Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Rock (Crab) Lobstah!

I’m from Boston, so no one should be surprised that I love lobster (lobstah, I suppose). Some of my fondest childhood memories involve picking out live lobster from the tanks of our favorite seafood vendors, watching my parents boil them at home, then cracking them apart with my bare hands and savoring their meat with absurd amounts of buttah dribbling down my chin.

Sometimes my siblings and I would have our lobsters “race” across the kitchen floor before removing the rubber bands from their claws – this practice now strikes me as a rather cruel kind of lobster-gladiator competition before inevitable death by boiling water. But that doesn’t diminish my nostalgia for the whole experience.

Of course, there are lobsters living in the Pacific Ocean, and some people catch them and eat them. But their lack of claw meat makes them pretty much useless to me. Luckily, David is a good listener and has picked up on my desperate longing fondness for northeastern lobster. He also realizes that Meghan Eats Local usually, but not All The Time.

So on Valentine’s Day, I was pleasantly surprised to find two live lobsters in a crate with seaweed and cold packs waiting for me on the kitchen table, straight from Maine.

We tried to make the lobsters race across the kitchen floor, but they were clearly in shock from the cold box and their trip across the country – I know, the whole racing thing seems even crueler now – so they didn’t move much at all. Oh, well! Straight into the pot.

We boiled them for about 15 minutes, until their shells were bright red. Then we transferred them to a colander and poured ice cold water over them until they cooled down. This is a crucial step – soaking them in an ice bath works, too – that prevents them from continuing to cook inside their shells.

We had read that it’s better to undercook them than to overcook them (which results in tough, yucky meat), so we erred on the side of undercooking. As it turned out, we had erred a bit too far on that side; the claw meat was a bit translucent rather than fully white, indicating that they could have cooked a little longer. That was a problem easily solved: we popped each lobster in the microwave for 60 seconds, which did the trick.

Ta-da! I demolished that lobstah, thoroughly soaking each piece of meat in buttah, of course. Happy Valentine’s Day to me! (But not to David, who was a bit grossed out by the whole breaking-a-creature-apart-white-staring-it-straight-in-the-face thing, nearly gave up on cracking the claws, and flat out refused to suck the meat out of the legs.)
Non-local shellfish for Valentine's Day

Obviously, shipping lobster from Maine to Santa Barbara is pretty much the opposite of eating local. I felt an urge to reconcile this transgression by indulging in some local shellfish (don’t question my logic).

Since moving to Santa Barbara, I haven’t really enjoyed much local shellfish beyond shrimp. That all changed last night at Arch Rock Fish. My parents and sister are in town visiting for a week, and last night we all went out to eat with David and his mom, Joan.

Arch Rock Fish is one of my favorite local seafood restaurants any day of the week, but particularly on Monday and Tuesday when they feature a special “Crab Feast.” Joan and I decided to split the “Crab Feast,” since neither of us was feeling particularly ravenous. It was a good thing we split it, because this was one beast of a feast:
Oh, hello! I am your feast!

We got a 2-pound local Rock Crab, which was arranged in a way that suggested it was attempting to escape from its pail, with corn on the cob and roasted potatoes. On top of that, we got a pound of Alaskan King Crab legs and a bottle of chardonnay from Santa Barbara county.

As Joan struggled with the claws and legs, it became increasingly clear where David got his dismal shell-cracking skills. I felt silly after I made fun of her, though, since I was soon frustrated by the claws myself: a Rock Crab shell is, apparently, significantly thicker and harder than that of an Alaskan King Crab, which snaps easily.

Unfortunately, the legs were more trouble than they were worth; there was very little meat to be scraped from inside them. The claw meat, on the other hand, came out in one big chunk. Unlike a lobster claw, the Rock Crab claw included a thin layer of cartilage right in the middle of the meat, upon which I very nearly choked.

By the end of the feast, we might have had some crab meat in our hair and laps, but we were happy and stuffed. The claw meat of the Rock Crab was delicious and was easily scraped from the cartilage; it tasted like a light, flaky, white fish. Well, like a light, flaky, white fish soaked in buttah.

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