Lovin’ Lobster

When King James grabbed a little bit of coastline from the Massachusetts Bay Colony so New Hampshire could have a seaport, he unwittingly added to the state’s culinary horizons. Lobster was hard to transport inland, and wasn’t even on the coastal menu back then unless you were a prisoner or couldn’t afford anything better.

Now, our blatant love for lobster subjects us to the vagaries of the market. Yet we continue feasting on ever new sophisticated lobster dishes while swearing by old standbys of the simplest making.

This spring the price was punishing — hitting $13.50 a pound or higher in the supermarket. Wholesale prices came close to double last summer’s low of under $4.00 a pound. Yet our fixation hardly abated. For many, nothing but a frontal assault on a boiled lobster with a tsunami of melted butter continues to satisfy the craving. “You got to get to where the butter’s dripping off your elbow,” says Bob Nudd, a lobsterman from Hampton.

“Boiled lobster is still our biggest seller,” says Jeff Graves, co-owner of BG’s Boat House in Portsmouth. Graves sticks his lobsters in boiling water in the same pot with corn on the cob and steamers. “Customers prefer it to steaming,” he says.

Chefs like Stephan Mayeux have more active imaginations. “In my head it was a match made in heaven,” he says of his sautéed lobster with chicken breast, asparagus and prosciutto, all in Marsala wine. “The lobster is rich. The chicken lean and light.” The dish is definitely a popular one at Café Mirabelle in Portsmouth. A bouillabaisse that combines lobster and other seafood in a lobster-tomato-saffron base is an inspired hybrid of French and New England influences.

Chef Gary Caron’s lobster, oyster, mushrooms, leeks and sweet peas, served tossed with papardelle pasta with tarragon beurre blanc, would surely have exceeded Puritan expectations. The lobster and melon salad at the Dolphin Striker in Portsmouth is “on the exotic side,” says Caron. In a curry vanilla vinaigrette, it includes ingredients far from the ocean’s edge.

But the big demand is for lobster salad done none too fancy. Even the addition of chopped celery for some is heresy. It’s where Nudd and his wife Sheila part ways. “A house divided against itself cannot stand” is Bruce Brown’s response to such couples. Seabrook voting official and owner of Brown’s Lobster Pound, Brown adds only mayonnaise to lobster boiled on the premises and “chopped not too fine.”

At Markey’s Lobster Pound across the street in Seabrook, lobster rolls are likewise made with mayonnaise. “We don’t portion control,” says owner Tom Markey. “We put a healthy scoop” of lobster that’s been mixed with Cain’s mayonnaise on a toasted, buttered roll with a bit of lettuce.

Ben Hasty, executive chef at Dunaway in Portsmouth, adds celery and red onions to his lobster roll canapé, which he says are “traditional ingredients.” He doesn’t stop there. He also adds lemon zest, cumin, tarragon and fried onion. “It’s tongue and cheek. When someone thinks of a lobster roll they think of a fried seafood place,” says Hasty. “Whereas people get excited to see it on a fine dining menu, where there’s also foie gras.” Another highlight with lobster is a chilled English pea soup with lobster, morel mushrooms and shaved asparagus.

In early spring, Markey and Brown had to raise lobster roll prices to $10.95, and Graves says he also had to increase lobster prices “slightly,” but absorbed much of the cost. Mayeux substituted shrimp for lobster on occasion. “People understood,” he says.

Why were lobster prices so high? “I strongly believe that the ‘shortage’ this year is simply due to the very cold weather we all experienced in March and April,” says Win Watson, professor of zoology at the University of New Hampshire’s Center for Marine Biology. “This kept water temperatures low and, as a result, lobsters did not become active and start entering traps. Either lobstermen decided not to fish as much or those that did were not doing as well as they would have liked.”

But Nudd says the market dynamics are more complex than weather alone. “The Canadians buy the majority of our lobster and ship it around the world.”

Lobstermen here also sell their live catch in the late fall to lobster pounds, which keep the lobsters live through the winter to sell when the price is right.

“Everything was down,” said Nudd. “When the catch was reduced, the pounders sold inventory to fill the gap, but the bad weather continued longer than expected. By May there wasn’t much left of anything.” So even though the catch has increased, the demand and thus the price remains fairly high as suppliers rebuild their inventory.

