by Jerry Vovcsko
On the day before Thanksgiving a couple of years back. I drove to the local seafood emporium to pick up a couple of lobsters to add to the table for the holiday feast. Seems that was a tradition in many Cape Cod homes a few hundred years ago, once the Pilgrims had changed their minds about the "crawly bugs" being agents of the devil. (I always like to ponder the question of who was the first person to gaze at a lobster and say, "Hmmmm, I think I'll cook that...and eat it.") But anyway, once that first taste of pure white lobster meat had started its journey down some New England fisherman's throat - helped along by a generous dollop of melted butter - Homarus Americanus soon took a featured place on the Thanksgiving Day menu.
Stepping out of my warm, cozy car put me right in touch with a brisk northwest wind blowing 15 to 25, a chill breeze that had dropped wind chills down to zero level by midmorning; it was clear that only the hardiest of fishermen would be out there this day. Well, lo and behold there was an old timer wetting a line down by the Canal and he had a nice assortment of mackerel in the bucket by his feet. He grinned and said "You wouldn't think they'd be hitting on a day like this, would ya?"
Of course, that's the way it often feels to veteran fishermen; the best fishing comes in the worst weather. There's the story about a farmer and his four sons who worked from first light to "can't see" six days a week. But after church on the seventh day, he and the boys without fail piled into their beat up old skiff and rowed out to the middle of the farm pond where they spent the afternoon fishing. One Sunday, as they sat there dunking worms and waiting for a bite, it started to rain. Before long it was pouring down, drenching them. The old farmer looked around at his soaking wet sons, considered the water dripping from the brim of his straw hat and mused aloud, "I wonder....I just wonder if fish can laugh."
But getting back to lobsters, a couple of weeks ago I stopped to pick up some cold cuts at a local deli and noticed a sign in the display case that read "Lobster meat - $36 lb." That's THIRTY SIX DOLLARS a pound, folks. This from a creature that the original settlers loathed so deeply that they used it in their fields for fertilizer. And back in the late nineteenth century the rich industrialists who fished from platforms anchored into the boulders along Cuttyhunk's rocky shores sent their guides to trap lobsters so they could use the tails for bait because it was the striped bass's favorite food, the fish obviously having better sense than the humans that pursued them. So if the wife happens to order up a lobster or two this holiday season, here's the way to handle them in the kitchen:
First of all, DON'T boil them. That's a sacrilege, according to Provincetown seafood chef, the late Howard Mitcham.
He said to put about a half inch of water, a tablespoon of salt and tablespoon of vinegar in a pot and bring to a boil. It's steam we're after, not a potful of boiling water. Put in one lobster and steam for fifteen minutes for one pound chicken lobsters with an additional five minutes for each additional pound. Check for doneness by grabbing the end of the tail, straightening it out and releasing. If the tail snaps back with a loud "clack", it's done. Don't overcook. Dulls the flavor. In a small saucepan, melt down some butter, then skim off the white froth and serve with the lobster.
A fresh salad, some crusty French bread and a chilled bottle of good white wine. Life is sweet.
To avoid excessive guilt after the fine repast, grab a rod and head for the nearest, bay, lake, pond or stream. It's great exercise and fun besides. Now I don't know if fish can laugh or not, but as much entertainment as they provide for us anglers, they deserve a chuckle or two at our expense, so get out there even if that wind comes churning in from the north and ices your mustache and freezes your nose. Winter solstice is only a month away and the days start getting longer then, and that means Spring isn't so far off, is it?