I was born and raised in Kansas and learned to cook alongside my mother. Now, along with my wonderful husband, I have taken the plunge into the city life in New York. These are my food adventures: in my own tiny kitchen, and in the many restaurants of the city.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

On Killing a Lobster: A New Year's Resolution

On New Year's Day I work up sore, hung-over, bruised (all thanks to an immensely tough night at work) and desperately needing something to eat. Dim sum called to me, with its wide variety of food and endless pots of tea. But I knew that dim sum is never quite right with only two people to partake. So instead the husband and I creaked out of bed and headed to Shanghai Café.

We dug into porky soup dumplings (of which I could have eaten 2-3 orders of 8 by myself), fried wontons, crispy pig ears, rice cakes with mushrooms. I felt satisfied, yet not weighed down like I would have had we gone for the burgers/fried food that tends to be our go-to after a long night of drinking. I have a feeling soup dumplings will soon replace all other hangover cravings as #1. If only I could come by them more easily (meaning a jaunt down my block instead of a subway slug to Chinatown).

As we were eating away the pain of the night before, Joe declared a resolution for himself in the year that had just begun--to eat something new at least once a month, but preferably once a week. To really take advantage of the fact that we live in a city where you can get almost anything your heart desires and so many things it never before knew it did. Day 1 resolution complete: soup dumplings and pig's ear.

The idea of doing something new took hold with me in a slightly different way. I plan on tagging along on Joe's adventures of new foods, but for my own account I will be cooking something new at least once a month in the kitchen. What better way to expand my craft and better understand this thing I love so much. So I will be hunting down recipes/techniques I have never attempted or searching out ingredients which have never crossed my kitchen's threshold. I am excited for the personal education it will bring.
To start my resolution off right, I came across a recipe in The French Chef Cookbook by Julia Child for Homard a l'americaine.

Lobster. And not the lobster meat that you can buy precooked, and toss into the pot none-the-wiser where the meat came from. This is live lobster that you kill and chop up just before putting it into the pan and lighting it on fire with cognac (or bourbon in my case) and  then tossing along with some vegetables and garlic into a rich, creamy tomato sauce. I must admit I was excited by the prospect while simultaneously feeling completely overwhelmed and skeeved out by it. I want to feel connected to my food and to understand it to the core, which I believe means understanding all the processes involved in getting it from its original form to the plate, from harvesting/fishing/hunting/slaughter to butchery to prep to heat. I have been present at the killing of animals before, even helping to butcher a pig that I had helped raise (and is still to this day the tastiest pork I have ever eaten). I grew up around hunters and ranchers. This is nothing new to me. Doing the deed itself is.

I suppose that's not 100% true if you think to include oysters and shellfish. Somehow I feel like this is a little different, however. These guys don't have little eyes that sit in judgment as you move towards them with your sharp knife. These things don't jump around on the counter after you have made the first cut, cracking through the shell {shiver}, while you hop around the kitchen, screaming curse words to make a sailor blush. And then continue to jump around even when you have finished chopping them up and plopped them into the hot oil in the skillet. As you are eating the mussels you don't remember how they shook their claws at you as you carried them home in a paper bag on the subway.
It's judging me right now...

So it is different, yet really the same. You are still ending a living creature's life. I know so many people have a problem with this--some therefore decide to no longer eat meat, which is a choice I respect despite not wanting to make that choice myself. Some continue to eat the meat and yet keep themselves separate from the journey of their dinner to their table--they don't want to see the chicken feet or the fish heads. Give them the fillets and chicken strips and don't remind them where it came from. This is the mentality that frustrates me every time. Respect your food, especially if you are going to eat meat. By understanding the process and its journey you are able to give it thanks for its life and for its contribution to your own. Perhaps it sounds silly to thank the lobsters for their lives as you are taking them, but somehow the food tastes sweeter when you are able to do so.

I hate to say that this wasn't the most delicious lobster I have ever tasted (after the effort and mental trauma that went into it, don't you wish it was??). More practice and experience will one day make this good dish great but the sense of accomplishment I felt as I plated the dish more than made up for its shortcomings. I conquered something new and have one more thing I can check off my "to learn" list. Not a bad way to start off 2012.


Mary said...

that looks totally fantastic and sounds like a true foodie experience!!! I've cooked them, but never cut them up before tossing them in the pan. EEK!

That Girl said...

And you didn't end up crying in a ball in the corner like I did when I tried to cut up my first live lobster.