Lobster Fra Diavolo
Aragosta Fra Diavolo

serves: Serves 4 to 6

Although this recipe has all the makings of an Italian dish, everything I have read points to its being an Italian American invention, most likely conceived in New York. In Italy they do make a lobster sauce with which they dress pasta and risotto, but it is in the form of brodetto, seafood stew—lighter than the Italian American Fra Diavolo, made with onions instead of garlic, and without oregano. Here I give you a delicious version that is a combination of both traditions.

2 1 1/2 pound lobsters
1½ teaspoons kosher salt, plus more for the pasta pot
1 pound spaghetti
All-purpose flour, for dredging the lobster
½ cup vegetable oil
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 medium onions
3 garlic cloves, crushed and peeled
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 28-ounce cans Italian plum tomatoes, preferably San Marzano, crushed by hand
½ to 1 teaspoon peperoncino flakes
½ cup fresh shredded basil leaves, packed


To prepare the lobsters: Use a large chef’s knife. If you wish, stun the lobsters a bit by putting them in the freezer for 15 minutes. Put the tip of your chef’s knife on the lobster’s head, about 2 inches or so back from the eyes. Push the knife straight down, then through to split between the eyes. Hold the lobster with a towel where the claws meet the body, and twist to remove the claws. Twist or break the claws from the knuckles, and crack both with the back of the knife to make it easier to open when serving. Twist walking legs off the body. Split the lobster body and tail in half lengthwise, clean body cavity, leaving the tomalley (the green digestive part of the lobster). Cut the tail from the body.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil for pasta. After you have simmered the sauce with the lobster for 10 minutes, slip the spaghetti into the boiling water, and cook until al dente.

Spread the flour on a rimmed baking sheet. Dredge the cut-side pieces of lobster body and tail (but not the claw pieces or walking legs) in the flour, tapping off the excess. Pour the vegetable oil into a large Dutch oven, and set over medium-high heat. Slip the body and tail meat into the pot, cut side down, and cook just to seal the meat, about a minute or so. Remove the pieces to a plate. Add the claw pieces, and cook just until they begin to change color, about a minute. Remove the claws to the plate.

Pour off the vegetable oil, return the pot to medium heat, and pour in 3 tablespoons of the olive oil. Add the onions and garlic. Saute a few minutes, then add ½ cup of the pasta cooking water, and simmer to soften the onions, another 2 to 3 minutes. Increase the heat to let the water boil away, and clear a space in the pan to make a clear dry spot. Plop in the tomato paste, let sizzle a minute or two, then stir the tomato paste into the onions. Add the crushed tomatoes, and slosh out the cans with 2 cups of the pasta water, adding those to the pot as well. Bring the sauce to a rapid boil, and stir in the pepperoncino and salt. Add all of the lobster except for the tail pieces, and let simmer until the sauce is thickened, about 10 minutes. Add the tail pieces, and simmer until the meat is just cooked through, about 2 to 3 minutes more.

When the sauce is ready, transfer about half of the sauce (without the lobster) to a large skillet, and bring to a simmer; add the cooked and drained pasta. Drizzle with the remaining tablespoon of olive oil, and sprinkle with the shredded basil. Toss to coat the pasta with the sauce. Serve the pasta in shallow bowls, with extra sauce and the lobster tail pieces over top.