Last Christmas was special; it was just my teenage daughter and I at home and that almost always translates into an experimental cooking adventure.
A colleague at work was taking in an order of lobster. The USP (Unique Selling Proposition) was that they were ‘fresh off the boat,’ and would reach us alive. I’d heard that phrase used in connection with immigrants new to Canada — having been called one just a few years ago — but never in the context of fish or, in this case, a crustacean.
Having lived along shorelines (Mumbai and then Karachi) through most of my childhood and into early adult life I had seen many fishermen drag trawlers up the Malabar Coast emptying fresh produce from the Arabian Sea into vans bound for Mumbai’s famous Sassoon Dock.
On moving to Karachi my love for fish exploded. The sounds, sights and smell of fish bought from the macchiwala and fried to perfection invaded my mind, digging up memories of a past life — of fresh servings of Sindhi palla cooked in hot sand and relished for lunch; of the crabs we devoured while crabbing off Keamari harbour.
Living in Canada I am now used to eating frozen farmed fish. So fish ‘fresh off the boat’ was now a novelty I decided to indulge in. Three days before Christmas my colleague sent out an email saying our lobsters had arrived. Lugging a freezer tote packed with ice I made my way to the office. The office kitchen, usually sterile, now smelt fishy and sounded like a room full of critters itching to get out.
Let me walk you through my tryst with Atlantic lobsters.
They were swimming in the cold North Atlantic the night before I got them. The lobster fishermen off Canada’s east coast trapped them in lobster traps, hauling the traps to shore. The lobsters were immediately crated and began the long road trip to the airport. DHL, our official lobster carrier loaded them onto the cargo plane destined for Toronto about 900 kms away.
I decided to cook the lobsters as per instructions given to me by Don Melanson. Melanson at 85 years of age is an intrepid maritimer who does his bit to help fisher folk get a fair wage for their labour. Several independent fisheries along Canada’s east coast have shut shop as it’s just not worth their while to trap lobsters for the low price offered by wholesalers.
Melanson wants to keep the industry alive and does his part in connecting the buyer to the seller. He says he does so for the love of lobster! We all felt good supporting east coast fisheries and expanding our repertoire of what we cook and eat over Christmas. It was not going to be turkey all over again!
The live lobsters came with two instruction leaflets: how to cook, and how to eat as well. If you too, are a seafood lover and are adventurous enough for this venture, I share these instructions with you:
Lobsters: 4, in a large pot (for home cooking it is best to cook no more than four at a time) Water: 6 cups per lobster Salt: 1 teaspoon per lobster Time: 20 minutes from insertion
Bring the water to rolling boil and add salt. Grab the lobster from behind the head, far enough back so your fingers don’t dip into the boiling water. Hold the head above the boiling water, count to five slowly and then let go (steam is known to kill the lobster before it is plunged into the pot.)
Once the lobster is in the pot wait for the water to boil again; turn down the heat to simmer for the est of the time. Wait for 20 minutes, then drain out the pot and run cold water over the lobster — stretch the lobster out to ensure overall cooling. Rest on the kitchen counter for 30 minutes and refrigerate if it is not eaten immediately.
Store in large ziplock bags to contain odour from invading the fridge. You will notice the colour of the lobster changes from black/grey when raw to orange after it is boiled.
Best eaten at a table using newspapers for tablecloth. Rip off the small legs from the body, these contain sweet tender meat. Twist off tail; most of the meat is in the tail and claws. Break the body from the shell and break the head away from the body. The edible paste in the body — red roe and green tapmale — are equivalent to caviar.
Rub in one tablespoon of melted butter, a squirt of lemon juice and lots of garlic. Eat with hands, licking fingers when necessary!
The night before Christmas I enjoyed a messy mother-daughter lobster feast.
Spoiler alert: The feast is nothing like the lobster thermidore offered at Karachi’s upscale restaurants.
At the end of the evening we were a mess and so was our kitchen. After an extensive clean up we zip-locked away two crustaceans to serve the men folk when they returned home in the new year!
Happy lobster fest!