Anthony and the Lobster Rebellion
A summer getaway to the New Jersey Shore is a favorite pastime for my family. Relaxing days in a lovely beach house, right on the water, are a great way to enjoy each other’s company and share heady meals.
For me, cooking up a fresh seafood dinner to go along with the coastal spirit of the getaway begins with a simple walk down the road to the local fishmonger. Upon my return, everyone knows it is time for red lobster sauce with linguine. And always, when I make this sauce, my brother, Anthony, dramatically tells the story of “The Lobster Rebellion.”
From my parents, right down to the youngest grandchild, this is a story that we have come to anticipate well. We also know that lobster is a costly luxury, thus the reason for my brother’s entertaining recital as part of the lobster dinner. As you will read, Anthony’s tale highlights a certain irony.
First, picture a large table with an enthused family of three generations enjoying bowls of linguine topped with a robust, velvety red tomato sauce laced with the incomparable flavor of lobster. On the table are platters of enticing lobsters about to be cracked and consumed with great appreciation of the sweet, moist lobster meat popping out of the shells.
Anthony’s story begins in the pre-Revolutionary era. He tells of a prison facility in New England where the lobsters were so abundant that they would crawl all over the shore. The prisoners were served lobster three times daily, seven days a week.
They also worked the soil and used lobsters as fertilizer. Suffice to say, most of their world was lobster each and every day.
My brother continues his wild tale of how the prisoners were enraged and would not stand for such treatment. They organized a prison revolt because they never wanted to eat another lobster for the rest of their lives. Anthony never does tell the ending to the story, whether the prisoners ever receive the right to eat a different type of food. He simply wants us to assume whatever conclusion we may imagine.
So, as we are all enjoying the succulent taste of the lobster sauce, we are also envisioning a group of angry men jumping up and down on tables and chairs in a prison cafeteria. They never want to eat another bite of what we are currently enjoying so immensely.
When I sat down to write this story
My brother laughed. “I have no idea if it is even factually correct!”
My brother went on to tell me that his friend Frank Kazeroid told him a version of the story many years ago, obviously trying to convey the same message. I sat there visualizing Frank, Anthony, and their colleagues enjoying an expensive lobster dinner, perhaps in some upscale New York City restaurant, while Frank told of disgruntled New England prisoners forced to eat lobster.
My brother promised to phone Frank and ask him to recall his version of “The Lobster Rebellion.” Well, here is what Frank told us: During the Middle Ages and Renaissance, people appreciated lobster. However, modern Europeans and Americans did not hold this crustacean as a popular item. Along the northeastern coast of the United States, the lobster was so common in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries that it was considered a “junk” food. When caught in great quantities or stranded on shore after severe storms, lobsters served as garden fertilizer and as a food staple given to widows, orphans, indentured servants, and especially prisoners. It was plentiful and cheap, and used in place of proteins that were of more value, so much so that a group of Massachusetts servants decided to take a stand and do something about the situation. They took their owners to court and won a judgment that lobster not be served to them more than three times a week. Eventually, Massachusetts passed a law forbidding its use more than twice a week, citing that a daily lobster dinner was considered cruel and unusual punishment.
The good news is that my linguine with lobster sauce is the opposite. For our family, it is forever linked to warm family vacation dinners on the shore and my brother Anthony’s memorable tale of “The Lobster Rebellion.
My lobster sauce recipe boldly calls for a long simmer. This is against the rules and laws of seafood cooking because shellfish will become tough if cooked for a long duration of time. However, in my long experience, I have found that it is ok to go against standard cooking rules as long as one has a tested strategy that yields success. Rather than cooking the whole lobster in the sauce, I opt to cook only the upper body, legs and claws. The tail of the lobster has a great amount of meat that will surely toughen upon a long simmer. Have your fishmonger cut the tails away from the lobster. You can use them for a recipe where they can be stuffed and baked with a filling of your choice or even steamed and enjoyed with clarified butter. The small amounts of meat inside the upper body, legs and claws will remain sweetly moist, and the taste of your sauce may possibly go down in the memory of your guests as the best they ever tasted.
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
3 fresh lobsters, each about 1 1/2 pounds (tails removed)
8 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
3/4 cup dry white wine
3 28-ounce cans crushed tomatoes
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
In a large pot, warm olive oil over medium heat. Sprinkle in the crushed red pepper flakes and allow to sizzle and flavor the oil. Add the lobster pieces and cook until bright red, about ten minutes. Mix garlic to the lobster and toss about in the oil. Pour the wine, and allow the liquid to evaporate. Add the crushed tomatoes, salt and pepper. Simmer, stirring occasionally, over medium-low heat for two hours. Serve the lobster sauce over linguine or spaghetti and sprinkle with parsley. Arrange lobster pieces on platters for cracking.
Camille’s Tip: We never want to waste that scrumptious meat in the thin legs of the lobster. After the lobster is cooked, flatten out the legs and roll over them with a rolling pin. The lobster meat will slip right out.