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Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Great Lobster Debate

Perfectly steamed lobsters ready to be devoured.
Though lobster is one of my favorite foods, I’m not an expert at cooking this crustacean.  A transplant to New England, I grew up in the South far from the shore and spent many years in the land-locked Midwest. So last week, when Catherine, a good friend who had been in Maine for the summer, offered to bring a cache of fresh lobsters for an overnight visit, I called my pal, Karen, a life-long Cape Codder, for cooking directions. (I also decided to use a recipe from my new book as a sauce for the lobsters.)

Without missing a beat, the Cape cook rattled off the number of minutes for lobsters from 1 1/4 to 3 pounds. She was adamant that I steam, not boil, the critters. “Use a large pot with a lid, fill it with 4 inches of water, and bring it to a boil,” she explained. Most important, though, she told me to grab each lobster by the back and hold it head down over the pot for several seconds until it stopped flapping and the tail relaxed. Then you drop it in; when all have been added, cover the pot. For 1 1/2-pounders the steaming time was to be 18 minutes.

Catherine holding a lobster above the pot to relax it!
Well, that was my plan, until our houseguest arrived.
She heard me mention the cooking time and went ballistic. Twelve minutes she insisted was perfect for her Maine lobsters.  To support her point, she recounted that in line that day to purchase OUR lobsters, a conversation had broken out amongst those queuing on just this question. Everyone, it seems, along her stretch of the Maine coast had agreed that 12 minutes was right for lobsters weighing the average 1 1/2 pounds. No one would ruin them by leaving them in the pot for 18 minutes!

Caught between my absent Cape-Cod advisor and my present Maine friend, I opted to fill the pot the way my Cape friend had suggested, and to follow her directions about holding the wriggling creatures, heads down, over the boiling water before popping them in…but I only left them there for 12 MINUTES.

And the result----succulent success! There were five of us at dinner and everyone agreed that they couldn’t remember eating lobsters that were so incredibly tender, moist, and flavorful.  By applying a little diplomacy--using the techniques of the Cape expert and the cooking time proposed by the Maine summer resident—I ended up with platter of perfectly steamed lobsters.

Two kinds of butter made these lobsters special.
Along with traditional servings of melted butter, I also offered little cups of warm citrus butter for dipping. Corn on the cob and sliced heirloom tomatoes drizzled with vinaigrette completed the summer menu.

*Warm Citrus Butter

Great as a sauce for lobster, shrimp, scallops or other shellfish.

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, broken into small chunks
1 teaspoon grated orange zest
1/3 cup fresh orange juice
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil

Place the butter, orange zest, orange and lemon juices, and sesame oil in a small nonreactive saucepan. Set over medium heat, and stir until the butter has melted and the mixture is just warm. (The citrus butter can be prepared 2 hours ahead; cover and leave at room temperature. Reheat when ready to use.) Makes about 3/4 cup.

*From the forthcoming Sunday Roasts by Betty Rosbottom (Chronicle Books Fall 2011)

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