Can you feed nine people with one lobster?
I was faced with this first-world problem recently and I don’t mind telling you that after a lot of work and a fair bit of doubt the answer is yes, yes you can.
But more about that later.
And I have a rather momentous announcement to make, but you will have to wait for that too.
As I write this latest update from the Sheep’s Head Peninsula, I am sitting here looking out on the not-so-calm waters of Dunmanus Bay, the rain is pouring down, the wind is howling and to quote one local fisherman ‘the Bay is angry today’.
I tell you this because over the last few weeks we have had very un-January-like weather with sunny days and temperatures reminiscent of springtime. In fact, we have daffodils flowering in many fields. (Kilcrohane used to be famous for its early daffodils but that’s another story).
Just before Christmas, I decided that I would love to cook lobster as a treat for the festive season and with some of the best shellfish available anywhere just a few steps from my door I ordered one medium-sized fresh Dunmanus Bay Homarus gammarus or European lobster.
I collected the crustacean along with five litres of seawater from the Bay to cook it in and returned home to a house full of visitors who had arrived to ring in the New Year. (We seem to be getting a lot of visitors and friends calling since we moved to West Cork. I didn’t know we were so popular).
Before you think that I am a terrible host and should have ordered more lobsters, let me explain; I didn’t know we were going to have nine people staying when I ordered my lobster and I actually got the very last one that our ‘shellfish guy’ had. And there is something of a recession going on, you know, even in West Cork.
Following a quick scan of the cookery bookshelf, I decided on lobster salad (thank you Rick Stein) and after a quick boil (alive), I removed the meat from the body and the claws and then set it aside. Next, I mixed spring onion, avocado, red pepper, olive oil and lemon juice together in a bowl and added the lobster when it had cooled down. After serving it all up on a bed of lettuce, I found that I had fed nine people with just one lobster. Very proud of myself, I sat back and awaited the oohs and aahs of amazement from all those gathered around the table.
I’m still waiting.
The reaction to the miracle of the ‘feeding of the nine’ ranged from ‘this is interesting’ to ‘I’m not quite sure about this lobster’ and ‘Yeah, it was alright’ to my favourite ‘is it supposed to be tough?’
Not put off by the lack of enthusiasm from my guests, I waited until they had left, went out for a drive and arrived back with crabs. (Not an infestation, Brown Crabs – shellfish that is) Again, these lads were straight out of the Bay and very much alive.
The lobster, however, when it was still very much alive was, unlike the crabs, a lot more resigned to its faith and went meekly to the pot. The crabs fought every inch of the way.
When I arrived to collect my two crustaceans, I could see that they were ready for a fight. As I approached their holding pot, I noticed through the bars that the inmates were restless. When the pot was opened, two sets of massive claws reached skywards snapping wildly in all directions. ‘At least the lobster had its claws secured with rubber bands; these lads look like they could do some serious damage if they got a hold of you,’ I thought as the angry shellfish were expertly removed from their prison and placed into a waiting box with some seaweed.
I put the box in the trunk of the car and headed for Harro and Gisi’s house as I had decided to give one crab to them as a thank you for all their help with the pheasants.
When I arrived at the house, I opened the trunk to find one of the crabs had climbed out of the box and was waiting in ambush. After a lot of coaxing, cursing and finally covering the mad crab with my coat, I managed to get it back into the box only to find its mate about to leap from the back of the car.
When I eventually got the crabs inside the house, Gisi lifted one out of the box and put it in a bowl so expertly and without any hesitation that I decided not to tell her how I had been standing outside her home for the last ten minutes fighting with the crabs and trying to get them back in the box without losing a finger or any other appendage.
Returning to Kilcrohane and after another struggle to get it in the pot I cooked the crab, removed the meat and now I need your help. What would you do with this lovely, flaky, sweet meat? I was thinking about a crab quiche but as one of my former editors used to say: ‘real men don’t eat quiche’.
Then, just when I thought I had gotten over my shellfish moment there was a knock on the door.
I opened it to find the ‘man with the gun’ without his gun but with a big smile on his face. ‘Wait until you see what I have for you, and get your camera ready’, he said as I hoped and prayed that it wasn’t another pheasant or duck or woodcock or brace of snipe or anything covered in feathers that needed to be gutted.
While I stood there (very pale and frightened) with my camera, he produced a bucket. ‘Have a look’, he said, still smiling as a strange scraping sound emanated from inside the big black plastic pail . ‘Oh, God, it’s not enough that I will have to clean out whatever’s in the bucket, now he wants me to kill it as well’, I thought as I peered over the lip of the container.
Staring back at me, with one giant claw open and pointed directly at my nose, was the biggest lobster I have ever seen. I was relieved, amazed and immediately hungry all at the same time. Now the only question was, did I have a pot big enough to hold this monster?
I finally found a casserole pot just big enough to take ‘Long-John Lobster’ (as I had decided to call him because of his single monster claw).
As Long John boiled away on the stove top, I learned another valuable lesson. Never, and I mean never, mention a longing for a certain food on the Peninsula. Let me give you an example; as we, ‘the man with the gun’ and I, watched the lobster bubble away in the pot, I casually mentioned that I would love some scallops.
Later that day, as I prepared Long John for a lobster thermidor dinner, there was another knock on the door.
While I have no doubt that you know what’s coming next, let me tell you that I have never seen scallops so big or so fresh. There stood ‘the man with the gun’ armed with another bucket, this time containing 12 huge scallops.
In our freezer, at this very moment, we have crabmeat, a pheasant and 12 scallops. Sounds like a dinner party in the making, if you ask me; all local food from the Sheep’s Head. Now all I need is some Durrus cheese and local honey and I can send out the invitations.
Oh, as for the momentous news, you will all be delighted to know that I have caught my first fish of 2012. I hope there will be many more.