I usually buy my seafood at our local fish markets, but last week, because I didn’t have time for my usual six different stops (Steve Connolly, Willlowrest, Alexandra’s, Cape Ann Olive Oil, The Cave for a chunk of “truffle D’Affinois,” one of their genius “cheese orphans” which are the discounted ends of the gorgeous stuff in the cheese case, and Shaw’s for paper towels) I stood at the Market Basket fish counter.
Not really sure what I wanted, I was studying the fish — how shiny and therefore how fresh — and not paying any attention to the signs, but I heard the woman beside me order “two lobsters, and can you cook them? I’ll be back in 15 minutes.”
Really, I thought? They do that here?
Then the man beside her ordered the same thing, and I thought, what am I missing?
With apologies to our local lobstermen, the price of lobster is low. Last week Market Basket was selling cooked lobsters for $4 a pound. This week they’re $4.99 a pound.
I asked the second lobster-purchaser what he was going to do with his cooked lobsters, and was rewarded with both a meal inspiration and great food conversation.
Tom Winter, a retired high school band teacher from just outside New York City, has a deep-dimpled, beaming smile. He loves food and Cape Ann, where he and his wife have had a second home for years. Here’s Winter’s foodie run-down: The Village in Essex for seafood. The Azorean for both flavorful food and the cheapest cocktail on Cape Ann. Winter loves the Grapevine in Salem, an old favorite. The Choate Bridge Pub in Ipswich is a new favorite. Duckworth’s Bistro is still his hands-down most favorite of all.
“As good as anything in New York City,” Winter says, with the authority of someone who’s been looking at that famous skyline for years.
“So, what are you going to do with those cooked lobsters?” I asked him.
“Lobster and corn chowder, a little bacon on top. You get some local corn over in the produce section,” he pointed to the far end of Market Basket, “ a loaf of Virgilio’s bread, and you’re all set.” He gave universal sign declaring a meal perfect: smack of lips and sideways toss of the head.
It sounded great to me, lobster and corn being one of the hallowed September marriages, like figs and honey, or apples and cheddar cheese, and I like my lobster this way: shucked, in a steaming milk and wine-laced broth, dancing with sweet kernels of fresh corn. There is no need for hammers or strength, just a spoon. There are no explosive bursts of lobster-yuck from a suddenly released piece of meat. The only muscle required is that which bends the elbow, bringing chowder from bowl to lips. Everything is hot.
And corn, milk and potatoes are such great friends to the sweetness of the lobster, why leave them out? And why not deluxe it all with a crumble of bacon?
Tom gave me his recipe, one he adapted from The Phantom Gourmet, but, with total creds to him for the inspiration, I’m offering my adaptation of Ina Garten’s recipe here, only because she makes her own stock. I usually think boxed broths are fine substitutions, but I don’t always have such a glorious show of carnality on my counter: flame-red lobster shells and yellow corn cobs. It felt sinful not to turn them into stock, which Garten does almost as easily as she makes the rest of the soup. I also used only whole milk in my chowder, as I have become accustomed to lighter soups, but feel free to substitute 2 cups of milk with heavy cream, which Garten uses in the original recipe. Winter puts marjoram in his chowder. Garten adds sherry and paprika; the latter gives the chowder a low-volume spice I liked, but the marjoram choice is good, a more classic New England direction. I’d say go either way, but don’t let those precious lobster shells and corn cobs go to waste.
Thanks, Tom Winter, for all your food tips, and for this September inspiration.
Lobster and Corn Chowder with Bacon
Serves 6 to 8
3 (1 1/2-pound) cooked lobsters, cracked and split
3 ears corn
For the stock:
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup chopped yellow onion
1/4 cup cream sherry
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
6 cups whole milk
1 cup dry white wine
For the soup:
1 tablespoon good olive oil
1/4 pound bacon, large-diced
2 cups large-diced unpeeled Yukon gold potatoes (2 medium)
1 1/2 cups chopped yellow onions (2 onions)
2 cups diced celery (3 to 4 stalks)
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons chopped fresh chives
1/4 cup cream sherry
Remove the meat from the shells of the lobsters. Cut the meat into large cubes and place them in a bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Reserve the shells and all the juices that collect. Cut the corn kernels from the cobs and set aside, reserving the cobs separately.
For the stock, melt the butter in a stockpot or Dutch oven large enough to hold all the lobster shells and corncobs. Add the onion and cook over medium-low heat for 7 minutes, until translucent but not browned, stirring occasionally. Add the sherry and paprika and cook for 1 minute. Add the milk, wine, lobster shells and their juices, and corn cobs and bring to a simmer. Partially cover the pot and simmer the stock over the lowest heat for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, in another stockpot or Dutch oven, heat the oil and cook the bacon for 4 to 5 minutes over medium-low heat, until browned and crisp. Remove with a slotted spoon and reserve. Add the potatoes, onions, celery, corn kernels, salt, and pepper to the same pot and saute for 5 minutes. When the stock is ready, remove the largest pieces of lobster shell and the corn cobs with tongs and discard. Place a strainer over the soup pot and carefully pour the stock into the pot with the potatoes and corn. Simmer over low heat for 15 minutes, until the potatoes are tender.
At this point you can add the cooked lobster, the chives and the sherry and season to taste. Heat gently and serve hot with a garnish of crisp bacon.
For a more elegant presentation, I warmed the lobster separately, put it into the soup bowl, and ladled the chowder all around, then topping all with the chives and bacon.
Heather Atwood’s Food for Thought appears weekly in the Times’ Taste section. Send questions and comments to email@example.com. Follow her blog at www.heatheratwood.com.