I had a wonderful long weekend on the coast of Maine- on the hunt for my favorite food … Lobster! This was my first trip to the East Coast and I was really excited!
First thing to keep in mind- lobster isn’t cheap. Of course I knew that- but somehow thought because it was local it may be cheaper than in Ontario-I was startled to be charged 60 dollars for a lobster dinner. I could barely believe how many people had the money to eat at the lobster shacks … a small lobster roll is 18 dollars. Bring cash … that is what they accept and bring your own booze. I love it that you can do that … you feel so naughty as if you are cheating the restaurant system. But it sure feels mighty fine …a cold brew or chardonnay with that most delectable ocean jewel.
In just about 36 hours I ate lobster 3 times … it was one of the most delicious food odysseys and I was determined to consume as much of that difficult but delectable denizen of the ocean as I could.
Lobster memories are deeply rooted in me. As a child my father would make it a lobster ritual where he would bring home live lobsters, set the huge pot on the stove and drop the creatures in one by one. I remember how he would squeal with glee, as the lobsters’ screamed, turns out it is the sound of the air rushing out of the shell. But as a young girl it seemed altogether horrid. That never stopped me from drooling in anticipation of the most delicious treat.
As a family of ten- eight kids and two parents … most of who adored this orange crustacean-there was never very enough to go around. It was worth the scrap I would start with a sibling to secure that extra morsel of lobster meat. Looking back I suppose that is how I learned to get every bit of meat from it- I adored the intensely lemony drawn butter that I am still tempted to drink as it holds the taste of lobster. It is that empty feeling when all that is left is an enormous shell and lemon butter!
I was brought to tears several times while eating outside at the lobster shacks … each experience was unique but the taste and the beloved ritual was eternal. It somehow tied me back to my beloved father. I felt that I could surrender my entire being into this act. I felt no shame at either choosing or holding the beast that was to become my feast. Nor did I feel any shame in devouring it with such gluttony.
If you follow my blog you will be more than well aware that my dad was a pirate at seafood buffets and no one could stop him. He was legendary in his ability to devour the entire inventory of steamed lobsters that adorned the table. There was never ever enough seafood for Mike. He waited patiently for the Club’s scheduled SEAFOOD buffet event and was always the first to arrive. He would grab the linen napkin and tuck it just under his tie and the biggest grin would start to spread across his face as he anticipated the night’s piscine bacchanalian feast. I was never more proud of my father.
My mother adored the tinned lobster-she used to lovingly make it with lobster meat- chopped celery- diced tomatoes- lemon and lots of Hellman’s Mayonnaise. I recall they stored the tins of lobster behind the cashier’s desk after it became one of the top stolen items. Frozen lobster, which I will still buy from time to time – $24 dollars – it was my sister’s favourite treat –
I still prepare it the way my dad taught me. Place a pot of water to boil on the stove- open the lid of the frozen lobster, place it in the pot and gently boil until done … right in the can. The live lobsters were served with my mother’s famous beurre blanc. She never cooked that much but no one made sauces like her. Her real secret was to reduce the lemon juice until it had intensified and almost evaporated and then she patiently added cold knobs of butter- Mother had the patience to be a saucier. She never thought twice about holding up Christmas dinner to place the gravy in the freezer to chill the grease for easy removal -My dad would be shouting “ Theresa … the dinner is stone cold, where is the gravy?” My mother stood there nonplussed waiting for her delicious gravy to be De–fatted- It was always worth the wait.
While in Maine- our first stop was the Lobster Shack at Two Lights in Cape Elizabeth, Maine. In most of New England, a casual restaurant where you eat steamers, fried clams, or lobster at harbor-side picnic tables is probably called a “clam shack” or “lobster shack.” In Maine, though, it’s likely to be a “lobster pound.” This one was situated right on the water with the iconic lighthouse and waves crashing in – it was a great intro to the lobster shack idea. However, I was startled to see it was an assembly line … you could not choose the poundage of your lobster, it came with horrid fries, a packaged overly salted bun and some miracle whip coleslaw garnished with a tired pickle and packaged lemon juice … yes it was …all this for 29 dollars! Still hungry, I ordered a lobster roll … it was 17 dollars and
the base of the undersized hot dog bun was filled with lettuce and it had the tip of the claw meat – a total rip off! It had barely 2 ounces of lobster meat …who could afford this I asked. My companion ordered shrimp … deep fried popcorn shrimp 300 / pound … a deep fried disaster.
For the second weekend of May it was just plain cold … there were lots of empty picnic tables outside over-looking the ocean which was fun but it was too cold to eat outside … the Shack itself had very few tables. The good part is that we got to bring our own wine and beer- that shaved 30 percent off our costs and it feels so good to cheat the system. The place was jammed with tourists and we were equally guilty- after a disappointing dinner and looking at the desert array – a bunch of oil based cream desserts we passed. I did take time to enjoy the iconic ocean scene and strolled along gathering stones and shells -I do this on all my trips. I feel like Lucille Ball in The Long Long Trailer.
