great Grandfather owned the Red Devil on Mott and Broome and later 111 W 48th! I would love to hear what you know from your uncle. I have a lot of excerpts from the restaurant that I'd be happy to share.
Bill H. April 27, 2022
Ann, I've been trying to write a short history of The Red Devil. Would you be interested in exchanging information?
mrscorkhoarder October 12, 2011
Made this and LOVED it. The tomato sauce alone is a beautiful one and the lobster puts it over the top!
Merrill S. September 18, 2011
Great to get everyone's thoughts on the lobster killing subject. Having grown up spending every summer in Maine, I think I'm just used to the whole plunge-the-live-lobster-into-the-pot thing. But I think this recipe would work just as well with pre-cooked lobster (from a trusted source), or lobster tails.
TheWimpyVegetarian September 18, 2011
dymnyno September 18, 2011
Re: killing the poor lobster. I remember many years ago a controversy arose about the method of killing crabs at Fisherman's Wharf. It was decided that the humane way to kill the crab was to gently heat the water so that the warm bath put the crab to sleep and then cooked him while he was unaware of what was happening. (This worked fine on the first batch of crabs but the next batch just got dumped into boiling water!)
TheWimpyVegetarian September 18, 2011
Another little spa treatment. Kind of....
dymnyno September 18, 2011
Just read about 2 more methods; one is called the Crustastun (really) which electrocutes the lobster and another method is to freeze the lobster for a while before throwing him into the pot. I am definitely getting too much information!
Rescie September 18, 2011
I'm with the person who adores lobster in any guise but could NEVER put a live lobster in a pot to burn alive. But will eat them in a restaurant when I know full well they did it. This recipe looks fantastic so I'll have to buy the ingredients, prepare the recipe up the burning alive of the lobster and then take a walk while my friend does the dirty deed.
TheWimpyVegetarian September 18, 2011
I can't do it either. When I was in school we used a method of killing them that involved slicing something on the top of their head where the head meets the body. Honestly I wasn't able to do that either, which is why my description is so vague here, but apparently it kills them instantly although their bodies still move around a bit. Perhaps someone here can explain this much better than I. We worked in teams, thankfully, and I was more than happy to prep everything for the bisque, for example, and leave the lobster to a teammate who was willing to do the deed. But like you, that doesn't stop me from loving lobster in a restaurant. After all, I like chicken too, at times, but I'm not cutting its head off and plucking it either.
hardlikearmour September 18, 2011
One summer I worked as a prep cook at a posh tennis club, and there was a big lobster boil for the members. I can't tell you how many live lobsters we boiled, but it was a lot. My job was to remove the rubber bands from them after they were cooked. The experience got me over any squeamishness I might've had about boiling them live.
TheWimpyVegetarian September 17, 2011
This looks just wonderful and brings back so many memories of living in Boston and dating a guy in Portland, ME. I'll have to see if I can get a lobster - otherwise I might end up using those gigantic shrimp I see sometimes, although I know it won't be the same. Either way, saved this one to make really soon!!
BostonDiner September 16, 2011
It appears that the chili flakes have been left out of the recipe version. That's the diavolo portion.
Merrill S. September 16, 2011
Thank you so much for noticing -- will add them now!
boulangere September 16, 2011
I feel so reassured when someone of your stature does something like this.
Merrill S. September 16, 2011
dymnyno September 16, 2011
Wonderful! I just got back from the East Coast, including Nantucket, and lobster recipes have been on my mind.
MeghanVK September 16, 2011
Looks great! This might be a dumb question, but what makes it "diavolo"? The tomato sauce? I don't think I've ever seen diavolo without the "fra" so I don't know!

I'm too much of a softie/wimp to boil lobsters alive, so I get the fishmonger to kill them with a knife between the eyes and then steam them after - since I only eat the tail and claws I figure it doesn't really matter if the body gets waterlogged. Probably a bit hypocritical, since I have no issues eating restaurant lobster that obviously gets stuck right in the water, but it works for me!
Merrill S. September 16, 2011
"Fra" means "brother" in Italian (hence, "fra diavolo" means "brother devil"). Street and Company in Portland, Me just calls their version "lobster diavolo," and I kind of liked the simplicity of that, so I went with it! And yes, the "devil" part comes from the chilis in the sauce.

Lobster is a tricky subject, to be sure -- I love the first lines from Mark Bittmans' recent column about lobster: "The pleasure of eating lobster is intense, and the reward-to-work ratio is unsurpassed, all of which is fun to talk about. What’s not so fun to talk about is lobsters and pain, which is why I’m going to avoid it."
MeghanVK September 16, 2011
@merrill - thanks for the info. I loved that Bittman column.