I’ve eaten more than my share of lobsters over the years, but this was the first time I was cooking lobster at home, by myself. It’s not a big deal, you boil a little water with a whole lot of salt, cut the bands off the lobster claws – making sure your hands and the rest of your body is nowhere near the claws – before putting the lobster in the pot head first, and putting a lid on the pot. An easy process.
Until a lobster fights back. Then the whole process becomes slightly traumatic.
My first mistake was cutting the bands off while the lobster was in the sink. Taking my tongs (I knew enough to not use my hands at this point) I grabbed the tail and started to take the lobster from the sink, and it started to wiggle around. I dropped it and grabbed again. This time she grabbed the tea towel on near the sink (another of my rookie mistakes), so I used scissors to pry her off the tea towel, not paying attention to her position. She didn’t get ahold of me, but she did grab onto the last lobster in the sink. Now they were in a claw lock and I was getting more traumatized by the minute.
I gave up, dropped her back in the sink, and walked away for awhile, waiting for her to relax. Once she was relaxed I returned, grabbed her by the tail and practically threw her into the pot.
Then sat down to hyperventilate while she cooked, the sound of the lid bouncing around by the heat and air almost making me sick.
Somehow I managed to cook all three lobsters, but after taking each out of the pot I purposely lined them up on my counter, facing the wall. I have every intention of ripping these babies apart and making all kinds of delightful lobster treats, but I’m not ready to look at them. Not yet. I need some time.
It’s 10:30 am on Grand Entrée, the northern island on Îles de la Madeleine, and I’m at the wharf with a local guide, chatting up a local dock character by the name of T-Rock. While I joke with T-Rock about life on the islands, the docks, and lobster, I watch boats returning and fishermen loading up crates with freshly caught lobsters. Lobster season has been very good so far, according to T-Rock, and he goes on to brag that Îles de la Madeleine lobsters are the best as they are rock lobster, not sand lobsters. I simply take him at his word.
I have never eaten a lobster I didn’t like – except when they are overcooked have an almost mushy texture, then I want to gag.
We paid $4 a pound for our lobsters (two nice size males) and headed back to the hotel where we would join the chef in the kitchen, and steam them.
“Just a little water, maybe an inch or two, and a lot of salt”, was the recommendation from the hotel chef de cuisine, Kathy.
When the lobsters were ready we sat down, tools at hand, garlic butter melted. I listened briefly as Kathy explained the usefulness of the inside of a female lobster. I listened. To be honest, I prefer male lobsters as they don’t have the extra stuff like roe.
And then I ripped into my lobster with an unholy enthusiasm. Etiquette was ignored, as were the looks of other diners. I had lobster juice and butter running down my hands and savoured every single bite. The tail and claws being my focus.
100% Homard (lobster), that was the title of my cooking class at Gourmande de Nature on Îles de la Madeleine. The moment I read that my fear of taking a cooking class in French melted away. Homard, Lobster in English, has no language barrier. Sure, I wouldn’t understand the vast majority of information given, but I was sure I could understand enough to get by.
I sat at a long wood top table in the kitchen area of Gourmande de Nature, along with three local women, and three employees – one of whom (Antoine) had just arrived for the summer season and happens to be a cook at Chez Boulay in Québec City.
Johanne, owner, and chef at Gourmande de Nature, and Évangeline, her chef de cuisine, were teaching three dishes:
- Lobster Bruschetta
- Lobster de Buerre (Lobster Butter)
- Thaï Lobster Bisque
- Lobster Carpaccio
But first, we had to open, tear apart, and dissect the cooked lobsters.
“Do you understand?” asked Évangeline, “Oui!”, I lied, leaning over to Antoine and quietly saying “I’m just going to go slow and watch you guys do so I don’t screw this up”, to which we both laughed.
With lobsters torn apart, tail and claw meat in one bowl, chest cavity with legs still attached in another, and the green stuff and roe in another, we took our seats and dug into the recipes of the day, eating one dish while preparing another.
Wow, the food was good. The Lobster Bruschetta was made with lobster meat, avocado, cantaloupe, and a creamy dressing and placed on freshly toasted baguette slices that had been dressed with a healthy dose of Lobster Butter. Everyone moaned upon taking the first bite. Yes, it was that good. And when Johanne asked in French if anyone wanted seconds I piped up with an overly cheery “Okay!”, which had both her and Évangeline laughing.
It was so yummy! I just had to have two.
And then when opportunity knocked, I kicked back the third one, with absolutely no shame.
The best was still to come. I watched as Johanne and Évangeline place a large pot on the stove, adding lobster stock, the chest cavities we had set aside in bowls, coconut milk, lobster butter, and other ingredients for the Thaï inspired Lobster Bisque. And when it was time to serve, we watched as Johanne quickly reheated cooked lobster meat in a pan with some olive oil and lobster butter, then using a cut piece of black plc pipe, she spooned the meat into bowls, before Évangeline followed, pouring the bisque into the bowl, careful to keep the small towers of lobster meat intact.
Who knew creating professional looking dishes could be so easy?!
But did it taste as good as it looked?
I not only devoured my Lobster Bisque, but I used fresh baguette slices to sop up every single drop of bisque from the bowl before allowing them to take it away. I swear you’d think I had not eaten in days.
Despite the class being in French, I learned quite a bit about lobsters and left with a couple of new recipes to add to my travelling cookbook.
I can’t wait all day. Knowing I have to tear apart the lobsters on my counter at some point is killing me. Deep breaths. Just do it and move on, I tell myself. You don’t have to eat them today, you can wait a day or two.
And just think, there are still 2 kgs of Princess Scallops on half shells in the fridge that need to be cooked. At least they don’t have arms, legs, eyes, and the will to fight back!