First, we were regaled with tales of lobster orgies at a former Lindbergh summer home on a secluded Maine island--complete with lobster breakfasts in addition to a series of 2-lobster-per-person dinners--a couple of weekends ago when Team Matador came up for a visit from New York. Then we watched Julia Child's "The Lobster Show" on The French Chef. Traditionally, lobster season around these parts begins around Mother's Day, with peak season for Magdalen Islands lobster lasting from about May 10 - July 10. We were a couple of weeks late in having our very own lobster feast, but at least we'd gotten ourselves properly primed.
Lobster Monday was a miserable Victoria Day or Dollard Day or Patriots' Day or whatever you want to call it (May 22, for those of you tuning in from outside Canada and/or "la Belle Province"). We'd already been thinking about having lobster, but the weather was so depressing that day we decided we needed something good to eat to compensate. We made a trip to Nouveau Falero and when we got there our decision was made. Their lobster tank had a number of feisty fellows bullying their way around, picking fights. We locked eyes with a couple of 1-lb+ specimens and took the poor guys home with us. These were fairly modest lobsters, somewhere in between "chicken" lobsters and "select" lobsters, nowhere near as big as the 4-lb "jumbo" lobster that dominated the tank at Nouveau Falero, not to mention the near-20-lb "behemoth" lobster Child had on her show, or the almost 4-ft long, 45-lb monster that was caught off the coast of Virginia, of all places, in the 1930s--any bigger and they would have really unnerved the cats.
Child's episode had provided us with two possible routes to take with our lobsters: hot and cold, basically. Because of the raw weather that day we were leaning towards the hot version, but there were things about her cold lobster method that appealed to us--namely the way she turned the lobster's "tamale" into a tasty sauce*--so we settled on a "warm" version.
What you need:
1. You need a rather large pot and maybe even a stock pot (if you're cooking more than one lobster or if you've opted for some oversize "Big Bertha"-type lobsters) and you should fill it with salted water and bring it to a vigorous boil.
2. You also need some shell crackers (kitschy "lobster-colored" and "lobster claw-shaped" shell crackers optional) and a good pair of kitchen scissors.
3. Abundant amounts of napkins and/or paper towels are also good to have on hand.
4. Finally, you should have some lemon sections and some drawn butter** on hand. If you're planning on dawdling, you might need one of those contraptions that keeps a sauce warm over a candle or other heat-emitting tool, but we made do without just fine.
Now, you could go frou-frou with your lobster and make a whole host of elaborate dishes with it, like Homard à l'Americaine, Homard à la Bordelaise, or Homard Brillat-Savarin, but there's nothing like the pure simplicity of a boiled or steamed lobster meal, or grilled lobsters if you're feeling a bit more adventurous and you're okay with chopping them into parts live. Somehow keeping it simple takes things back to the days when lobsters were a working-class staple of the coastal-dwelling people of New England, the Maritimes, and Quebec, back before the days when John D. Rockefeller, Sr. and his party were accidentally served a lobster stew intended for the servants downstairs, an unfortunate error that would change the status of the Homarus americanus forever, or so the story goes.***
For a simple boiled lobster meal, you need only toss them into your pot of vigorously boiling water and cook them for 5 minutes per pound. When done, a cooking thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the lobster tail should read 165º F. The only other thing you need to do before serving is to drain the lobster of any excess water that might have filled the exoskeleton during the cooking period--just poke a hole into the lobster's head with a knife and hold it upside-down to allow the water to drain. When that's done you're ready to serve. If you want to cool the lobster so that you can handle it comfortably, you just need to place it under cold running water in a colander.
The Maine lobster is without question the world's most famous lobster, but this has a lot to do with the cultural status of America and the diligent work of the Maine lobster lobby, not to mention the fact that Mr. Rockefeller's apocryphal lobster meal was said to have taken place on his estate on the mysteriously named Mt. Desert Island, just off the coast of Maine. In spite of the celebrity of Maine's lobsters, the American lobster can be found as far south as South Carolina, but the Canadian catch is well over twice as big as that of the United States, and the southern end of the Gulf of St. Lawrence is the world's largest lobster breeding ground. That being the case, there's a good reason that Montrealers have long been serious about their lobsters and that this time of year it's almost hard to find a restaurant that isn't offering some variation on the ubiquitous "Festival d'Homard."
Our first lobster meal of the year was the first time either of us had ever boiled lobsters live, it was also Michelle's very first lobster meal ever (!). I came from a lobster-eating family, Michelle most certainly did not. Boiling the lobsters was kind of a big deal for both of us, but we made peace with our catch and dealt with them as humanely as possible: head-first. I thought I'd seen Michelle at her happiest during a couple of crab meals we had over the last year--one on our trip to San Francisco, and one just a few weeks ago when we had snow crabs here at home. The lobster meal took the cake, though. When it came to eating crab, Michelle was happy to show off her admirable patience and attention to detail. When it came to lobster, though, Michelle found that struggling a lot less but somehow still getting rewarded with enormous pieces of tender lobster meat has its charms. Not only were the cats suddenly a lot less unnerved by the presence of these two crustaceans, they had it the easiest of all. Their lobster meat came fresh and au naturel, with no shell to deal with whatsoever.
*To make this tasty sauce: scoop the "tamale" of each lobster into a bowl. Actually, on second thought, scoop out its tomalley/tomally. What we heard as "tamale" was actually Child saying tomalley (or tomally, as some people prefer). Previously, in all the years I'd eaten lobster, I'd only ever known the tomalley, the lobster's liver, as "that green stuff." Then we watched "The Lobster Show" and I was fascinated to learn that "that green stuff" had an actual name beyond "lobster's liver." Of course, in our ignorance we misunderstood dear Julia: "Oh, that's so cute. It's called the 'tamale.'" Thanks to one of our lobster-savvy readers for setting us straight. Anyway, getting back to the recipe: add homemade mayonnaise, Dijon mustard, minced capers, parsley, and chives. Stir well. Add salt and pepper to taste. If you're not a tomalley person this sauce'll make you a believer; if you are a tomalley person, all the better.
**To make drawn butter: place your butter in a small saucepan and melt it over low heat. When the butter has fully melted, remove it from the heat and set it aside. When the milk solids have settled, pour off the clarified butter on top into a serving dish. That's it.
***Oysters Rockefeller is testament to the fact that John D. had a similar impact on the formerly lowly oyster.