Lobster: A splendid meal that’s not just for poshos

We should be eating shellfish more and meat a little less, and lobsters are easy to cook

‘But it has eyes,’ exclaims my daughter. Photograph: iStock

‘But it has eyes,’ exclaims my daughter. Photograph: iStock

 

At what point in our food culture did we turn away from the sea? From all that fish and shellfish, seaweed and sea herbs?

The closest I got to white fish when I was growing up was a Bird’s Eye fish finger. For me, that was fish. On Fridays, my mother attempted to force-feed us bony whiting. I ran, in fear of my life.

Why was this so? Why didn’t we feast on mussels and clams, cockles and lobsters? Where was all this Irish produce when I was growing up? Was it only the well-to-do who dined on lobster lawyer, a flambéd dish of lobster, butter and whiskey? Or was it the French who feasted on these crustaceans with fries?

It was probably a little bit of both: lobster is still bizarrely in the realm of the well-off, and tonnes are shipped each year from Connemara to France.

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When was the last time you ate a lobster? Mine was yesterday, sitting at home, dipping its shelled tail in garlic mayonnaise. Let me tell you the truth: lobster is for everyone and it was once a food of the coastal poor, as were mussels, oysters and scallops. We should be eating shellfish more – and meat a little less. Shellfish farming is the future, particularly in Ireland.

Bought alive

Of course, lobsters need to be bought alive and not everyone wants to kill their food. It seems we all want to enjoy meat and fish but not take responsibility for its death.

Lobsters are a useful way to teach children that everything has to die in order for us to live: even a leek. “But it has eyes,” exclaims my daughter. It does indeed. We don’t like our food looking at us.

Cooking lobsters is easy. Place the lobster in a freezer to sedate it, or put a knife straight through its head. Bring some salted water to the boil. Cook the lobster in this water for five minutes – no more.

If eating it straight away, shell it and season with salt and pepper. Dip the flesh into melted butter or your favourite sauce – even tomato ketchup is good with lobsters, but I prefer garlic mayonnaise.

Lobster and mayonnaise work wonderfully together. Butter and mayonnaise are both fats but mayonnaise has the added acidity.

I suppose I mean to be a bit tongue-in-cheek with the ketchup suggestion, but we’re well used to shellfish with Marie Rose, which has ketchup in it and is a classic for both prawns and lobster.

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