Can you imagine, my Uncle Francis used to ask, how hungry the first person to eat a lobster must have been? While the crustaceans may not be the most appealing-looking creatures to ever make it to a dinner plate, they are among the most desirable dinner entrees.
Having spent my youth and early adulthood in Maine, summers always marked the season when out-of-state friends and relatives trekked to our house for a visit. Inevitably, these summer visitors wanted at least one lobster dinner, which meant that our backyard feasts turned into tutorials on lobster eating.
Now, anyone can go to a restaurant in Maine or virtually anywhere else and enjoy a lobster, for a price. Those interested only in the consuming of lobster as opposed to the full experience of cracking one of these red delicacies open and extracting the sweet, succulent meat as God intended can order lobster stew or a lobster roll, baked stuffed lobster or lobster pie. There’s nothing wrong with that up to a point.
But there is nothing that can replicate the enjoyment that comes from brandishing a pair of nutcrackers and a long thin pick of a fork in an effort to leave not a single gram of meat behind.
You’ll need a plate and a bowl, a cup of drawn (melted) butter and a plastic bib if you are as we natives say from away. And, of course, a bright red freshly boiled lobster.
Start by bending the tail backward toward the critter’s back until it separates from the body. Do this over the bowl, and tip both halves to allow the hot water within to drain. Put the tail aside. This is the motherlode of meat and, as such, will be dealt with presently.
Separate the claws and their connecting joints from the body and set them aside. Again, we’re working our way up to the good stuff. Be patient. Pull the back shell apart from the rest of the body. It will divide easily. Inside, you’ll find a wad of green pasty material known as tomalley. This is actually lobster pate, of a sort, consisting of the crawler’s liver and pancreas. It is the subject of fierce debate amongst lobster lovers with some calling it a scrumptious delicacy and others calling it disgusting. Give it a try and make your own call. Your mileage may vary.
Pull off the half-dozen little legs, and squeeze the longest segments as you would a tube of toothpaste. There’s tender meat in there. Drop them in the butter and fish them out with a fork when you’ve squeezed them all. That’s a good mouthful of lobster most neophytes miss out on.
Inside the body, you’ll notice a round area encased in cartilage at the point where each of those legs was attached. These are called knuckles and, with a little effort you can pull each one apart to find a choice nugget of clearmeat lobster inside. Into the butter they go, to be pulled out one at a time and savored.
OK, let’s get to the serious stuff. Bend each claw backwards from what can only be described as arms. Use the crackers and the pick, if you need to, to open up these arm segments and pull out the meat inside. Likewise, bend back the smaller of the two claw halves from the larger until they detach. You’ll notice a lot of backward-bending in this process. Like our own joints and limbs, when you force things in the wrong direction, they’ll eventually snap. Be sure that the small half of each claw has a long piece of cartilage attached that came from within the larger half. You wouldn’t want to bite down on one of those. Don’t miss the meat inside the small half a pick will get it out. Use your thumbs or a nutcracker to crush the large half of the claw and feast upon the glorious chunk of meat within. This should take a couple of bites, if you’re smart enough to savor.
And now we come to the crux of the matter the lobster tail.
First, twist off each of the fantail segments at the end of the tail. Each has a thin slice of meat inside that can be sucked out, or squeezed out between your teeth (don’t worry, it’s clean you just boiled the thing, after all). The middle fan should be snapped off as well, and the meat will likely remain attached for that section. Now, slide your finger into the opening created when you pinched those fantails off and pushed the meat through the larger opening at the base of the tail. It should slide out easily.
Sitting on your plate now is the lobster equivalent to the choicest filet mignon the tail. First, wipe away the tomalley that lingers there at the fringy base of the tail meat (or eat it, depending on how you fared in the earlier taste test). Then, grab the thin flap of meat that runs down the outer spine and peel it back the entire length of the tail. Dunk this baby in the melted butter and enjoy it one bite at a time.
In the valley between the two connected halves of the remaining tail meat you’ll see a long dark string-like substance. Wipe it away with your finger. There’s no tomalley-like debate over this substance. It’s what old Uncle Francis used to call the poop cord.
You can now separate the two halves of the tail into long, luscious tenderloins of sweet lobster meat. Dip and eat them like chain restaurant chicken fingers if you must, or take your time and break them apart into bite-sized morsels to be basted in butter and relished slowly.
Eating a lobster can be daunting for beginners. But, as with most things in life, you get better with practice.