My mom grew up in Maine and they say in her family that we go back seventeen generations in the state. She has a huge extended family there, and she is basically the only person who has ever left. Lobster chowder was a special treat for special occasions (plain fish or clams would have been more everyday fare). Over the years I have played around with this family recipe, infusing the milk with herbs, sprinkling chives and black pepper over the top, or substituting bacon for the salt pork or fingerling potatoes for the russets. In the end I have come back to the recipe as enshrined by generations of plain Maine people. The simple combination of sweet lobster, onions, and warm milk works beautifully just the way it is. The russet potatoes are key as they dissolve and break up and add thickness and body to the soup. If you have the time to let the soup set overnight it will be the better for it. Be very careful in reheating it though, the milk can separate and curdle if heated too vigorously.
To cook the lobster(s): Heat about 4 inches of water in a very large pot. Add a generous amount of salt—it should taste like sea water. If you like, add some lemon, celery, thyme, or peppercorns. Cover and bring to a very high boil. Uncover, add the live lobster(s), and immediately re-cover. Cook until the shells turn red and you can easily crack an antenna, about 10 minutes. Remove the lobsters and let cool. The cooked lobsters can be refrigerated for up to 2 days.
To remove the lobster meat: Twist off the tail. Remove the tail shell by grabbing both sides and turning out to open the tail like a book.
Remove the flesh. (Or use scissors and cut lengthwise along the underbelly of the tail. You could also crack and take off the bottom area of the tail and push the meat out from the bottom.) Twist and pull off each claw. Use lobster crackers or scissors to crack the large claws and knuckles, or whack the claws with a large knife. Extract the flesh with your fingers and cut or break the flesh into bite-size pieces.
To make the chowder: Melt the butter in a large saucepan or Dutch oven over low heat. Add the salt pork and let it render for 3 to 4 minutes. Add the onion and a pinch of salt and cook until the onions are translucent, about 7 minutes.
Add the potatoes and 2 cups water and simmer gently until the potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes. Add the milk and then the lobster meat and simmer gently together for a few minutes until the flavors meld.
You can serve immediately, or chill the chowder and reheat the following day. If you want to be extra fancy, you could sprinkle a couple pinches of sweet paprika over the top.