A Tail That's Too Shitty (or, How To Not Ruin Lobster)


This came about as my response to an article I found online somehow. It can be found at  http://deadspin.com/how-to-cook-lobster-tails-a-guide-for-people-who-dont-5979160

There could be nothing more rage-inducing to a full-blown seafood freak like myself than a mere seafood tolerator spouting on at such pedantic length about how to help a sea creature taste less like its already-perfect self.

The article "How To Cook Lobster Tails: A Guide For People Who Don't Have Butlers To Do All The Work"  is jam-packed with jaw-dropping idiocy from start to finish, so I'll just give you the iceberg's tip. But first I must pause to breathe so I don't break the keys of my computer by pounding them like the punching bag I wish I'd purchased before reading this drivel.

Okay. I would like to thank author Albert Burneko for at least putting the major steps of his process in bold. It is a rather effective method for jumping past the blithering. Evidently, good comic writing is as rare an ability as not turning fish into feces before it enters your GI tract - and the stork evidently packed neither skill on its descent to his mother's threshold.

I must first disclose some of my quasi-religious beliefs about seafood. I want to make clear that, while my opinions about food can sometimes come across as a sort of "fascism light," I do acknowledge that people with different experiences and traditions may experience the same kind of joy I do by preparing things in a completely different way. And while I do actually appreciate Mr. Burneko's vehemence, it seems overall to mimic, rather than reflect, the true passion these sorts of traditions evoke. So I suppose you should pack a grain (although I prefer a tablespoon) of salt on your trek through my vitriole.

I love almost every edible creature that lives in water. Most of them (lobster included) I cannot eat without moaning. And I believe the best way to experience the vast majority of them is to cook them with as little interference as possible. This is because their genetics and environment and diet have molded them into a million different distinct and delicate flavors that, most of the time, can be easily and tragically masked. For example - I've tried hundreds of shrimp dishes, and none of them has ever touched my favorite. It's called shrimp. If you have good, flavorful shrimp, I strongly recommend you do nothing except steam them in their shells until the exact moment you see you see the very last bits of raw flesh disappearing, peel them, and then put them into your mouth. A little cocktail sauce is okay (unprepared horseradish, good ketchup, lemon). Oh - and salt and hot peppers are great to add to the water. They're very subtle through the steam.

This is not to say I wouldn't love to eat some shrimp and grits right now, or some of those (I think obscenely-overspiced-but-still-goddamn-delicious) Louisiana crawfish. But the purity of eating simple things like cornmeal-fried fish, 2 or 3 dozen raw oysters with just a few drops of lemon, crab cakes that are 90% crab and don't have red peppers in them (my mother just scratched at the lid of her coffin with rage against those peppers), crab that's not smothered in Old Bay with a little butter (clarify? emulsify? Up yours! The term is "melt"), and of course the glorious and perfect lobster.

I just realized I don't really need to go over as much as I thought. It's so painfully obvious. I just cannot believe someone would espouse such absolutes about an animal he clearly, simply does not like. He's actually repulsed by the "gelatinous blobs of horror" of the creature in its raw state, and the thought of dealing with the innards terrifies and disgusts him.

Can I just say – what an enormous fucking pussy! There are suburban soccer moms outside Tulsa who have more of a seafood spine. I was cleaning big-ass James River mud cats and and smallmouth bass when I was 6 years old, without a thought in the world except that I considered it a privilege. This sort of timidity isn't just insulting to the species being consumed, it's a perfect example of the worst approach to preparing animal foods as a whole – the detachment from the reality of the creature you're eating.

Let someone else deal with that icky body. Maybe one day they'll put lobster in nugget form and your dreams will be realized. Basically, Mr. Burneko's ultimate authority in lobster consists of nothing more than the fact that he can emulsify butter!

Oh – and then there's that other classic tell of the seafood hater: the pervasive myth that fish of all kinds are always better when younger (which can, incidentally, lead to bad fishing practices). What these folks really mean is that it's milder. They're the people who somehow made the absurdly-ambiguous word "fishy" into a universal pejorative. "Steaky? Mmmm! Fishy? Ewwww!" Goddamn catfish-blackening jackasses.

I finally settled on a piece of advice for these folks some years back. I always wanted to use it on people who requested that I commit the capital offense of skinning their salmon fillets when I was a fishmonger at Newman's here in Portland, but I liked my job too much. If you dislike the taste of fish, go buy some boring chicken and take some fish oil capsules. And whatever you do, please don't write a column about it and encourage even more folks to fear the food I love so much.

So, you wanna eat lobster? Here's what you do:   1) Buy only whole lobster, ever, so you don't instantly lose your fucking soul.   2) Boil it in sea water or well-salted water (I like to keep the water level low to retain more of the essence of the external parts) or steam it (pretty solid guidelines can be found at lobsterfrommaine.com.)   3) Eat every goddamn bit of it you can chew. Even the parts you come to that you can't identify. Be sure to suck all the juice from any of the rest. These methods are standard where lobsters live for a reason. Folks have known these things for ages, and they are all exactly correct. The flavorlessness the author alleges comes not from that process, but from his weak-kneed desire to replace its true flavor with his own. Trust me, there is nothing bland about it.

And please don't forget about the "incredibly boring" tomalley. You know, that stuff that explodes with the very essence of the ocean with such orgasmic intensity you just swear it's about to squirt out of your hair follicles? Yeah, that. This is where I actually have to wonder if perhaps this guy was smashed in the face with a medicine ball as a child and permanently lost his senses of smell and taste. You can say you hate it, but calling it "boring" is like calling skydiving tedious. What I really suspect is that the man is so grossed out by the lobster in general that he never had the guts to actually try tomalley, and "boring" was the most self-inflating word he could think of to sound like he knows what he's talking about. He does not.

But I guess I shouldn't be so harsh on Mr. Burneko. After all, it appears he primarily writes about basketball. Funny thing is, I bet I could do that better as well.


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