Where I live, lobster continues to be a luxury. They are trapped off the Cotentin peninsula, and they arrive at the market in their star strewn indigo shells as prizes, bought and cooked for only the highest of holidays or family celebrations.
The case in Maine is not the same. Here where I am visiting, the lobster is revered and adored of course, and it is highly sought after. But it is ordinary, too, enough that a treat for a Maine native now turns more to pork, artisanally crafted head cheese, squid ink pasta with local sea urchin roe, a golden, syrupy squab. Why? Because Maine lobster is plentiful and, for the last many years, it has been cheap, thus less prized.
This is tough for the lobster men and I’m sorry for that. Nonetheless what it means to a visitor like me is that the simple order of a lobster roll yields a mountain of pinkish lobster meat, tender, toothsome and sweet. Served between slices of buttered and fried white bread, it becomes something heavenly. A lobster roll or lobster sandwich in Maine is like a grilled cheese anywhere else; comfort food, slightly greasy in the way that makes your whole body tighten for a moment with a big “Oooh, that is soo good!”
The lobster roll/sandwich pictured below was my first lobster moment here and it afforded me that moment. I had another when the friends I’m staying with opened their front door and found three live lobster on the porch, deposited there moments before by a lobstering friend. I was thrilled beyond reason. We cooked the lobster just enough to set the meat, which I extracted and chilled. I melted a good amount of butter in a pot and crushed the bright red shells into it. These I sauteed until the butter began to turn pink, then I poured in enough water to generously cover them. This simmered for an hour or so, then I strained it and used that liquor to make a chowder.
The process was simple – a few diced onions and potatoes sauteed in butter until the onions softened; the lobster liquor to cook the potatoes almost through, cream, milk and some lemon zest heated until little bubbles ringed the surface. Once that was blistering – but not boiling – hot, I added an ample amount of cubed fresh and smoked haddock (finnan haddie) and, at the very last minute, the lobster meat, which I’d thickly sliced. The whole heated together, then sat for two hours on the stove before being reheated, spiked with hot pepper flakes and salt, and served. The “aging” on the stove is vital – it sets the flavor and adds depth.
The chowder was divine. And so is Maine, and so are lobster.