Barton Seaver's Lobster Tale
Our new seafood columnist shares the fishing culture of Maine, where butter-soaked crustaceans are a beloved way of life.
Decades ago, when I was a kid growing up on the Chesapeake Bay, I fell victim to the siren call of a tide pool: starfish, mussels, shrimp, minnows, hermit crabs, seaweed, and barnacles all suddenly on display through the shallow lens of a receding sea. And I began to wonder—as a future chef is prone to do—just what those little marooned creatures might taste like. Seafood has always been an exploration for me. It tells a story through the tastes and aromas served at our tables.
One of those stories I've come to know well is that of the Maine lobster. I now live just yards from a working waterfront, where clammers, scallopers, and lobstermen maintain the history and heritage of this storied place. The envisioned Maine—bucolic, quiet—is, in my neighborhood, a dynamic community animated with sounds of seaside lives in motion. Some 5,500 lobstermen—often fourth- or fifth-generation operators—work this water to put food on our tables. Our streets are avenues for diesel pick-ups, running to and from boats, the rumble of motors in the early morning buzzing like an Ibiza club. This rhythm is the heartbeat of life in Maine. To eat lobster is to experience our coastal culture. And, from a cook's perspective, Maine tastes good. Its signature crustacean is a delight every way it comes, but the meat of new-shell lobsters (those recently unburdened of their old, harder shells and ready to grow new, larger ones) is tender throughout with a snappy bite.
One of my favorite ways to prepare lobster is in a rossejat, a souvenir of my time spent living along the coast of Spain. The lobster in this dish lends rich flavor to pasta. And by boiling it, saving its juices and shell to be returned to the liquid, I make a flavorful broth. The dish is then finished under the broiler, the high heat causing the noodles to curl upward and crisp. The garnish of aïoli throws this dish over the top. Its garlicky perfume shines as the hot noodles take on its flavor. Rossejat, made fresh from the bounty of my home state, is just one reminder of the beauty of the sea that surrounds us. Seafood is the story of all coastal communities, and there are so many flavors to explore. So with this column, let's cook up some recipes, share some drinks, and rediscover the salty taste of place.
How to Buy Lobster
Always take the Maine route! New-shells are a summertime treat to look forward to, but lobster from Maine is available year-round. (Find retailers at lobsterfrommaine.com.) Select lobsters that are active, and avoid those that are sluggish or dead.