Lobster Inspiration and Potato Salad

Buttered lobster served in a tail, ready for eating with a fork.

These past few days, I have been around a lot of lobster. Saturday I did a lobster bake for about thirty people, lots of them from Pittsburgh who only get lobster at restaurants, and had never seen a rocks, fire, and seaweed operation. Also that week, with helpers, I picked out twenty-five of them for one dish for a historic 18th Century dinner I prepared for an event at the Knox Mansion in Thomaston. We made something called “Buttered Lobster” which was merely lobster served in a bowl with butter poured on it. Sometimes, it is very pleasant to sit down and eat lobster with a fork instead of dealing with a whole, large, clattering creature on your plate with miserable sharp spines, and ugly goo inside. For that matter, little wonder people enjoy a lobster roll with tender (we hope) meat tucked neatly in a roll, easily conveyed to our mouths.

Plus, I had been invited to participate as a judge for a “Claw Down,” a lobster cooking contest, sponsored by the Boothbay Harbor Region Chamber of Commerce. Chefs from eighteen restaurants and food businesses prepared a lobster appetizer and we three judges had to taste each one. Awww.

The variety of bites was pretty astonishing, from beautiful little bits of lobster served up sashimi-style on an oyster shell with Japanese style pickled ginger and crushed wasabi peas, to one chef with the moxie to slap a dab of really good lobster salad on a Ritz cracker. Most surprising was lobster served in a cannoli with crème anglaise and blueberry sauce. Lobster as a sweet course! It was so good, but never in a hundred years would I have dreamed up lobster with vanilla pudding, though, of course, there is lobster ice cream.

Most of the contest-entry bites were exactly what you would hope to get in a restaurant, and not necessarily what you would ever prepare for yourself at home unless, maybe, you had company. I’d be really reluctant to bring a whole lobster to a company table except in the kitchen where lobster juice on our enamel topped table is perfectly ok, and there is lots of hot water to mop up with. For lobster served in the dining room with a tablecloth on the dining table, though, we can take a leaf from Victorian cook books which recommended serving picked and seasoned lobster in a lobster shell.

Or you can do what my friend Val Lester and I did this week for a casual, company, birthday supper for her sister-in-law, Jane. We served boiled lobster, just past soft-shell stage, with potato salad, and green salad, and lemon cake for dessert. To dish up the lobster, we took off the legs and claws, and cracked them in the kitchen so that all the watery squirts happened out there, and sliced the tails open with scissors, and drained them, so no one’s plate was flooded with soft-shell lobster juice. Each of the diners completed the picking out neatly at table, and we said, if anyone was hankering to tackle them, the remaining bodies parts were in the kitchen. Jane retrieved a few legs to suck out, but no one wanted to cope with the bodies. I brought them home.

I can’t imagine that anyone needs a recipe for boiled lobster, so how about one for the potato salad? Actually, it is less a recipe than a set of general instructions. Sometimes I adore a mayonnaise-y, boiled egg-y, potato salad with celery, onion and dill, and sometimes I prefer one with not a whiff of mayo around it.

Carola potatoes grown in summer 2012, and stored in the cellar until now.

Red Norlands, grown this summer, freshly dug.

The one I made for Jane was composed from Carola potatoes I grew last season, and still had in the cellar, and some Red Norlands I dug out of the garden about an hour before I put them in the salad. I added celery, white onion, and parsley. All I did for the dressing was use generous amounts of rice vinegar which I sprinkled on the potatoes as soon as I took them out of the pan. Sometimes I use malt vinegar that some people, not me, like to ruin French fries with. If you don’t have rice or malt vinegar, you can use cider vinegar but more sparingly. Olive oil dribbled generously over the whole, salt and pepper, all tossed together, and she was done. It was some good, if I say so myself.

P.S. Alert: The Peach Torte recipe of two weeks ago erroneously calls for a quarter of a pound of butter. You want a quarter of a cup, or half a stick, of butter.

P.P. S. If you live near Newport, Maine, and have time this Saturday, September 28, I hope you will consider coming out to the Newport Cultural Center from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. where I will be signing, and giving a book talk about, Maine Home Cooking, the cook book so many of you contributed to. I’d be so happy to see you.

Potato Salad with Vinegar and Oil

1 medium potato per person

Rice or malt vinegar for sprinkling

½ rib of celery per person

1 small onion for every three people, or to taste

Olive oil

Salt and pepper

Parsley to taste

Cook the potatoes without peeling, if you wish, until they are tender. Drain, and as soon as you can handle them, cut them into bite-sized pieces, and put into a bowl, sprinkling the vinegar on them as you cut them. Let them cool to room temperature. Chop the celery and onion finely, add them to the potatoes, and toss to mix while dribbling in olive oil. Add enough oil that the potatoes become glossy, salt and pepper to taste. Just before serving, toss in minced parsley.

Makes a variable number of servings.

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About Sandy Oliver

Sandy Oliver Sandy is a freelance food writer with the column Taste Buds appearing weekly since 2006 in the Bangor Daily News, and regular columns in Maine Boats, Homes, and Harbors magazine and The Working Waterfront. Besides freelance food writing, she is a pioneering food historian beginning her work in 1971 at Mystic Seaport Museum, where she developed a fireplace cooking program in an 1830s house. After moving to Maine in 1988, Sandy wrote, Saltwater Foodways: New Englanders and Their Foods at Sea and Ashore in the 19th Century published in 1995. She is the author of The Food of Colonial and Federal America published in fall of 2005, and Giving Thanks: Thanksgiving History and Recipes from Pilgrims to Pumpkin Pie which she co-authored with Kathleen Curtin. She often speaks to historical organizations and food professional groups around the country, organizes historical dinners, and conducts classes and workshops in food history and in sustainable gardening and cooking. Sandy lives on Islesboro, an island in Penobscot where she gardens, preserves, cooks and teaches sustainable lifeways.