One problem with living inland is the general lack of an ocean. And one problem with a general lack of an ocean is the accompanying lack of fresh seafood.
Now, I love where I live, with its lakes and forests and mountains. And I love the little yellow perch my husband brings home from ice fishing in the dead of winter. A summer trout is lovely too.
But it’s not lobster.
In August some friends in Maine let me and the kids come for an ocean visit and, as often happens when we visit Maine, a lobster feast happened. I brought what I could from our garden — corn, potatoes, cabbage and lettuce — and they provided the lobster.
Soon we had four conversations and four burners going at once in the kitchen, with pots of increasing sizes for butter, corn, potatoes and lobster.
Suddenly there were 11 around the table, ranging in age from highchair to grandparents, talking, laughing, eating and passing the butter. Our conversation was pretty basic:
“This is the best lobster I ever had in my life!”
“Anyone want another piece of corn?”
“Pass the potatoes, please.”
“I love lobster!”
“Who has the butter?”
“John! Stop it!”
That last one was for the guy who kept poking his fiancé with a lobster antenna.
While we were in Maine we also went out to a place famous for its lobster rolls, but we opted for big, meaty fried clams. Our conversation was equally boring: “These are the best clams I’ve ever had in my life!”
What can I say? We are clearly seafood deprived.
When I lived in Seattle, back when salmon went for under $2 a pound, I’d treat my East Coast visitors to a salmon feast. I’d get a whole salmon at the market, bone it and fill the cavity with sliced tomatoes and fresh herbs, wrap the whole thing in foil and grill it while we steamed whatever vegetables were in season.
The salmon’s been overfished out in the Pacific Northwest, and the catches are much more regulated to restock the waters. I don’t think we’ll ever see prices as low as when I lived out there in the ’80s.
Maine lobster prices have been incredibly low this year, and as we were saying our goodbyes to our friends, they told us where we could get some at $3.99 a pound.
We always bring home lobster for a feast with my husband, who is too busy with gardens, haying and animal tending in summer to leave home. (That’s also why he does his fishing in the winter.)
There have been times when lobster prices were too high, and we came home with scallops, mussels and fish. This year we brought home four pretty big lobsters for a total of $24 — about what you’d pay for a lobster dinner at a nice restaurant somewhere.
And even though it was almost 9 p.m. when we got home, we cooked them right away, with more corn and a big salad. They were, I believe, the second best lobsters we ever had.
We boil the shells for stock, for future bisques and chowders.
Here’s how: In a large stock pot, sauté some onion, carrots and celery, rough chopped (maybe a cup each for the shells of four lobsters). Add the lobster shells and cover generously with water (10-12 cups). Bring slowly to a simmer, and add fresh thyme, parsley and rosemary, and let the pot simmer for an hour. If you have a cup of white wine on hand, add that too.
Don’t let it boil hard. It gets foamy, so you might have to skim some foam off, and you’ll have to strain the stock. A cheesecloth-lined colander works well, but improvise if you don’t have that. The stock freezes well — I use freezer bags.
Last weekend, my son and I took my daughter back down to school in New York City. After we hauled her suitcases from Penn Station to her home, we met up with some friends who celebrated our visit by taking us out to a fish market for lobster rolls.
I know the lobster season around Long Island has not been good in recent years, and lobster fishing is suspended now through November in an attempt to boost the population. So I might have been eating another Maine lobster. I didn’t bring any home for my husband because, unlike in Maine, they cost $11.97 a pound.
But they sure were good. The rolls were toasted, buttered and lined with dark green lettuce leaves, then stuffed with big chunks of lobster tossed in a very light dressing.
I think it might have been the best lobster roll I ever had in my life.