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.


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.

Pasta With Clams

prep time: 15 minutes ~ cooking time: 30 minutes

  • 1 Onion, finely sliced
  • 4 cloves Garlic, minced
  • Olive Oil
  • 1 Lemon
  • Dry Vermouth
  • Dried Chile Flakes
  • Salt & Pepper
  • 1 lb or more Cockles, scrubbed and purged if necessary
  • Angel Hair Pasta, half the box or less

Set a large pot of salted water to boil.

In a large sautée pan, add a glug of olive oil and the onions. Cook over medium-low heat until softened. Add the garlic and continue to cook until becoming golden. Wash the lemon and zest directly into the pan. Cut in half and squeeze the juice in. Add a glug of vermouth and season with chile flakes and salt & pepper to taste.

Continue to cook the sauce over medium-low heat adding water or vermouth to maintain a nice, concentrated, saucy consistency, until the pot of water comes to a boil then add the pasta to the sauce and the cockles to the pan.

Cover the cockles with a lid, but not the pasta.

When the pasta is done, drain. Uncover the pan with the sauce, make sure all the clams are open. If not, turn up the heat, clamp the lid back on and allow to cook a few more minutes. When they’re all open, add the drained pasta to the sauce and toss to coat.

Turn off the heat and enjoy! A nice, fruity white wine is delicious with this.


13 Responses to “Homarus Odyssey”

  1. Robin May 8, 2008 at 12:52 pm #

    Jeez! You gave me SUCH a craving for lobster. Damn the downsides of cooking it yourself—I’m just way to afraid to spend that much on something I could potentially screw up.

  2. Christina May 8, 2008 at 3:06 pm #

    Happy Birthday! I’ve said for the longest time that I need to make pasta con le vongole. Your dish looks fantastic. I just need to do it!

  3. Ann May 8, 2008 at 3:19 pm #

    You know… I rather like being referred to as “the other Ann.” :-)

    Your pasta looks fab! And what I wouldn’t have given to have been at that party!

  4. Terry B May 8, 2008 at 3:26 pm #

    Happy birthday, Ann! I hate to admit it, but lobsters have always seemed like a lot of work for too little payoff to me. Admittedly, I’ve only had, oh, about one. I’m sure I would have loved the party anyway, though.

  5. Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) May 8, 2008 at 5:41 pm #

    Until the next perfect lobster dinner comes along, this pasta will definitely do. If you can’t find the lobster of your dreams in Maine, keep heading north, to Prince Edward Island and the famous lobster dinners held in church basements all over the island.

  6. ann May 9, 2008 at 6:48 am #

    Robin — I know! It’s a lot of pressure. But you know what I also don’t like about making lobsters at home? The smell. It’s very particular and, well, stinky… Best to leave it to the experts.

    Christina — Oh, and it’s so easy! Do it! Do it!!

    Ann — Lol, and on your blog I can be “the other Ann.” Much less stigma than being “the other woman.”

    Terry — Thanks!! If that’s your thoughts on lobster, how do you feel about blue crab? ;-) They’re so delicious, and yet, omg, so much work.

    Lydia — Oh, please, twist my arm and give me another reason to lust after a long vacation to PEI… Someday… Someday…

  7. Sandie (Inn Cuisine) May 9, 2008 at 7:45 am #

    I have had dreams of attending lobster bakes, boils and parties just like the one you mentioned. It sounds heavenly! Now, if I only had some friends up in Maine, or at least on Nantucket. *Sigh*

  8. Julie May 9, 2008 at 9:22 am #

    That lobster party sounds heavenly (grilled lobsters and steamers!)but I can see how lobster in every other situation would be ho-hum. Of course, it looks like Lydia is suggesting the perfect solution to that.

    I’m a big fan of pasta with clams too, and you’re right — it’s a lot more doable than just-caught lobsters on the grill.

  9. Terry B May 9, 2008 at 11:22 pm #

    Ann—Funny you should mention crabs. I remember going into a crab shack restaurant in Miami and being issued a wooden hammer as an eating utensil. I knew I wasn’t in for a good time. Yeah, crabs don’t do much for me either.

  10. WillB May 10, 2008 at 8:00 pm #

    Fish smelling up the house? Two words:gas grill. I do all my funky recipes out there. And don’t worry about messing up the lobster – get a big pot with some water in it boiling away and drop them in. And always buy an extra one – you’re worth it! (and don’t forget lobster salad…)

  11. Toni May 11, 2008 at 11:29 am #

    Ann, I’m SO with you on the lobsters! The very best ones I’ve ever had were in Maine, at a friend’s wedding. It was held at an old Victorian house that had been turned into a B&B. We sat outside at tables which were on the lawn and had soft shelled lobsters. I had never heard of soft shelled lobsters before, but they are the ones which have just shed their old shells because they’ve outgrown them. The new shells haven’t hardened yet, and their flavor is other-worldly!

  12. ann May 12, 2008 at 8:40 pm #

    Sandie — All you need is a bike, a friend and an abandoned road, and you too could find yourself stumbling blindly into a heavenly party like we did. Life is fun that way :-)

    Julie — That Lydia’s a pretty smart lady, isn’t she?

    Terry — Heh. Hammers are one of my favorite eating utensils ;-)

    Will — Ugh, how I wish I had the space for a grill! Someday, soon, I hope. Until then I’ve got a drawer full of tealights from Ikea!

    Toni — Soft shell lobsters?? Bestill my beating heart. What time of year was this? I need to start planning, obviously!

  13. Anne May 14, 2008 at 2:59 pm #

    Now I want a big plate of fresh seafood. But I’m trapped in Midtown. (shakes fist up at sky) Damn You, AChickenInEveryGrannyCart!

    And seriously, that bread? I’m licking the screen. Seriously.

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