On seven different yet glorious occasions, I have spent Labor Day week (or close to it) aboard the Victory Chimes off the coast of Maine. The three-masted schooner sails without an engine or motorized power and goes largely where the winds carry it.
It is a week of bliss, in which the breeze carries away with it every last care in the world and sets you free from the stresses that lurk ashore. Even when the threat of a natural disaster clouds the picture, the mere fact of being on board the boat is enough to make rejuvenate in a way that no other trip can. (And I say this having been on the boat during the threat of Hurricanes Katrina and Ike and the memory of having been aboard the week before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.)
My favorite night aboard the boat is lobster night. Heaping bowls of steamed lobster are set in the center of each of the three dining tables and the 30 or so guests, along with the captain, enjoy the freshest and finest crustaceans from the sea. It’s a kind of all-you-can-eat affair in which you draw lobster after lobster or ears of corn until you’ve had your fill.
I honestly don’t know the definition of too much on such occasions. I once had four lobsters and while I could have had more, I was gentleman enough to allow my friend Carol to have five that evening. (We had two vegetarians and three people who didn’t eat shellfish at our table, and we graciously allowed them all the corn they wanted. It’s called manners. It’s the way we were brought up.)
I didn’t get to sail this year, but I have learned that the season has been both a blessing and a curse when it comes to lobster. So many lobsters have been harvested that the prices are rock bottom, which may not be great news for the fishers, but it is for us diners. Even in San Antonio.
Groomer’s Seafood has been offering lobsters fresh from Maine at prices less than most of us would pay for beef. Check out their specials on Facebook or call (210) 377-0951.
Still, I had not cooked lobster on my own, and that conjured all sorts of flashbacks of “Annie Hall,” fears about cooking anything alive, and fears of cooking something different that was considered a luxury item. What if I messed up? Would the money be wasted?
I had planned on boiling the lobsters in salt water, but I changed my mind when I read the following about steamed lobster in the 1997 edition of “Joy of Cooking” (I know this is the maligned edition, but I actually prefer it to the others): “There is only one good reason to boil lobsters instead of steaming them: If you are cooking lobsters in batches — say, eight or more, so there is no way you can fit them all into the pot at once — each one flavors the broth for the ones that follow. But for the average meal, steaming is faster an easier (if you can steam broccoli, you can steam lobster). You can use this same procedure for king crab legs or Dungeness crab as well.”
Well, that had me convinced that steaming was the way to go.
It worked perfectly, too, with clarified butter and lime slices — not to mention a little coleslaw and a bottle of 2005 Chateau St. Jean Le Petite Etoile Vineyard Fumé Blanc. But it wasn’t the end of the meal.
The shells went into the oven to dry out so I could make lobster butter and, in accordance with the guidance of a local chef known as Tatu Von Munster, it went into lobster stock, using the shells and the water in which the lobsters were boiled. He also suggested lobster mayo, but I didn’t have enough shells, though it did sound good.
The point is, lobster is now affordable, probably more so than monkfish, which used to be known as the poor man’s lobster. So, what are you waiting for?