I've mentioned before that I like it when circumstances force us to confront what our food looks like in pre-processed form prior to preparing and consuming it. It's a link to reality and a small hole poked in the cocoon of antiseptic and artificial modernity that embraces us.
That feeling was put to the test this weekend, when my good friend Roger and his wife Andrea — now sadly moved to New Jersey — sent us a lobstergram.
A lobstergram does not, as you might expect, involve someone showing up at your door dressed as a lobster to sing a song to you. Instead, Roger having carefully assured via an extremely suspicious phone call that I did not have elaborate plans on Saturday, I was greeted Saturday morning with a white styrofoam chest delivered FedEx overnight on my doorstep. It was a sizeable chest, as if someone was sending me a kidney for transplant. But when I brought it in, I encountered two live Maine lobsters under several layers of bubble wrap and over a layer of ice bags. They were somewhat sluggish, but definitely alive and quite irritable.
Katrina immediately fled to the other side of the house, and informed me in a loud voice that she would not be cooking the lobsters or involved in or proximate to their cooking. She's happy to eat lobster, but refused to be involved in the process, sending me to do the dirty deed. I, on the other hand, agree with the House Stark: if you cannot look a lobster in the eyestalks, and hear his last words, and do the job with your own hands, then perhaps he doesn't deserve to be dropped headfirst into boiling water and then rent apart and dipped in clarified butter.
I have to admit that I did not know how to go about doing what needed to be done, lobster-wise. Once, when Katrina was away with the kids, I purchased a live lobster from Fish King, an extraordinary seafood market nearby. However, I have no memory of the cooking process. As I recall I also made a cake and two elaborate side dishes to go with the lobster, and in the several hours it took to do so made and drank a rather large blender-full of margaritas. So alcohol, as they say, was involved. The next day I woke up on the couch and there were bits of shell scattered about the kitchen, and my hands were crisscrossed with odd cuts, but suspiciously large parts of the lobster were missing. Did I cook the lobster? Did I fight it to a draw? Did I discard the carcass in the outside trash? It's a mystery.
Anyway, the lobstergram comes with cooking instructions that are both complete and relentlessly upbeat (eat it with someone you love! set a mood! That's not the lobster screaming, that's air escaping from the shell!) I hit the store with the youngest kid and got the makings of a sinful chocolate cake, large shrimp for starters, braised green beans with garlic and tomato, and oven-roasted red potatoes. The kids were slopped early and hustled to bed early, protesting bitterly. Then, fortified with a carefully restrained volume of Killian's Red, I faced both my own fears of inadequacy and two live lobsters.
Actually, the cooking part was easy. I picked the lobsters out of the cooler and made some initial observations.
- Wow, they really look like huge insects from the underside when they are still alive.
- They can really flip that tail around fast. You could totally put a lobster in one of those console fighting games, and it could bash things with a tail-flip attack.
- Given that our cats are frightened of caged rats, it should come as no surprise that they are also afraid of live lobsters. But I'm a scientist; I do not assume. I test. Were they afraid? Yes. Would fear be enhanced by pursuing them around, waiving live lobsters and saying "Lobster attack! Lobster attack! They are here to EAT OUR CATS!!!"? Yes.
- Did I mention that they look like huge freaking bugs? Yes. That makes what comes next easier.
Eventually it was time for the Deed. Ultimately dropping them in the boiling water was anticlimactic. Am I a sociopath? If so, I'm unlikely to go on a killing spree, because there was no fun or pleasure in it. They turn red quite fast.
The hard part was tearing them apart after cooking. I knew that Katrina would complain if she had to work for the meat. She doesn't even like to use a knife. So, nutcrackers in hand, I released most of the meat. Warning: lobsters fresh out of a pot of boiling water will be hot, resulting in hand burns. Second warning: lobsters have spiny bits and their shells are sharp when broken. As a result, by the end of it my hands looked like I'd been in a short knife fight with the Human Torch.
Was it worth it? Yes. A nice bottle of Riesling soothed my hands. The meat was perfect. As always, the claw meat was particularly succulent. And I could say I had cooked an entire lobster dinner from scratch.
Next up: baby seal.
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