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September 5, 2012

Have You Had A Lobster Today?

by Barbara Fernald

It has been a strange summer for Maine lobstermen. The unusually early appearance of shedders (hungry new-shell lobsters that are coming out of hiding to find something to eat), the abundant spring fishing season in Canada, and large hauls in local waters are contributing factors to a record-low price paid to lobstermen for their catch. The lowest price paid, as of mid-August, at the Cranberry Isles Fishermen’s Co-op was $1.60 per pound of lobster. When I purchased a container of fancy French olives to take as a hostess gift to a recent dinner party, Bruce commented that I could have just brought them 10 lobsters instead.

There have been numerous news articles pondering the “whys” and the means to deal with this crustaceous glut, but there is no immediate answer. Better marketing would help, but not necessarily the marketing of a cook-it-yourself soft-shell lobster. It’s risky to ship a live product, in the most fragile stage of its annual growing cycle, beyond a certain distance in the heat of summer. That’s why people travel to Maine, instead, to eat these lobsters when they are at their tastiest.

The members of the Cranberry Isles Fishermen’s Co-op have been meeting weekly to consider alternate markets, discuss prices being paid by other dealers and be supportive of each other at a remarkably uncertain time in their business. Family and friends wonder what we can do to help them out.

One thing we all can do is eat. More. Lobster. Buy it as locally as possible; either directly from the lobstermen or from the dealer he or she sells to. Are you having a dinner party? Serve lobster. Want something for a ladies luncheon? How about lobster? Going to a community potluck supper? You already know my suggestion of what to bring.

Steamed lobster served with melted butter is still my favorite presentation when I’m only eating it a few times a month, but are you up for the creative challenge that comes from eating lobster more often? I am. For my mother’s birthday in July, I made a lobster quiche and she loved it. Bruce served dinner for 10 at our house a few weeks ago. His lobster pasta with lemon cream sauce was the best I’ve ever had.

One of my favorite dishes at the Islesford Dock Restaurant is a chilled melon soup with lobster. I asked the owners, Cynthia and Dan Lief, if they would share the recipe. They were more than happy to direct me to their chef, Kirby Sholl, who gave me the lowdown on his modified recipe from a cookbook by Sara Jenkins.

Chilled Cantaloupe Gazpacho with Lobster (serves 6)

1 cantaloupe melon
1 honeydew melon
2 medium cucumbers, seeds removed
2 tablespoons diced shallot
2 cups plain yogurt
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
1 teaspoon salt (to taste)
2 cups olive oil
3 lobsters, cooked and picked
6 to 12 thin slices of prosciutto
mint oil*
beet chips

In a food processor blend 1 cucumber, half of the cantaloupe, and half of the honeydew. Pour mixture into a large bowl and set aside.
Blend the remaining melon halves and cucumber. Add in the shallot, yogurt, and sherry vinegar, and blend again.
With the processor running, add the olive oil in a slow steady stream to emulsify the mixture.
Whisk the emulsion into the bowl with the reserved fruit blend.
Chill the soup for 3 hours.

To serve: Place thinly sliced prosciutto in bowl, add 1/2 of a lobster tail with the meat from one claw, and ladle in cold soup. Garnish with a drizzle of mint oil (instructions below) and add a few small beet chips.
(The beet chips seem to be a secret, but the color and texture go so well with the soup, I would find a recipe for them online or just buy a bag of Terra™ chips and place some red ones in the soup, right before serving.)

Mint Oil
Blanch 2 handfuls of fresh mint and half a handful of spinach. Pat dry and blend in food processor with 1 cup olive oil. Chill mixture for 1 day. Strain through coffee filter before using.

Another way to deal with a surfeit of lobster is to pick the meat and freeze it in milk. I admit I haven’t tried it myself, but I know several people who have and they say it works very well. I sure would enjoy a lobster stew on a cold night in February when Bruce’s boat is out of the water and the lobster prices are high. Frozen lobster would also be handy to have on hand for the main course bread pudding I concocted last week.
Savory Lobster Bread Pudding (serves 4)

4 eggs
1 cup skim milk
1 cup half and half
4 cups Pepperidge Farm corn bread stuffing

4 tablespoons butter
1 medium onion, diced
5 oz. shitake mushrooms, sliced
2 cups or more chunked lobster meat (3 medium-size shedders cooked and picked)
1 clove garlic, crushed

Juice of 1/2 lemon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
2 teaspoons fresh thyme or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

In a mixing bowl, whisk eggs lightly, then whisk in milk and half and half. Stir in stuffing and set aside.
In a frying pan, over medium heat, melt butter, add onion and mushrooms; sauté gently for 4 minutes.
Add lobster and garlic; gently sauté for 2 more minutes. Remove from heat and stir in lemon juice, salt, pepper, and thyme. Cool.
Add mixture from frying pan to the egg and stuffing mixture. Stir in 1/2 cup of cheese.
Place mixture in buttered 2-quart casserole, top with remaining 1/4 cup cheese.
Bake covered at 350º for 30 minutes, remove cover and continue to bake for 15 more minutes.
Let the casserole rest for about 10 minutes before serving.

Some people may say, “Too much of a good thing!” if they thought of serving lobster three times in one week. I say, “Bon appetite!”

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