Michael Smith is the award-winning host of the Food Network's Chef at Home, Chef at Large and The Inn Chef. He is based in Fortune, PEI
Edwin McKie and his mates are up before the crack of dawn this time of year. Before most of us are even thinking about coffee, they're on the job off the shores of Prince Edward Island. They're lobster fisherman, but this year, some of them feel like they might as well stay in bed.
Among the many affects of the global recession is diminished demand for lobsters. PEI's tastiest export has gone the way of expense-account lunches, resort retreats and new televisions. The humble crustacean that here at home is just "fish" is perceived as a luxury in most other places. So sales have plunged and with it the wholesale lobster price that puts food on the table for so many of my friends and neighbours. The price at the wharf is the lowest its been in 20 years, while the cost of running a lobster boat is so high that many fisherman find it cheaper to stay home.
The solution? Buy some lobster - the retail prices have fallen sharply, too - and don't take it so seriously. Think of our famous crustacean the way us we do here on the island. Around here it's weekday food. It's easy to cook and fun to eat, and it can be a regular guest at your table. We'd be real happy if you and your family could kick back and enjoy a few the PEI way. Even better, come and visit and we'll show you how.
Prince Edward Island Style Lobster with Lemon Brown Butter
Run down to the wharf around noon with a pail and some cash. Choose a dozen or so fresh lobsters from the days catch. Or since lobsters travel well - they're great tourists - have your fishmonger pull a few from the tank.
As soon as you get home, steam the lobsters, even if it's not time to eat. It's perfectly okay to serve them cold. In fact, most Islanders prefer them that way. We rarely eat hot lobster.
Pour two inches of water into your biggest pot, then add a few spoonfuls of salt until the water tastes like a day at the beach on PEI.
Get rid of the rubber bands - they're chewy and add an unpleasant flavour. Cooking lobsters without their bands is the sign of a pro - and it's easy. While protecting your hands with a few kitchen towels or gloves, grab the lobster by its claws. Cross its arms, forming an X, and hold them together with one hand while you slip off the bands with the other. Don't worry: By crossing the claw arms you protect yourself from any nips.
Toss the lobsters in the pot as you go. Turn the heat to high. When the pot starts steaming cover with a lid, reduce the heat to medium and cook the lobsters for 15 minutes, or until they are bright red. Steaming preserves their flavour; boiling removes some of it.
While the lobsters are cooking, make the all-important butter dip. You can simply melt butter, or try something a little more chef-like, the way I do. Toss a stick or two of butter into a pot over high heat. Watch as it melts and begins to foam. Swirl gently. Eventually the water in the butter will evaporate and the remaining milk-fat solids will begin to brown. When you see a rich golden-brown sediment in the bottom, turn off the heat and quickly squeeze in a lemon or two. This will instantly drop the temperature of the butter and keep it from burning. It will also make the best darn dip you've ever had for lobster.
Cover the table (preferably your backyard picnic table) with newspapers. Pile the lobsters in the middle of the table, leaving room for cold beer and potato salad. Make sure a dipping bowl of butter is within arms' reach of all your guests.
There are many ways to get the meat out of a lobster - as long as you're not leaving any behind, your method is fine. I tend to hold the front of the lobster in one hand and the tail in the other then twist the two apart.
For the tail, hold it soft side up. Grasp each side and break it open until you can extract the good stuff. Twist off the claws and the knuckles that attach them to the body.
For the claws, twist off the small pincer then crack open the works with a nutcracker or the back of a heavy knife. I usually let somebody else work away at my knuckles and legs - the work-to-reward ratio seems skewed to me.
Of course, I may be spoiled by a pile of lobsters so high I can't see the person across from me.
Beppi's wine matches
The texture of lobster meat and the richness of the butter call for a white wine with substantial body. A chardonnay is the best bet, such as Robert Mondavi Woodbridge Chardonnay from California (about $13 across the country) or Louis Latour Chardonnay from France ($16 to $19). Beppi Crosariol