Arguably, no food is more synonymous with Maine than lobster. Every year, people come from far and wide to feast on lobster, and locals enjoy their share of it as well. When most people think about lobster, they think of it in the traditional boiled or steamed form, served with corn on the cob, cole slaw, and maybe some steamers. The bright red lobster, preferably hard shell but sometimes soft, depending on the time of year, is the holy grail of many seafood fans.
But, eating your first lobster is a rite of passage, particularly if it is hard shell. Many of us have seen the couple at the table in the restaurant, having just had their lobster placed before them, looking somewhat perplexed at just what to do next. Sometimes, the first approach is with a knife and fork, which is quickly abandoned. Perhaps there’s one of those place mats on the table that explain, step by step, how the diner is to proceed, or maybe the wait staff or a fellow diner is kind enough to give some advice. It is almost always welcomed.
Several winters ago, a young couple from upstate New York was having lunch at a local restaurant, and apparently decided that it was time for their first lobster. Once served, they obviously had no idea how to proceed. Being winter, there were few enough people in the restaurant that everyone was aware of the situation, and being Mainers, the fellow diners were more than generous in helping the young couple out. The waitress, in particular, was helpful, and explained how the tail was to be approached. But when the young woman began to push the tail meat out, she did so with such force that the tail flew into the air and, as everyone gasped, the tail dropped onto the floor with a dull thud. It lay there for a few only a few seconds when the waitress scooped it up and told the young woman to wait. A few minutes later, the waitress returned with a steaming lobster tail, shelled, and put it on the young woman’s plate. She finished it without incident, and has probably enjoyed many others since.
Whatever the specific case, the first lobster is always an adventure. But it is well worth the initial trial.
And what’ s good about lobster is its great variety. The simple boiled lobster is just one of many different ways that it can be enjoyed. Consider the lobster roll, perhaps the second most popular way of eating it. What can possibly beat large chunks of lobster meat, with just a touch of mayonnaise—no filler, please—on a grilled hot dog roll. My preference, by the way, is that the roll be sliced across the top, not the side.
Another popular version is baked, stuffed lobster. Take a cooked lobster, split it down the middle, stuff it with a cooked mixture of breadcrumbs and seafood, drizzle a little butter on it, and then bake it. It is scrumptious, and the lobster meat is absolutely delicious.
Then there’s lobster stew, and there are as many varieties of this as there are of clam chowder. If you want to make it yourself, just take some lobster and combine it with butter and cream, and add a spice, dill, for example. You’ll have a simple, but complete, and completely delicious, meal.
The possibilities are endless. Just look at the menu in almost any restaurant that serves seafood or pick up a cookbook and check “lobster” in the index. Varieties range from the lobster savannah pictured on the cover of this publication to lobster ravioli to lobster pilaf, and on and on.
For one of the most unusual, and best, track down a recipe for pasta with lobster, chorizo sausage, and peas. It’s an odd combination of ingredients that results in a spectacularly tasty dish.
But, whichever version you might try, you can’t go wrong. There’s a reason why when so many people come here to vacation they are sure to eat lobster at least once. And there’s a reason why Mainers consider lobster a state treasure.
And to think it was once considered so ordinary that it was primarily served to prisoners!
How times have changed.
Jim Kanak is a reporter at the York County Coast Star.