BLOOMBERG – President Donald Trump isn’t known for his affinity for luxury foods. But in early June he began expressing keen interest in Maine lobster and flew there to meet with commercial fishermen. This week he signed a memo directing the Department of Agriculture to provide aid to the United States (US) lobster industry.
“Enjoy your ‘lobstering,’ ” the president posted on Twitter. The crustacean’s prices are at unprecedented lows thanks to trade wars and the effects of coronavirus on shipments of the prized seafood to Asia, notably for occasions such as Lunar New Year.
In the US, the virus has also stymied a traditional summer rite of passage for many people on the East Coast: a road trip to Maine highlighted by a lobster roll. Restrictions on out-of-state visitors have eased – travelers now just need to confirm they’ve tested negative for the coronavirus or quarantine for two weeks – but that doesn’t mean it’s worth making the trip.
For those who are forced to skip annual Maine vacations but still want to savour the New England specialty-and take advantage of value-priced lobster-a new cookbook comes just in time. In Eventide: Recipes for Clambakes, Oysters, Lobster Rolls and More From a Modern Maine Seafood Shack,by Arlin Smith, Andrew Taylor, and Mike Wiley with Sam Hiersteiner, the authors deliver details on how to make their coveted version.
The lobster roll served at the groovy James Beard-winning, Portland-based Eventide Oyster Co. isn’t a classic mayo-slathered option. It’s served warm, dripping with a lemon butter dressing; Eventide ups the ante by using nutty brown butter, which amplifies the richness. Almost no one walks in without ordering one. On busy nights the restaurant might sell 500 of them, and the cooks are so adept at making them that a table that orders a dozen oysters and a made-to-order lobster roll often has the roll before the oyster platter, according to chef and co-owner Mike Wiley. “They’re definitely on our leader board,” he said.
At Eventide, the dish of course starts with live lobsters. (In the cookbook, the recipe directs you to use them too: “Dispatch the lobsters as humanely as possible by thrusting a sharp thin knife through the lobster shell between the eyes” before cooking them briefly in boiling water.)
If, like me, you’re not prepared to kill lobsters in your own kitchen, the Eventide team recommends buying whole cooked ones instead of cooked meat in a container.
“The quality is through-the-roof better if you start with live lobster. Cooked whole lobster is second-tier; cooked meat is third,” said Wiley. He does acknowledge the convenience of cooked, picked meat. “You can have your roll on the table in minutes,” he added. (After spending half an hour pounding lobster claws with my toolbox hammer, I’ve moved into the convenience camp.)
For those who are squeamish but want the freshest possible lobster, Ready Seafood specialises in a mail-order product, Cold Cracked Lobster, raw meat that’s been processed within 12 hours of being harvested.
One other tip from Wiley and the Eventide team is to tear lobster meat rather than cut it: Tearing gives it the most possible surface area to draw in whatever you’re tossing the meat with, such as butter.
One other innovation at Eventide is to use steamed buns; Wiley credits Momofuku founder David Chang for the inspiration. But you can use a hot dog bun that’s steamed in a steamer basket or a microwave, and it makes a gorgeous puffy encasing for the lobster.
The following recipe is adapted from the Eventide cookbook.
THE BROWN BUTTER LOBSTER ROLL
Half cup Brown Butter Vinaigrette (recipe follows)
12 ounces cooked lobster meat (from two one and quarter to one and half pounds cooked lobsters if using whole ones)
Four hot dog buns, split
Minced fresh chives for garnish
In a skillet, combine the Brown Butter Vinaigrette and lobster meat over medium heat, stirring frequently until just heated through, about three minutes. Season with salt.
Working in batches, put the hot dog buns in a shallow bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and steam in a microwave on high until hot, about 15 seconds. (Alternatively, warm them in a steamer basket over simmering water.) Transfer the buns to plates, divide the lobster meat among them. Garnish with chives and serve warm.
BROWN BUTTER VINAIGRETTE
Makes about one and quarter cups
One cup (two sticks) unsalted butter
A quarter cup non-fat dry milk powder
Two tablespoons fresh lemon juice
In a saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Whisk in the milk powder and cook, stirring frequently, until the solids begin to brown, about 10 minutes. Pour the butter into a bowl and stir in the lemon juice and salt to taste. Use immediately, or refrigerate for up to one month. Use the leftovers to add a little luxury to any recipe that calls for melted butter.