The professor says good times may not go on forever. “The number of traps fished and the money the industry is making has increased steadily for many years. The real question is what keeps it so stable and resilient to heavy exploitation.”
Nudd agrees lobsters are capricious.

“Lobster don’t turn on and off. They do what they want to do,” says Nudd. “Twenty years ago I could tell you absolutely everything about lobster. Now I know nothing.” NH

Sautéed Lobster with Fresh Peas, Sweet Carrots, Ginger and Fettuccine

Chef Benjamin Hasty
The Dunaway Restaurant, Portsmouth
Serves: 4

1 lb. cooked, fresh-picked claw and knuckle lobster meat
1 shallot, minced
1 garlic clove, minced
2 cups fresh peas (shelled English, snap, sugar, etc.)
4 sweet carrots, peeled and sliced thin with sharp chef’s knife
1/2 cup carrot juice
1 small piece of fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated
16 oz. fresh fettuccine (homemade or pre-packaged)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons freshly-grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons fresh sliced chives
Kosher salt
Freshly ground white pepper

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, add salt.
2. Blanch peas in salty water for 60 seconds, then chill in an ice water bath, reserve.
3. In a large sauté pan, combine 2 tablespoons of butter with shallots and garlic, sauté on medium heat for 1 minute.
4. Add lobster meat and carrots, sauté for 2 minutes.
5. Add peas, ginger and carrot juice, reduce heat, let simmer for 3 minutes.
6. Cook pasta in salty water until tender.
7. Add drained pasta directly into lobster mixture with a small dash of salty water.
8. Turn off heat.
9. Mix pasta and lobster, add remaining butter, 2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese and 1 tablespoon chives; give one last mix in pan.
10. Divide fettuccini and lobster between bowls. Top with remaining chives
and Parmesan, drizzle olive oil over top to complete.

Going Light and Cool for Summer When the heat is on outside, do yourself a favor with refreshing no-bake desserts. By Master Baker Stephen James

When entertaining at home in the heat of summer, I usually do desserts that don’t need to be baked, which creates more heat. Some of my favorite summer desserts would include maple syrup poached pineapple, served with a small dollop of yogurt or maybe even frozen yogurt if it’s real hot outside. I have fond memories of sitting outside on a warm evening years ago eating red wine and strawberries for dessert. Or try red wine and raspberries, finishing off with a small dollop of lightly whipped cream or crème fraiche. The first time I tried these wine-soaked berries, a nice Valpolicella was used, but a good Merlot or fruity Zinfandel also works fine. If you haven’t tried it, you’re in for a real treat.

If chocolate is your passion, how about a warm chocolate panini, using banana bread and having bittersweet chocolate with tart crème fraiche as the filling? If you don’t want to hook up the panini machine, just set sandwiches on the grill outside and toast slightly till golden brown and chocolate is melted and oozing out the sides. If banana bread isn’t available, just use a good country white bread or walnut bread to make these summer treats.

I made a dessert for years I called sautéed banana bread with vanilla ice cream and warm pecan praline sauce. Banana bread has such a different taste when served warm and toasted or even grilled outside. Or just forget the bread altogether and serve ice cream with the warm pecan praline sauce. (More recipes are online at www.nhmagazine.com.)

Red wine and strawberries:
For every 1 cup of sliced strawberries, sprinkle on about 1 teaspoon of granulated sugar. Let it set a couple of minutes to allow sugar to bring out the juice of the strawberries. Put fruit in glasses and just barely cover it with red wine. Don’t let this mixture sit more than an hour because the strawberries get too soft.

Add a small amount of other flavors if you wish, such as a cinnamon stick, orange zest or mint, but really ripe strawberries need no sugar at all

Chocolate Panini:
Take two slices of banana bread and butter one side of each. On one unbuttered side, spread with crème fraiche and place on chocolate pieces, more or less depending on how much you like. Place second piece of banana bread on top. Place on panini machine or outside grill. When lightly browned, turn over and lightly brown second side. Serve warm.

