Seasons come and go in California with only slight changes. In good years, rain helps delineate winter from the six-month dry spell we call summer, but as it’s been well documented, it has been unusually warm and dry since December.
In New England, seasons are much more important. Labor Day is the bittersweet demarkation of the end of summer, bringing with it a shift in mentality away from vacation and toward work.
So arriving in Mattapoisett, a Massachusetts summer vacation destination, a week after Labor Day feels unusual. It’s quiet, for one thing. But we have the beach to ourselves. The beach is small but calm, perfect for learning how to paddleboard.
We came out for what was going to be a big family reunion. It’s been fun, but just like the end of summer, it has a bittersweeet feeling to it, too.
My parents orchestrated this trip, but they couldn’t make it at the last minute. This has left us siblings, significant others, and offspring to rule the roost. We miss our folks, but we are doing our best to live it up, like they’d want us to. In fact, that’s exactly what my mom said: “I don’t want you worrying. You have to enjoy every minute for us.”
Enter the Lobster Boil. Sara, my sister in law, grew up here. She and my brother moved back to this part of the Massachusetts coast a few years ago. We hadn’t been back since their wedding, and they were looking forward to showing off their local spots. To say that Sara’s family is well-connected here is an understatement. Her family owns Turk’s, one of the most popular seafood spots in the area. Everyone around here knows it well. A few days ago, when we were in line in Turk’s fish market to buy swordfish, haddock, and scallops, an older woman with her hair piled on top of her head leaned over and told us that she won’t buy fish anywhere else.
“They sell it so fast,” she said. “You always know it’s fresh.”
Sara’s parents decided we needed a true New England experience, so last night they brought over a staggering number of lobsters from Turks, bags of local butter-and-sugar corn, littleneck clams, bread, salad, and plenty of butter. Richard knows I’m gullible, so he said he pulled over the road and picked the corn himself. (There are a surprising number of cornfields here.) Sara corrected him: he bought the corn. “Dad!” she sighed.
The evening was dry, the first crisp night of the season, and the sunset seemed to light up the boats in the bay and bathe everything in a pink glow.
We shucked, boiled, toasted, tossed, melted, talked, and ate–a lot. The next day, I took the leftover lobster meat–mostly knuckles and claws but also some tail pieces–and made a pasta with the leftover corn and some sliced shallots and garlic and a few pinches of red pepper flakes. It tasted simple, sweet, and purely of New England.
How to eat lobster
Richard, Sara’s dad, gave us West Coasters a lobster-cracking primer. It went something like this:
- Holding the body and the tail over something other than your plate (a deep tray or bowl works well), bend the lobster in half to separate the two pieces. Water (and sometimes guts) will come out when you break apart the lobster
- Pull off and save the claws. Set aside the body — you can eat the guts and roe or not. Up to you.
- Holding the tail like an upside-down taco, cup the shell with one hand and crush it like an orange to break it slightly.
- Using two hands, with the tail underside facing down, grab the sides of the tail and raise them up to crack up the shell so it can be pulled off and discarded.
- To shell the claw, twist the small pincher and pull it off. If you’re lucky, the quill in the claw will come out with the shell.
- Crush the big pincher with a cracker (made for shells) or your bare hands, if you’re feeling macho. Remove the shell and you’ll have the claw meat. Some people prefer claw meat over tail meat.
- To remove the meat from the knuckles, break the knuckle at the joint and stick your pinky finger through to push the meat out. Dunk the lobster meat in melted butter and mangia.