A Cape Breton-Style Lobster Dinner (Also: How to Eat Whole Lobster)
Does the title of this post sound a bit condescending? I hope not.
The thing is, so many visitors come to this part of the world to take in the natural beauty and to indulge in some amazing seafood. Many aren’t that familiar with the way we serve lobster – that is, steamed or boiled, whole, and served with drawn (melted) butter for dipping the meat. Plain and simple, in every Cape Bretoner’s opinion, is the best way to enjoy it.
I remember the “lobster class” I had in culinary school in Toronto. We made vanilla butter poached lobster and used the shell to make a bisque. I was blown away. I can’t say, up until that point, that I had ever eaten fancy lobster. In my chowder? Sure. In a roll with crushed potato chips sprinkled over? Absolutely. But vanilla butter poached? My brain exploded; I just couldn’t handle it.
And it tasted amazing. But I have to say, there’s nothing more satisfying than being in charge of your own fate, especially where lobster is concerned. I love digging into the shell with my hands and fork and a nutcracker to see what I’ll find – how sweet the meat is, how well cooked it’s been, how chunky the knuckles (my favourite joint) are. Every lobster is different.
My cousin’s husband has been lobster fishing since May and today was the last day of the season – no more lobster fishing in Cape Breton for the rest of the year (sniffff). As I hadn’t yet had a proper feed, we asked him to bring a few home for us. He caught us some absolute beauties (thanks, Cecil)! My mother boiled them to perfection and served them with a summery potato salad and drawn butter.
How’s the best way to attack a lobster? Well, as a great chef once told me, “There’s more than one way to skin a cat.” You have to find a way that works for you.
Just so you know, lobsters retain a bit of liquid when they’re cooked and things might get a little messy. If you’re the queasy type, you might not like the look of tomalley (green lobster liver), but keep in mind that it tastes divine. To eat the tomalley is not only OK; it’s highly recommended.
People tend to differ about what part of the lobster is tastiest. Some swear the tail-meat is nicest, while others prefer the claw (the meat is less stringy in the claw, but it’s also a piece of rubber if the lobster’s been overcooked). If you ask me, and I already mentioned this, the knuckle meat is the sweetest, tastiest (and most hard fought) part of the lobster. It takes a bit of elbow grease to get it, but I think it’s worth it.
When you get a whole lobster, the first thing you should do is break it in half. This separates the tail from the body. Then I like to remove the tail meat from the shell. To break the lobster in half, just keep one hand around the tail and the other around the body, then give it a good twist. Keep some napkins close by in case you get squirted.
To remove the meat from the tail, take the tail in your hand and squeeze the ends of the shell toward each other. You should feel a crack. Then I break the tip of the tail off (the part that fans – just the very tip). Once the tip is off, you can work the meat away from the shell with your fingers.
Once the tail is eaten, go for the claws. Twist the knuckles from the large claws and crack the claw with a nutcracker until it breaks in half. The meat should come right out. For the knuckles, use your knife or a special lobster fork to fish out the meat.
You can scoop everything out of the body cavity and eat that, too. It’s delicious, though many leave this part alone because the green bits make them queasy!
The correct accompaniments for a steamed or boiled lobster in Cape Breton are potato salad and coleslaw, as well as freshly baked biscuits and rolls, and beer or cider (try Big Spruce Kitchen Party Pale Ale or Bulwark Craft Cider). Some of the best places in Cape Breton for a boiled lobster dinner include The Baddeck Lobster Suppers, The Lobster Galley and The Rusty Anchor. There are lots of other great places, but these ones have been tried and tested by moi.
Although the season is now over, I’m sending wishes for many lobster dinners in your future. Life with lobster is just better!