(RE)CON­SIDER THE LOB­STER

Skip the spe­cial oc­ca­sion. And the pot of boil­ing wa­ter, for that mat­ter. Buy and kill your own, then cook this stately crus­tacean the way our an­ces­tors did:

SAVEUR - - Contents - By Stacy Adi­mando

An ode to our fa­vorite crus­tacean and a case for the char­grilled treat­ment it de­serves

over hot coals

Eat­ing lob­ster can be an el­e­gant af­fair, but the process of get­ting it to the plate is more of an ad­ven­ture. Plan to do a lit­tle dirty work. I re­mem­ber this as I buy a 9-pound sack, carry it home, and brace for what’s next—bring­ing the knife down hard into the lob­sters’ cara­paces; the sand­pa­pery sound of salt and oil rubbed onto the brit­tle shells; crack­ing apart the joints and clear­ing away the rain­bow­col­ored in­nards; and the siz­zle of the cold shells hit­ting the fire. For now, I place the bag in the fridge and ready the ac­cou­trements for a grilled lob­ster din­ner: sweet-smelling corn, inky blue pota­toes, and soft golden bars of but­ter.

The regal rep­u­ta­tion of lob­ster runs deep. Their scar­let red bod­ies graced the cen­ter of Dutch oil paint­ings in the 1600s, mo­saics on the din­ing-room floor of an­cient Pom­peii, and the po­etry of Vir­gil’s Aeneid and Walt Whit­man’s Leaves of Grass. But lob­sters have prim­i­tive be­gin­nings—a fact that’s easy to re­call when you see their spiny bod­ies crawl­ing across a tank.

The crus­taceans are part of the arthro­pod phy­lum, which in­cludes spi­ders and mos­qui­toes, and ac­cord­ing to fos­silized shells found on Bri­tish shores, they have been eaten as far back as the Stone Age. Back then, the crea­tures weren’t del­i­cately pre­pared, nor were they pe­tite. Our an­ces­tors prob­a­bly caught big­ger, eas­ier-to-spot ones, maybe as large as 45 pounds. The meat would have been tougher and plucked out, raw, and eaten with their hands. Ac­cord­ing to El­iz­a­beth Townsend, au­thor of Lob­ster: A Global His­tory, coastal com­mu­ni­ties in Africa, who dis­cov­ered fire al­most 2 mil­lion years ago, were likely the first to cook them—and first to dis­cover that their dark shells turn bright red when roasted over hot stones. Later civ­i­liza­tions, across South Amer­ica and Europe, be­gan boil­ing them and pre­serv­ing the meat by dry­ing it with smoke or soak­ing it with brine and bury­ing it in the sand.

It wasn’t un­til the mid 19th cen­tury, af­ter haute French chefs be­gan ex­per­i­ment­ing with lob­ster, that it be­came a food of the elite. Amer­i­cans fol­lowed suit—scal­lop­ing, fric­as­see­ing, pot­ting, dev­il­ing, and sim­mer­ing the meat in white wine with cayenne and nut­meg—be­fore de­vel­op­ing a much sim­pler and wildly pop­u­lar ap­proach in the 1930s: the lob­ster roll. Even doused in but­ter or may­on­naise on a white bun, it was con­sid­ered to be spe­cial, as over­fish­ing had led to scarcity.

Due to metic­u­lous in­dus­try ef­forts over the past few decades, the num­ber of large-clawed Amer­i­can lob­sters has steadily in­creased. In fact, the pop­u­la­tion is now sta­ble in Maine, which is why the Amer­i­can lob­ster is also known as the Maine lob­ster. Land­ings (or lob­sters sold) in the state have surged from 20 mil­lion a year in 1980 to a record of around 130 mil­lion in 2016, mak­ing it one

of the most suc­cess­ful fish­eries in the world. Prices have dropped ac­cord­ingly, while lob­ster restau­rants, co-ops, and food trucks have con­tin­ued trend­ing up.

Now that laws dic­tate lob­ster can only be caught and sold at the ideal weight for eat­ing, be­tween 1 and 2 pounds, their taste is con­sis­tently bet­ter, too—es­pe­cially when cooked in straight­for­ward ways. “We boil or steam lob­sters,” says Cyrus Sleeper, a lob­ster­man and long­time local in Spruce­head, Maine. “Or, oc­ca­sion­ally, we grill them.” Just as our an­ces­tors did and just as I plan on do­ing.

But first there’s some work to be done. While en­joy­ing the finest caviar at home re­quires noth­ing more than in­vest­ing in a tin, the finest, most ten­der lob­ster imag­in­able re­quires stick­ing a knife into a liv­ing thing. I pull the sack out of my re­frig­er­a­tor and work up the courage to plunge a fore­arm into the bag’s open­ing. A curved, ridged shell squeaks be­tween my fin­gers and I quickly pull it up­ward and out. In my hand, the lob­ster arches his blue-black claws and tail up and back like a sky­diver, re­veal­ing a pretty orange un­der­side. I pay my silent re­spects and set it atop my cut­ting board. As I pick up the knife and be­gin to slide it in, a rush of adren­a­line hits—a mix of dread and de­light that I’m sure I’m not the first to feel.

While it looks gnarly, many be­lieve that cut­ting firmly through the tip of the cara­pace is the most hu­mane method of killing a lob­ster.

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