A couple of months ago, over some Sazeracs in Andersonville, the summer still young, our imaginations ripe with visions of trotting all over this mighty city in search of challenge and adventure, my friends Cara and Adrian and I discussed the prospect of lobsters.
So fast-forward to a recent Thursday night. Sporting my new, and already much-beloved DIY jorts (judge not, crackers), I squeezed the brakes on old Janice, my 1973 Schwinn Continental, as I pulled up to Adrian’s apartment next to the red line. Upstairs, he and Cara – decked out, quite possibly just for the occasion, in a wee black romper – had begun to cocktail and were ogling the cover of the July issue of Gourmet when I came in.
You’ve seen it. I know you have. Coral-tinged lobster chunks flecked with deep green parsley and pale green celery, nestled in a toasted, golden roll against an austere, almost-mint-green background. It, more than anything I’ve seen in a long while, and especially in the middle of a Chicago summer… is kinda food-porny.
Since the day that magazine was delivered to Caracita’s graystone walkup, plans had been in the works for an Ultimate Lobster Showdown. An excuse to play around at Dirk’s Fish & Gourmet (“for the sofishticated palate.” Heheheh. Heh.) (What? I like puns. Sssh.) and come home with some deep-sea treasures? Yes. A reason to wreak havoc in Adrian’s otherwise-rather-pristine kitchen? Yessir. A way to make lobster salad without mayonnaise (god bless it, it’s just not that appealing in the summertime)? Please. An excuse to pit lobsters against each other in various tests of speed, agility, and grace?
But first, because all three of us are, after all, only human and because we do care for all the creatures of the earth, preparations for the evening’s feast necessitated a bit of gin. And then some crisp white wine. And then a few re-reads of the recipe and conversations about how this would all go down to both reassure us that it could be done and to remind us that, yes, we did actually kind of need to put these boys in a pot of roiling, boiling, salty water if we wanted our dear lobster rolls. (And, of course, the obligatory badge of honor that comes with killin’ something with your own hands in the name of yum-yums.)
So then, we were sufficiently (if only mildly) sauced to start the showdown. The pot was boiling, the sink had been transformed into an icy receiving bath, and we had explored ad nauseam and like little children the party trick of calming a fussy lobster by rubbing a finger across the top of his lobster cranium.
We had four lobsters to boil, for about 9 minutes each. Ceremonial tongs were brought out, and Adrian did the first plunge. You stick the lobster headfirst into the water for reasons more morbid and, conveniently, obvious than I probably need to discuss here. As seafood lore tells us, the lobster shells got to a nice reddish-pink over the course of the 9 minutes. What did not happen, however, and thankfully, was the Dreaded Lobster Scream (in which a noise, likely caused by steam escaping the shell, arises from the lobster’s body as it cooks). Maybe it was our lobsters. Maybe the scream only happens sometimes. Maybe it’s a total myth. But it didn’t happen, so once we got each guy in the pot, the cooking process was relatively peaceful and kind of interesting in a detached, science-project kind of way.
Once all four were in the ice bath, it was time to harvest the meat. This… was a challenge. I mean, it normally is, but especially so for three Chicago kids whose food knowledge lies more in the field of encased meats than in the tools and anatomical know-how involved in the dissection of deep-sea crustaceans. Meaning that we were working with: a pair of kitchen shears, a hammer, a chopstick, and only a faint anecdotal knowledge of What Parts of a Lobster Are Good To Eat as imparted to us on sundry occasions throughout each of our landlocked lives.
Once we revisited our respective nuggets of seafood wisdom, though, in addition to enacting such classic kitchen scenes as: Hey! If You Whack the Claw With the Hammer, The Meat Will Fly Straight Out (And Into Your Eye!); The Tail Meat Is Kind Of Easy to Get At, But Isn’t the Tastiest; and the perennial favorite, Lobster Shell Shrapnel and Its Hilarious/Horrifying Vicissitudes, we managed to get quite a respectable amount of meat into the bowl.
After that point, we had simply to add the celery, parsley, and vinaigrette in the recipe, load up some garlic-buttered rolls with the resulting salad, pour some Belgian farmer beer and…
… die of happiness.
You guys. This recipe. Is baller. Nothing unnecessary; the lemon juice & olive oil vinaigrette really lets the delicate lobster flavor sit comfortably at the front & center. I had wondered if the garlic butter on the toasted rolls would be too much, but since ours had had a good long time to soak into the bread and get toasty in the oven, it was all quite nicely balanced.
If it was possible to make this scene any better, I think we managed to do it. Because there was blueberry pie for dessert. Glee!
With our eyes closed, we beamed and stretched our necks and legs with pure joy at the evening’s many victories. Maybe it was the hours we had spent worrying about these bugs and the ramifications our actions upon them might have on our eternal souls. Maybe it was the Beach Boys playing in the living room. Maybe it was the wine. Maybe it was that our plan, hatched back when the season was way more new than it was old, had come into being at the peak of the summer and that, finally, sitting around in saltwater-stained playclothes with tired, happy grins on our faces and sunburns on our collarbones, it all tasted so, so good.