Tackling a Ten-Pound Lobster
Village Farm Market is the last retail store on Beach Road, leading to Cape Cod’s Nausset Beach—a wide swatch of sand and cold Atlantic waters, perfect for various tourist activities as well as fishing and seafood harvests.
After spending the day at the beach a couple weeks ago, in the dwindling days of a summer vacation with my family, I walked into the store, up to the teen working the counter, and said, “I’m here to pick up Bob.” The teen smiled, called back for his boss, Dan, and relayed the message in a voice that others in the store could hardly ignore. I smiled back with the pride of a tourist “in the know.” You see, large lobsters on Cape Cod are called “Bob,” and my Bob was a whopping 10 pounds.
Dan arrived with Bob tucked in a waxy cardboard box and advised me to cook him in a steamy cauldron, lined with large rounded stones to help with heat loss. I planned to use the formula of eight minutes for the first pound, and three minutes for each additional pound. He explained steaming is preferable to boiling because “who wants all that extra water?!”
I paid for Bob, thanked Dan, and brought Bob out to the car to show Julie and the kids. Sonia, my eight-year-old, was less impressed than her more critter-friendly younger sister, Georgia, and decided to sit opposite Bob. It didn’t take long for the inevitable question of Bob’s fate to arrive. Georgia was unfazed, and searched out crumbs amongst her car seat for a snack for Bob, but Sonia was distressed, and swore a teary pledge not to eat Bob. She also requested a camera to make a farewell memorial video* for him. I obliged her request and Sonia filmed her goodbye ... (*audio is key)
After seeing her distress, I decided it might be best to feed the children and get them safely to bed before we adults (there were seven of us in all) performed any lobster last rites. Arriving home with night approaching, Julie prepared hot dogs for the kids. I meanwhile prepared a pot with large stones, which I collected from a twilight-lit levee abutting the beach.
I never much care for killing creatures and have mixed feelings about my animal desire for meat and my human desire not to cause suffering. At work though, lobsters suffer far more than at home. Working at Aquavit, I always skewered them alive, through the intestinal cavity to keep the tail meat long, straight, and more attractive. I had to hold them down firmly, being careful not to break the intestines while the lobsters kicked in protest. At D'Amico Cucina, another former employer now defunct, I used to dismember the unfortunate creatures, boiling the claws, seasoning and sautéing the split tails (the exposed flesh dancing with the addition of salt and pepper) and cleaving the heads into pulp for use in sauce.
In comparison, steaming felt benign. After steaming, I cracked the claws (no easy feat, I had to re-use one of the stones from the beach to get through his tough shell) sliced the tail meat, and generally tried to make Bob attractive and easy to eat.
An animalistic feeding began. The limited conversation centered mostly on the benefits of large lobsters versus the more normal 1½-3 pounders. Firstly, cooking and eating any size lobster at home is always an event, luxurious and decadent, but a 10-pound beast roaming your kitchen before taking center stage, bright red and steaming on your table, represents a spectacle of a different order. The process alone captivated our attention more than any gustatory considerations.
Then, there is the discomforting issue of killing a creature who roamed the seas for a long, long time. Lobsters grow by molting—that is, they shed their hard carapace, pulling themselves out limp and vulnerable before regenerating a new, limey and mineral-rich shell. While it is impossible to accurately age the creatures, most estimates put them at 5-7 years per pound. Also, lobsters do not seem to deteriorate in older age, remaining reproductive into their dotage, and possibly living over 100 years.
As to the delicacy, I refer to Dan’s appraisal (please insert a heavy “Petridge Farmie” style accent for effect): “Big lobsters are the only way to go. The leg, head, and knuckle meat is awesome. The tail? The wife can keep that.” The normally prized tail and claw meat chews a bit tougher (I sliced it thin and against the grain, like a flank steak, so tender or tough was less of an issue), but the smaller, usually not-worth-the-effort parts, are now much bigger, more succulent, and more worth the digging. Enormous chunks of meat lay in the base of the leg joints, deep into the head cavity. The knuckle-meat, similar in size and texture to a thick scallop, might have been my favorite. The meal ended as it began, with a sense of awe and with calls for more wine.
We arrived home this week, just in time for first day of school, and I wanted to know more about monster lobsters here in the Twin Cities. So, I called Tim Lauer from Coastal Seafood. He told me that with some advance notice he could get almost any size. He recalled that when the Minneapolis Hilton opened he had arranged for some 25-pound invertebrates for their grand buffet table (grand indeed). He explained to me that Coastal Seafood gets their lobsters from companies in Maine, Canada, and Massachusetts, where they are “pounded” in ocean pens for up to six months before their claws are banded and shipped, predominantly during the Christmas and New Years season when American demand is highest. Tim ended the conversation, opining that while a big lobster could be fun, he would stick to lobsters under 3 pounds for prime flavor and texture.
I find no better words than Sonia’s to summarize the breadth of the experience: “[b]ye, bye Bob.”