When live gives you lobsters

When live gives you lobstersNarraguagus Bay is an incredible sight no matter what the season… ethereal winter sea smoke, vibrant  autumn reflections… all are breathtaking.  But, if you’re pining for the quintessential postcard image of Maine at its finest, it’s got to be the summer shimmer of lobster buoys dotting the watery expanse with sparkling white light as stunning as a star-filled sky.  From our vantage point on shore, there are times when we see so many markers in the bay, we are sure we could walk from Fickett’s Point to Trafton Island without getting wet. Mist shrouded vessels, magnified voices heard across the water, and a glimpse of traps pulled dripping from the sea add to the nautical theater. All so picturesque, it’s easy to forget that there are real people out there doing backbreaking and often dangerous work to keep the rest of us supplied with the ocean’s most delectable gift, fresh lobster meat.

Growing up in central Massachusetts in the 50’s, I remember lobster as a delicacy reserved for special occasions. It was exotic and expensive, as was dining out itself. Not an everyday affair, dinner in a restaurant demanded a hallmark birthday, a milestone anniversary, or perhaps, a graduation. Dressed in our Sunday best and eager for the feast, we’d head east toward Boston and pull off Route 9 at “Sea ‘n’ Surf”.  There was only one thing on the menu worth contemplating on these momentous evenings and that was the Boiled Live Lobster. No dainty Thermidor or Newburg for us; it had to be the big deal… the whole, messy, brilliant red crustacean overflowing our plates and dripping with drawn butter! It was the ultimate meal… Heaven!

How could I know then, sitting draped in a plastic bib, tools for picking and cracking by my side, and a tank filled with the wild creatures at my back, that I would one day live in a Maine village where lobstering is a way of life?  As I explored the inner mysteries of the delicious repast before me, careful to ask which parts were edible and which were not, (“Can you really suck on the legs?… the antennae?…  and what about that green stuff?”),  never could I have guessed that one day I would call Milbridge my home and count lobstermen and their families among my neighbors and closest friends.

narraguagusBut here I am, gazing out on Narraguagus Bay, pondering how I ever got so lucky. I know for certain that I never want to take this site for granted. I want to look out over this saltwater inlet each day, to watch the boats working their trade at dawn, and to smile at the wonder of lobsters, not as a gourmet item in fancy eateries, but as natural gift and a vital economy.  Lobsters by the hundreds, thrive here…  just off the shore of my adopted town.

Once, so abundant they were used for fertilizer, lobsters in our day have leapt to the top of the culinary charts and are now the prime contenders with filet mignon and caviar on the menus of the world. Financially pinched, I clearly remember the scramble in the early 60’s to find a substitute for the high-priced seafood. My mother and many an average American homemaker, reached for a new market item, “langostinos”. This Spanish shellfish is nether a true lobster nor a prawn, but a little three inch critter more closely related to crab. Offering the taste of lobster to those on a tight budget, these morsels became the basis of Mom’s “Lobster” Casserole, a sublime combination of five ingredients: lobster (aka langostinos), rice, green peppers, and butter… topped with buttered bread crumbs. Did I mention that butter is a main ingredient?

Here in Milbridge, we have no need for such imported taste-a-likes. Actual, incomparable lobster, is waiting for us at the local pounds and fish markets. Enjoy it simply…  boiled live and large. But, when the leftovers confront you the following day, try my mother’s buttery decadence… and count your blessings.  “Goodnight, you princes of Maine, you kings of New England”.  We know life often gives us lemons and we’ve learned to make lemonade but, when we privileged “princes” and “kings” are granted lobsters… well…  Here’s one of many solutions to an embarrassment of riches!

When Life Gives You Lobsters Casserole

  • 2 cups uncooked Uncle Ben’s converted white rice (I may sound like an ad from 1955, but this rice never sticks, clumps, or gets gooey and is perfect for this recipe! Just follow package directions.)
  • 2-3 large sweet green peppers, sliced into narrow strips (This essential green adds contrasting color and infuses the dish with incredible flavor.)
  • 2 tablespoons butter, plus 1-2 sticks more for moistening rice and bread crumbs
  • 2 cups cooked lobster, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • Panko or other bread crumbs to cover top of casserole

Prepare rice and set aside.  Meanwhile, saute green pepper slices in 2 T. butter. In large frypan.  When they are tender and slightly brown, melt the remaining butter in the same pan. Use as much butter as your diet or cholesterol levels will allow. Add cooked rice and lobster, stirring to coat and moisten all the ingredients with butter.  Place in a large casserole dish and top with buttered bread crumbs.  Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes until crumbs are golden and casserole is heated through. Enjoy with a green salad and a glass of white wine.