Maple-poached pineapple:
For every pound of fresh pineapple, use about 1/4 cup of grade A dark amber local maple syrup. Combine both ingredients, bring to a boil and set aside to cool. Serve at room temperature or chilled if you wish. Goes great with yogurt or frozen yogurt. NH

Cheap Eats
By Rachel Forrest

Pizza, subs, chicken fingers, hot dogs, burgers and spaghetti make up much of the casual family fare diet, but when you can go way beyond the usual and into the flavors of the Middle East, that casual food becomes much more exciting. Salem Kabob and Pizzeria has counter service only and a few booths to dine in along with a brisk take-out business for those pizzas, sure, but also for Mediterranean dinner platters and pita-wrapped kabob sandwiches dripping with yogurt sauce, all in the $5-11 range.

Start off with some warm grape leaves stuffed with meat, rice and spices or a tub of garlicky hummus to scoop up with pita chips. They also have some flaky filo spinach and feta pies, great for parties. The kabobs and meats can be ordered as a platter with fries or a Greek-style salad and rice, or as a wrap. Try aromatic grilled lamb tucked into warm bread with lettuce, tomato and a mild yogurt sauce or the shaved beef Shawarma mixed with onion and crisp and tart pickles. The shish taouk comes with marinated grilled chicken and a garlic sauce or choose the spicy grilled ground meat kafta with fluffy white rice.

For dessert there’s the traditional baklava, here without too much of the sticky syrup, but just enough sweet and nutty filling inside the light filo pastry. And yes, you can have pizza and, of course, it’s Greek-style with a nice thick crust and plenty of cheese, including one with garlic, provolone and feta.

Salem Kabob and Pizzeria is open Monday-Thursday 11 a.m. 8 p.m. and until 9 p.m on Friday and Saturday. 97 Shoppes Plaza, 401 Main St., Salem. (603) 870-0018

Rachel Forrest is a former restaurant owner and now independent food writer who lives in Exeter. Hear her on “Wine Me Dine Me” — a radio show with co-host Susan Tuveson Fridays at 6 p.m. on WSCA-FM 106.1. She can be reached by e-mail at rachelforrest1@aol.com when she’s not on the road finding great Cheap Eats.

Cuisine Buzz

Chef du cuisine Brian Woods has brought new energy to the table at the Colby Hill Inn. Woods is making every attempt to find local sources for ingredients as he goes forth with a new summer menu. Appetizers include fried calamari with a sweet and spicy sauce, pan-seared crab cakes with a fresh corn relish and duck confit spring roll with a raspberry-ginger dipping sauce. The inn is also now serving Sunday brunch from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Reservations are suggested (800-531-0330).

Ben Mercuri has finalized the renovation at Saffron Bistro on Main Street in Nashua. The space is divided between a bar area and dining room. Lovely yellow walls, with either a subtle stripe or faux painting, brighten the interior, while carefully designed windows and archways give the space a lot of character. The restaurant opened in June.

Owners Levent and Dawn Bozkurt of the Stonehedge Inn and Spa (978-649-4400) in Tyngsboro, Mass., had a grand opening of their newly-revisioned restaurant now called Left Bank. Why Left Bank? Levant explains many fine wines are grown in that region of France, L.B. are his initials, too, and the property is on the left bank of the Merrimack if you are coming from New Hampshire. The Bozkurts decided to change the concept of the former Silks restaurant from a special occasion restaurant to a lighter menu with a separate bar menu. The space including the atrium were redone in a more contemporary fashion. They continue to have a Sunday brunch (not a buffet) from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.

— Susan Laughlin

Z restaurant (www.zfoodanddrink.com), Elm Street in Manchester, has launched its prix fixe family-style Sunday Dinner menu from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. $28 per person.

Sautéed or grilled banana bread with ice cream and pecan praline sauce: 1 slice of thick banana bread
unsalted butter
1 scoop of ice cream
pecan praline sauce

Take one thick slice of banana bread and spread a little unsalted butter on one side. Place on a non-stick sautéed pan, or place right on an open grill and heat until warm through and lightly golden brown.

Take off heat and slice diagonally and place in a serving bowl.

Place one scoop of ice cream in the middle and drizzle on pecan praline sauce.

Pecan Praline Sauce recipe:
1 cup of brown sugar
1/2 cup of corn cyrup
1/2 cup of half and half
2 ounces butter
splash of vanilla
1/2 cup of pecan pieces

Place all of the ingredients except the vanilla and pecans in a stainless steel pot and bring to full boil. Remove from the heat and keep warm. Add pecan pieces and vanilla before serving.