Last night, I worked a New England Lobster Party. Judging from appearances, the lobsters didn’t find the occasion particularly festive. To be fair, I’m not sure I would be able to tell a lobster on a wild jag from a lobster who’s looking forward to a quiet evening at home.
No permanent injuries were sustained, we lost a couple of glasses of wine to flying lobster juice, obvious hallmarks of a good party.
And happily, no lobster posses rode in to the rescue –
One of the chefs on the party had worked with lobsters a lot, and since I (and the other chef) had not, he went through the basics with us. How to tell a female from a male –
Those little pink appendanges in the middle (from what I can glean on the interwebs, these appendages are called a swimmeret on the female and a gonophore on the male), will be either hard or soft. Soft for female, hard for male.
The females have denser meat and roe sacs, if you’re into that kind of thing.
They cook in boiling water for about 8 minutes, until their shells are red and their meat opaque.
While some allege the little bands on their pinchers leach flavor into the water, we were of the opinion that this is probably not so. Furthermore, having untrained students wrestle their prey was maybe not the best way to have them return for another class.
So each guest got a 1b lobster that looked something like this
kept in a big box in the fridge so the cold would render them sluggish, and when the time came, unless they wanted us to do it, they chucked their chosen meal into the boiling water.
Once the cooked lobsters were all lined up on the trays ready to be cracked, I couldn’t help feeling a sort of sadness. “You were alive just a minute ago. I saw you. I shook your claw and introduced myself. You seemed to enjoy that. Marginally. And here you are now, lifeless and still.”
I had a completely different reaction in school when we had to kill crawfish. I was the one who got them out of the cooler, and believe me, the cold didn’t render those kids sluggish in the least. As I was pitching them from their cardboard prison into their final holding cell, a stainless steel bowl, one of those lil’ jerks pinched me. I definitely don’t blame him. I would have done the same. But my first thought, after the predictable, “ow”, was “That’s it, buddy. You’re going to be the first one into the pot.”
I think I would have felt better if those lobsters had been unbanded and had had a fighting chance. I think I would have felt better if they hadn’t all been huddled together in the cold in a carboard box, though I’m sure the waters they swim in are far from warm. I realize I’m anthropomorphizing, but still, it doesn’t help me to know that they’re insects of the sea.
I don’t think I could ever be a vegetarian, but I do gain a new respect for life and its wonder and fragility any time I eat a living thing, particularly if I see it live before I eat it.
So I renew my vow to always approach my food with reverence, especially if it was once alive, because it sustains my own life, and the lives of those I love.
I’m jumping on the Meatless Monday bandwagon.
I already eat vegetarian from time to time, but never “consciously”, and so as part of my renewed awareness, I think that would be a positive step.
That’s not the only thing I learned from the Lobster Party. I also remembered that beurre blanc tastes great with seafood, and here’s my lemon-variation of Escoffier’s classic sauce.
Lemon Beurre Blanc
1 shallot, minced
1 lemon, juiced
1/2 cup of white wine
1/4 cup heavy cream (optional – helps stabilize the sauce)
2 sticks of cold butter cut into tablespoons and kept chilled
In a small saucepan on medium heat, combine the shallots, lemon juice and white wine and reduce until almost dry.
For a richer, more stable sauce, add the 1/4 cup heavy cream and reduce by half.
Drop the heat to low and whisk in the butter one piece at a time, adding the next piece when the last piece is almost incorporated, constantly whisking, until all the butter is incorporated or the desired consistency is reached. Finished product should be pourable, but should coat the back of a spoon. Think thin hollandaise.
If it’s getting too thin or separating – take it off the heat and whisk in a couple pieces of cold butter immediately. If it separates entirely, you will most likely have to start again.
If it’s getting too thick – stop adding butter and heat slightly. Can also be thinned with warm water.