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Homarus Odyssey

8 May

It’s true, fish is not my favorite thing in the world.

Lower Manhattan From Red Hook

But clams and squid and scallops? Pretty close to the top of that list. But do you know what sits at the very tippy top of the piscine pyramid for me? Do you even have to ask? Oh, you do… Well, that would be lobster, naturally.

I love lobster like a jockey loves winning the Kentucky Derby. Or like the Queen loves her corgis. Or like Rupert Murdoch loves buying newspapers. Or like the Yankees love beating the Red Sox. Or like Isaac loves cheese. You get the picture. I love lobster.

But, like a lot of people, I don’t cook lobster at home. It’s not the killing/cooking thing. It’s mainly fear of mortal embarrassment.

Light, Red Hook

My friend Pam grew up near Boston, and every summer her mom and some of her friends would rent a little house on Nantucket. One summer, a few years ago, she invited me to join her for a long weekend on the island. You’d have to be crazy to say not to an invitation like that, and I’m not crazy.

So there we were, in the middle of preppy paradise, on the side of a dirt road, bikes in the grass, like true New Yorkers, fighting over which road to take to the beach. The best part? It’s an island! You can take any road and get to a beach!

Bleeding Hearts

We were two Type As, out in the middle of nowhere, arguing over which beach was best, when a pickup truck pulls over, and a guy leans through the window. “Pam?” She looks over and there, with a goofy grin on his face, is one of her bust buddies from college. Of all the dirt roads on all the islands in all the world!

He was on the island visiting a friend who was a year-rounder, so they threw our bikes into the back of the truck and drove us to the beach just in time for it to start pouring rain. But no matter, they were headed to a friend’s house who was having a party, would we like to go? Sure, why not we said, not knowing that we had just been invited to the best party on the face of the earth.

Red Hook

There were endless kegs of the island’s amazing beer. Racks and racks of fresh, local corn grilling over hot charcoal. Pit after pit of steamers cooking under beds of seaweed. And legions of lobster, some being grilled directly over the coals, others boiling away in vast cauldrons of water. It was like being invited to the Gorton fisherman’s heaven.

Since I was a guest in a place where I knew no one, I made a beeline for the steamers. I really wanted a lobster, but I felt a little funny helping myself to something that would cost more than $20 in a restaurant without knowing who to pay for it.

So I sat down with my plate of clams and a plastic cup of Whale Tale Ale to watch the lobsters. People were helping themselves with abandon. Apparently the lobsters were there for the taking, free of charge. Finally, I decided to join them.

I grabbed a hot lobster, sat down on a tree stump and cracked and hummed and slurped and made happy noises deep down in my throat. And then I ate another. And another. And possibly another. It was one of the happiest days of my life.

Statue Of Liberty, From Red Hook

So you see, since that day, I have thought of lobsters cooked over an open fire next to the ocean as the very apex of culinary perfection. If a lobster has been out of the sea for more than a few hours, it’s too old. If I can’t pull it out of it’s shell while lounging under a canopy of fir trees and stars, the ambiance isn’t right. If there’s cloth on the tables and waiters, I’m too embarrassed to make the magnificent mess that comes with properly consuming a lobster.

I’ve been to lobster nirvana, and I’ve come back. Anything less is, well, less. There was a whole, broiled lobster on the docks of Montauk that was memorable, but mostly I try to avoid lobster unless the conditions are perfect. One of these summers, we keep saying, we’ll go to Maine. I bet I can find perfection there, too.

Cockles

Lucky for me, clams and cockles and scallops and oysters run a very close second to lobster in my sea-critter-lovin’ heart. They too have that beautiful sweetness and iodine-tinged brininess that I so love in lobsters, but they’re easier to eat and cook, which you must agree, is a big vote in their favor.

Angel Hair Pasta with Cockles

And I had my fill this past weekend. I had the most delicious fritto misto as an appetizer at my birthday dinner, chock full of oysters and clams and the sweetest, most ridiculous scallops and prawns. And then on Sunday night, thanks to the other Ann, I sated my craving for pasta con vongole.

Roasted Asparagus

I served the pasta with beautiful roasted asparagus, scented ever so lightly with lemon zest and, like we had had at dinner the night before, a wee gluglet of very, very good balsamic vinegar.

Oh, and there was cheese bread. My friend N and her husband had seen it in Gourmet and made a plea that maybe, if possible, I just maybe thought I’d like to make it, just maybe I’d be interested in possibly giving them some?

Georgian Cheese Bread

And so I did. There was so much cheese in that bread, I only allowed myself the tiniest of slivers and then I wrapped the rest up in foil and brought it into the office. My co-workers reacted as if they hadn’t been fed in weeks. It was gone in, oh, let’s call it two minutes.

I think they liked it. Hopefully it helped them forgive me my whoopie pie pedantry.

Head below the jump for the recipe for Ann’s Pasta with Clams.

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