My friend Sally believes anyone who eats meat, she is a carnivore herself, needs to come to terms with the fact that the meat we eat was once ALIVE. Nicely-wrapped-in-plastic meat in the fridge at the supermarket sanitizes the situation and distances us from the grisly, murderous flesh and bone aspect of our dinner.
Ok "murderous" is a bit dramatic, I'll admit.
For most of the history of the humankind, people have had to use their own two hands to capture, kill, and prepare their dinner. Now we go hunting and gathering at WholeFoods or ,my new fav, Trader Joe's and never have to experience the kill.
I've wondered for years if I would be able to kill and clean a chicken. Aside from the fact that raw chicken scares me, I think I could probably do this if I was really really hungry and if I had hungry people depending on me doing it.
Since I do not live on a farm and do not know anyone with chicken, I decided that the next best thing, a lot less messy, would be to cook a lobster. Whenever I thought of cooking lobster, helpful people like my mother would swear that lobsters squeal when they get thrown into the pot alive. Mention cooking a lobster and your run of the mill carnivores are suddenly appalled. "How can you throw a live creature into a pot?" they exclaim. Not knowing if I indeed had the stomach for such things, I just shrugged my shoulders and said I didn't know.
I determined that I could not possibly face death alone. So I summoned a friend from work. I don't know her very well, but I figured she'd be up for the challenge, especially in the name of a culinary adventure and a moral experiment.
My friend found a Food Lion by her house that had a tank of live lobsters. So armed w/ a pot, a bag of lemons, a bottle of Duval Leroy champagne, and Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything, I headed over to her house.
Fortified by a glass of champagne, we headed to Food Lion to pick out our lobsters. There are two main things to know about lobsters: 1. anything less than 1.5 lb is not worth the trouble because there is not enough meat in it, 2. when the fishmonger pulls the lobster out of the tank, it should wiggle its legs and lift its tail because otherwise it is not "fresh" (read ALIVE) enough.
The two lobsters we picked out were beautiful: they were brown with gorgeous blue spotting on their backs and underside. Their claws were orange. One claw has tiny serrations like a knife for cutting and the other claw is bigger and for crushing. The first time my courage nearly failed was when the fishmonger mentioned that these lobster were probably 25 years old. I panicked! How could I eat a 25 yr old creature!
My friend fortunately saved the day by saying, "Wow, they could be graduate students."
I replied, "Ok, let's eat them." I never liked grad students.
At my friend's house we put two pots on the stove w/ water in the bottom and inserted the steamer racks. While waiting for the water, we admired the beauty of the lobsters and thanked them for providing us with a lovely meal.
Once the water was steaming, I grabbed my lobster and pushed it down into the pot and quickly covered it with the lid. My friend did the same. The second time my courage nearly failed was when I glanced at the pot and could see the lobsters squirming through the glass lid. But at this point, what could we do? We had to keep going.
Note to self: next time do not use a glass lid.
When the lobsters were finished, they came out bright, fantastic red! Using a sharp butcher knife I cut down the middle to split them. We were not lucky enough to get any eggs and neither of us have the taste for the tomalley, aka lobster liver.
We set to work w/ our fingers and a shellfish cracker. Very quickly we ran into problems. We were unable to crack the mighty crushing claws! These claws hide the best meat so there was no way we were going to be deterred. I suggested a hammer. We decided that would be far too messy. Then my friend had an epiphany: garden tools would do the trick! And she came back with this tool that looked like a cross between garden shears and wire cutters. Et voila! It worked like a charm.
I'm sure people in Maine would be horrified, but what do we know? We aren't Yankees.
We splattered lobster, butter, and lemon juice all over ourselves. The lobster was rich, tender and sweet. It was delicious in a way that we could only have experienced by doing this ourselves.
We did our best to pick the last morsel out of the shells. Wanting to get every penny out of our $70 lobsters, I took the shells and remains home to make a stock. One day soon my friend will come over for bouillabaise. I might also use it to make a shrimp or scallop risotto.
I have a new respect for lobster. I am certainly more thoughtful about eating meat now. I would eat even less meat if I had to kill it myself on a regular basis. Am I going to be a vegetarian? No. Will I make an effort to appreciate the abundance of food the earth and other animals give to us? Yes.
I won't be rushing out to cook another lobster any time soon: they are expensive, rich and we had to use a garden tool to eat them. At least they don't squeal.