We stayed in the home of LL Bean – A tourist town filled with retail temptations of all
sorts- Freeport, Maine. However, I decided I had to go visit the Pigs Can Fly Bakery instead of shopping at all the high end stores- far too tempting and I was still recovering from that spending spree at a similar mall in California. I wanted Bread! I always look for a bakery first in any new town I go … it is my litmus test.
This was the best decision I could have made- the Pigs Can Fly Bakery in Freeport is a warm and happy place … lots to sample and the bread is delicious and comes in so many flavors that I ended up walking out with four loaves. The bakery has a huge variety of savory and sweet sour dough breads – all chocked full of fruit, nuts. Condiments to eat along with it and baked goods- huge cookies- I had the Skor Chocolate – yummy! We nibbled on the blueberry bread pudding as we headed out to another lobster feast.
Our next spot recommended by the friendly staff at When Pigs Fly in Harraseeket for a lobster breakfast. This was the lobster shack I had envisioned. Here were the Lobster meals that come with coleslaw and fries and an enormous menu of all things that swim in the water … many destined to be deep-fried. At the back was the real deal where you could order your seafood straight up … it’s your job to deconstruct your meal. They had oysters and crabs and lobsters. I decided it would be chardonnay and lobster. We strolled along the dock as we waited for our lobsters to be perfectly steamed straight from the chilly Atlantic. They had boat tours to the local island if you wanted to go for a hike …a nice change from the usual tours where you sit and sip.
The “BIG BOY” was delicious and the ladies that proudly presented it to me pre- cooking were smiling when I returned the cracker to collect a 2 dollar deposit (I guess too many folks have walk out with them), I told them just how happy they made me, placed a nice tip in the jar and they were waving saying come back soon- and I will!
After a picture-taking walk in a state park- we were the only ones in the forest. We were headed to our final destination, the road to get there was sketchy – far out of the way and all these boats and lobster traps sitting out on small farm like plots … I could hardly believe water was anywhere in sight. Out of nowhere we hit gold- the ocean. We saw lots of happy people eating seafood even if it was freezing- at the Five Islands Lobster Company in Georgetown, Maine.
It was a funky set up and most of the fish was sold out- a good sign when you are calling your fish fresh. My companion, tired of lobster ordered a cod sandwich that came with fries- I ordered a “big boy” lobster over 2 pounds and I kept on adding ounces until my last dollar was accounted for. These places only take cash! We waited and shot pictures of this iconic Maine lobster fishing village until my lobster was delivered to me with a rock to break open that angry red shell! Fresh lemons and a small tub of drawn or clarified butter- I drank red wine and to keep warm a shot of Canadian whiskey or two! The persistent Laughing and Herring gulls were determined to steal a piece- but I let none go.
Elizabeth’s Ode to a lobster:
The best way to eat lobster is just boiled with loads of clarified butter and lemon. I don’t like eating anything else at the same time – Kind of the same way I feel about corn -I prefer to focus on the total food experience because all parts of the meat taste so different.
If you don’t want to kill the lobster call your local super market ahead or visit and order a few lobsters that they steam as you shop. Much to the chagrin of the lobster farmers the price has remained stable for years … around ten dollars a pound and most of the lobsters you see swimming in the tank are one pound … they are called chickens. It is a great bargain instead of paying 30 dollars at the Red Lobster.
Here is my favorite lobster salad recipe in tribute to my mother:
Theresa’s Lobster Salad
A kitchen rasp and hand lemon squeezer are great to have and come in very handy with this recipe- and a SHARP knife-
1/3 – 1/2-cup mayonnaise- I insist on Hellmans
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 lemon, juiced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 stalk finely chopped celery
1 finely chopped green onion
2 tomatoes finely diced- remove excess juice if there is any
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh tarragon or chervil leaves
1 tablespoon finely chopped chives- use less if you would like
3 lobster tails cooked (about 1 pound lobster meat), chopped
Lemon slices, for garnish
I like to serve large wedges or lemon halves – it’s easier!
1-Push down on the lemon to encourage the juice to run then zest the lemon with a rasp and then squeeze out the juice.
2-Combine mayonnaise, lemon zest, lemon juice, salt and pepper, celery, green onion, tomatoes, tarragon or chervil and chives in a bowl.
3-Add lobster meat to mayonnaise sauce and combine.
4-Serve this in lettuce lined martini glasses, over Boston lettuce, with endive spears and avocados, hearts of palm or with freshly steamed artichoke hearts with extra lemon to squeeze all over. Or even as they do in Maine in a hot dog bun- I would prefer a lightly toasted ciabbata bun.
This is great with Sparkling water, Chilled Californian Chardonnay such as Rodney Strong , Provence’s Chateau Minuty or a really frosty beer- like Stella Artois.
Serve a refreshing sorbet or berries soaked in Limoncello with a light crisp cookie like a French tuile or gaufrette (very easy to buy) to end this perfect light summer lunch.
Sante from Chef Elizabeth