Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Maine Report Part Two: Seafood

"That don't have this in Austin." That was the review of a Texan in our vacationing group.

The blueberry may mean Maine to Mainers, but to out-of-states, lobster means Maine and Maine means lobster. And it's true that if you've only eaten frozen or pre-cooked lobster, or even lobster from a tank at a supermarket, the lively, just-out-of-the-ocean seabugs you can get in Maine are a revelation.

We took a lobster-fetching trip to Jonesport, about a half-hour ride up Route 1 from where we were staying in Steuben. Jonesport is a working fishing town, small and picturesque. To buy lobsters, you go down to the fisherman's co-op dock at about 5 at night when the boat comes in. You call down your request to the lobsterman, soft or hard shell and the number of pounds or number of lobsters. Then he takes the lobsters out of the underwater holding crates, weighs them up, puts them in a bag, and drags himself with his delicious bundle across to the stairs on a float. We paid $7/pound for hard-shell.

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Once home, the water should be put on the moment you walk in the door. Once you have a full boil, you're just six minutes away from seafood perfection.


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We bought more lobsters than necessary for that first dinner, because nothing feels better than knowing you have leftover lobster in the fridge. All the carcasses, minus the liver, were put back in the pot to make stock. I simmered the shells for over an hour, then put the stock in the fridge and went to bed. The next day I removed the shells and simmered the stock down a bit more, until it was rich and condensed. We had enough shells to get two quarts of very flavorful stock.

For the second lobster dinner, I made sausage and lobster fettucine, a surefire winner. I'll try to give a recipe here, but really, I winged it, so this is not very precise:

Lobster-Sausage Fettucine
1.5 boxes fettucine (cook usual way)
Three lobsters-worth of meat, in large chunks
About a quart of rich lobster stock (if you don't have tons of extra shells from an earlier lobster dinner, you could use some shrimp shells to increase the flavor of your stock)
About eight sweet Italian pork sausages
1 tsp thyme
A shallot (I didn't have this, but have used in the past)
1 pint light cream
1 Tb. butter
1 Tb. flour
A little white wine or sherry
Pepper, salt, a pinch of sweet paprika

Crumble the sausage and brown in a little oil (or do as I did and use the butter in which the lobster had been dipped). Remove and drain. Pour off fat. Melt butter, add thyme, (add minced shallot briefly if using), then add the flour and cook roux to remove raw flavor of flour, about 30 seconds. Whisk in stock and cook until slightly thickened. Add cream and cook a few minutes more. Add lobster and sausage and heat until warmed through. Add wine, salt and pepper to taste, and paprika if the color needs improvement. Taste, make adjustments, pour over fettucine and serve.

Lobster is of course not the only seafood available in Maine. The last night of vacation, I used the last of the lobster stock in a chowder - J.'s favorite chowder, in fact, beating out clam.

Crab and Corn Chowder, roughly (all measurement are estimates)

1 pound crab meat (can use body meat)
6 ears corn
1 quart lobster stock
2 bay leaves
1 tsp celery seed
3 strips bacon
1 1/2 very large white onions
About a dozen smallish potatoes
1 pint light cream
1 tsp smoked paprika
Lots of black pepper, a little salt

Remove the kernels from the ears of corn. Put the cobs into a pot with the lobster stock and simmer at least 1/2 hour.
Brown the bacon, remove. Use the fat from the bacon to cook the onions. Add the potatoes and give them a few turns in the fat as well, maybe two minutes. Add the celery seed and smoked paprika and cook about thirty seconds more. Then add the stock and bay leaves and simmer on low until the potatoes are cooked. Add the crabmeat and corn kernels, plus the cream and allow to heat through. Taste and season with salt, pepper.

Both recipes serve about eight normal people, or six who have spent all day hiking up a mountain.

I served the chowder with Nigella Lawson's watermelon-feat-mint salad, some grilled vegetables, grilled scallops simply prepared with olive oil and pepper, and crabcakes. The crabcakes were pretty straightforward, just leg and claw meat bound together with a little egg and bread crumbs, spiced with Penzey's Northwoods seasoning, browned in butter, then topped with avocado, lime and red onion. The scallops were from Nova Scotia, not far away in those parts and the best source of scallops in the world. They were marvelously sweet.

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One member of the group had a piece of swordfish, but it's worth noting that in Maine, seafood mostly means shellfish and haddock. Other fish are caught in the local waters, including salmon, but scallops, lobster, shrimp, crab and even mussels, quahogs, and winkles seem to dominate over finfish, except for the ubiquitous haddock and the occasional cod.

That's fine by me. Despite the efforts of Beyond Salmon, I'm still a shellfish girl at heart.


lobstersquad said...

jealous. lobster heaven.

Helen said...

What a great write up! I am drooling :)

Can you explain to me where lobster liver is? I also heard some people take out the gills. I make lobster stock so rarely that I never know what exactly I should be removing before simmering the shells. As you can see, I am a fin fish girl ;) But I am trying to learn more about shell fish.

When we were in Maine, I was wondering where all the fin fish was. One store said they can order me some halibut. It was an absolutely lovely fish and I asked where it was from. They said it's caught in Maine and all shipped to Boston and if they want some they order if from a fish whole saler in Boston. I wonder what all those Mainers have against fin fish?


Pyewacket said...

Helen -
After you've broken off the tail and claws, you should pull the body from the shell. Just behind the "head" there should be a little drak gray sac, about the size of a fava bean. It has a somewhat complicated shape - my mother always called it the "old lady in the rocking chair", though I've heard other call it the lady in the shell. You don't eat that. The rest is fine. The gills don't make good eating, but they can go in the stock.

I don't know why so little fin fish is eaten in Maine, but I know growing up we had cod, sometimes smelts and that was it. The rest was shellfish.