The Way Life Should Be
The rock edges jutted beyond the edge of the water, forming a perch on which we sat, legs dangling just above the ocean’s surface. My friend Jillian had spent summers here in her youth, piling into cars with her sprawling collection of cousins, as their parents drove from the wooded hedges of rural Massachusetts to the eastern white pine lined highways of Maine. The destination-Bailey Island, the population-scarce-the nature-untouched. Adults now, Jillian invited me to join her family on their Fourth of July excursion, her flying up from Austin, me catching a bus from Brooklyn, meeting in Boston and driving from there.
As Massachusetts gave way to New Hampshire, and New Hampshire blended into its border with Maine, an instantaneous calm filtered through the open windows as we swerved and snaked through the thicketed parameters of the highway. The northern air crisp and pine scented, peppered sporadically with jolts of salinity, blew our hair into tangles as we approached the bridge connecting the island to the land. The unmistakable scent of saltwater and sun kissed sand permeated the air as we crossed over the water, an arsenal of fishing boats pulling in to dock and unload their catches for the day. Cod and clams, mussels and monkfish, scallops and lobster-the reality that I’d be sinking my teeth into local day boat catches made me salivate.
We arrived at Jillian’s uncle’s house, popping wine bottles and reminiscing about childhood summer excursions and our beer and bourbon soaked college days as we gazed out the open windows, our eyes scanning the star quilted horizon stretching endlessly out of our reach. Our eyelids eventually caved and we scattered to our respective beds, falling asleep to the tranquil lull of cicada choruses and croaks of forest frogs as the waves crashed harmoniously in the distance.
The next day consisted primarily of eating, swimming and climbing down cliff edges leading to the shoreline. The high sun glistened on the surface of the sea, and we found ourselves trekking toward a single room white seafood shack precariously positioned on the northern point of a rickety pier. “This is the freshest seafood in Maine,” Jill quipped as the tattered screen door tilted on its hinges when we pressed it open. New England tchotchkes littered the walls, hovering above the troughs of live lobsters and day boat scallops, artifacts of a time forgotten, when the anglers were known by name and the catches seldom made their way off the island. We scanned the day’s catches resting on ice beds, as the sun leathered fishmonger behind the counter handed us flimsy paper bowls brimming with clam chowder and freshly crumbled oyster crackers. “Let’s steam lobsters” echoed from one of Jill’s cousins, and we silently nodded in agreement as we spooned gobs of steaming oatmeal thick clam chowder into our ravenous mouths.
The lobsters had been brought in just hours before, and they viciously cranked their tails, propelling their bodies backwards through the water filled metal basin acting as their temporary home. A short haired, deep wrinkled brunette materialized from behind the counter with a fishing net, exchanging pleasantries in her weightily studded New England accent, effortlessly plucking the lobsters from the makeshift seabed while she assured us they would be the “freshest lobstahs you’ll evah try.” It was as though her vocal chords had been marinated in tobacco smoke and whiskey, then left to tan in the sun; to this day I still equate the husky vibrato of her voice with the salty scent of fish markets…
Before we knew it, the sun was sliding hastily west to its final resting place, and multi-quart pots of water were set to boil on the stove. Butter melted on a free burner, and we held our lobsters, claw side down, gently massaging their heads with our free hands in vague attempts to quell their nerves before we plunged them into the boiling water. My stomach tensed a bit as I approached the pot, I’d never cooked a live lobster before, and swinging from guilt to excitement and back again, I drew my breath deep into my lungs, closed my eyes, and let go of the shell. The maroon and black splotched armor transformed into a candy apple red casing within minutes, and I twisted open a cold beer, toasting to my lobster in gratitude for becoming the freshest Fourth of July meal in which I’d ever had the privilege of indulging. The fireworks were about to begin, and we hauled our lobsters to the picnic table on the deck, a symphony of claw crackers and crackling firewood harmonized with clinking beer bottles and infectious laughter, and our butter soaked fresh lobsters stunned our taste buds with the wonderment of their sea salty sweetness.
As the moon made its slow ascension into the pearl pierced night sky, we used the natural light of the stars overhead to navigate our way to the rock formations bordering the shoreline. The July Fourth fireworks glittered above the rushes and unruly forested terrain of the island as we all sat in silence, our arms draped like sheets around each other’s sun drenched shoulders watching the light show above. Our bellies full of fresh local lobster, our heads slightly buzzed from sun and beer, we knew that Maine really was the way life should be.
Live Maine Lobster Rolls
- 1-1.5 lb Maine Lobster
- 1/2 fresh lemon juiced
- 1-2 tbsp plain mayonnaise
- 1 spring onion diced
- 1 New England style roll or hot dog bun
- 1/2 tbsp butter softened
Pre-Heat Oven to 350F
Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil (you’ll want enough water to submerge the lobster completely), and drop the lobster claws and head first into the pot- you’ll want to hold it at the base of the body near the top of the tail. Make sure you have a firm grip to steady the lobster so you can control the direction it enters the water.
Allow the lobster to cook 12-18 minutes depending on the size. It will turn bright red after a few minutes in the water.
Once the lobster is done boiling, use tongs to remove it from the water, or empty the pot of water. The shell will be scorching hot, so give it a rinse under cold water to cool down the shell until you can handle it with bare hands.
Remove the shell-you’ll need kitchen scissors and claw crackers if it’s hard shelled-soft shells you can pull apart with you hands. Extract the meat and chop large chunks into bite sized pieces and save the shell for a seafood stock (we want to use everything edible if possible).
Mix the lobster, lemon, mayonnaise and onion in a bowl and put in the refrigerator for about 10 minutes so the flavors meld. You can also use celery or fennel if you’d like in place of the onion. You don’t need to add salt, as you’ll have plenty salinity from the lobster meat. But if you want to add salt, nobody will judge you.
While the lobster salad is chilling, butter the rolls and toast them in the oven until golden in the center and slightly crispy around the edges. Remove toast from oven.
Fill roll (it should be slit from the top not the side) with lobster salad and serve with a side of salt and vinegar chips and pickles.
- Chenin Blanc (dry Chenin from Anjou works beautifully with this)
- IPA (Ballast Point Sculpin and Goose Island are my go to beers for seafood)
- Wheat Ale (Ommegang Witte is meant for this sandwich)
- Root Beer (I don’t know why this combo works but it does)