Monday, August 6, 2007

Cooking Lobster

There is something reassuring about looking out from the porch of our cottage and watching the changing of the tides in our neck of Casco Bay. We are just a few feet from the water, somewhat elevated in the trees, and where we are the bay stretches to a narrow point where it ends. The sailboats sit at their moorings off in the middle where it's deep enough. For when the tides recedes, all you see for a couple hundred yards from shore is mud.

Then the tide brings the water back, about eight feet of depth, so that you can step right off the marsh grasses where we tie up the dinghies and where the kelp lays in thick matts and go for a swim.

It seemed like everyone was loafing more than usual yesterday, just reading the papers and catching up on the first-place run the Red Sox are having. The ladies drove off to Portland to look at art and none of the guys had enough energy to make a plan for sailing. So we didn't shove off till well into the afternoon. But then our sail on the old Hinckley sloop, which Shannon keeps in tip-top condition, turned into a bit of an adventure. A light breeze swelled into a 15-knot blow, to where we (meaning Shannon) had to switch out the jib for something smaller and also take a reef in the mainsail.

That made things a bit more pleasant for Shelly, Meg and Hank, who were complaining quite a bit about the boat being somewhat severely heeled over to the starboard side. Now the plan was to sail till about cocktail hour, then make a beeline back to the marina so we could cook lobsters for 13 persons.

As you might imagine, lobsters are something of a preoccupation here in South Freeport, Maine. We talk about eating lobster pretty much every day and actually do eat some maybe every other day. John, Shelly's husband, got bored Saturday around lunch time so I walked with him 15 minutes to the local lobster shack, formally called Harraseeket Lunch and Lobster for referred to locally as The Harraseeket. It wasn't as crowded as I would have expected on a Saturday but still a little before noon. So we walked down to the lobster pound window and placed an order for two "large" lobsters (about 1.5 pounds) and two soft drinks. This set us back $61. Lobsters are not cheap, even in Maine, although you do get a generous break if you cook them yourselves.

Our lobsters were ready in about 15 minutes. Meanwhile, the picnic tables surrounding the lobster shack were beginning to fill and a long line was forming at the take-out window. The lobsters arrived perfectly cooked, almost too hot to touch, on a Styrofoam tray with napkins, a slender plastic picking fork and a small container of melted butter.

This time of year you are served "peeler" lobsters, meaning the lobsters have recently molted, or shed their old shell, and are forming a new shell that is still soft. In fact, the shell is soft enough that you can break it apart with your bare hands. So that's what you do. Start with the legs, breaking them apart at the joints and sucking the meat and juices our. Then work on the claws, where so much of the good meat is and chunks big enough that you can dredge it in the butter. When you've finishes those, pull off the tail and crack it down the middle on the underside. This frees us the meat so you can slide it out all in one piece. You should have several good mouth-fulls, also dredged in butter.

Now it's time to do a little fancy digging, pulling the shell part off the middle portion of the lobster where the legs were once attached. Inside you'll see some wavy, finger-shaped appendages that look like meat but are really the gills. These are not edible. What you need to do is crack open all the small compartments in amongst the cartilage and pick out the many smaller pieces of flesh that are located inside. This is the true skill of lobster picking, locating these small pieces of meat. Shelly is an expert and truly enjoys it. That's why we always give her our lobster carcasses after a meal, because she will sit there and find so much meat we didn't even realize was there, and save it in a bowl for tomorrow's lobster rolls (more about that later).

Inside the lobster you might also find a green goop commonly called the tomale that is the liver. Many people spurn the liver but anyone who's tasted it and has any sense at all knows it is delicious.

So after we got back to the dock from our sail we bought 20 lobsters for something like $6 a pound. I filled a bucket with sea water down at the beach and we cooked the lobsters in two batches in a big pot set over a propane burner outside the cottage. Several leftover salads were served as well and two big bowls set on the dining table for the shells. Then things got pretty quite for a while as people satisfied themselves cracking lobsters and dredging the meat in butter and drinking white wine and getting their hands all greasy.

When we'd had our fill, Shelly and Meg started the process of scooping out the remaining lobsters and tracking down any stray bits of meat for the next day's lobster rolls.

Our seven-year-old daughter, meanwhile, has become reacquainted with her friend Alice who lives in South Freeport and they were supposed to have a sleepover at Alice's house nearby. But just as we were finishing our lobsters the girls and Alice's mother showed up, explaining that a Daddy Long Legs had found his way into the girls' bed and the sleepover had to be cancelled.

Those are the kind of things that happen when you're on vacation in Maine.

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