The Cockroach of the Sea?

A translation by Judith Turcotte

In the 17th century, lobster was abundant on the New England coast. It did not have the status it has today and it was considered as a staple for the poor, the prisoners and the servants. There was even a law that prohibited serving too much lobster to the prisoners because it was considered cruel. Lobster was known as the cockroach of the sea at the time. The history of lobster in Québec is similar. It was in abundance at the beginning of colonization, and it was considered as food for the poor. The beaches were covered with lobsters rejected by the sea and the settlers used them to fertilize the fields.

The lobster, however, has a long history and it has been eaten for hundreds of years in Europe, South Africa and Australia. It was popular with the Romans and Vikings but only available to the wealthy due to difficulties in transport.

In the 19th century, the railways became more and more popular and offered lobster to their passengers. It is because of the railways that lobster was discovered in the rest of the United States. The corporation, Burnham & Morrill, came up with the idea of canning lobster meat, however, the product was hardly considered in the United States and was sold beyond the American border. This corporation also made baked beans and they were five times more expensive than the canned lobster. It was at the end of the 19th century that the lobster went from cockroaches of the sea to a delicacy.

The chefs everywhere in the United States were tearing their hair out to develop new recipes for this product that had become popular. It is at that time that they discovered that cooking the lobsters live instead of killing them before cooking allowed for a far more refined meat.

The traditional way of serving lobster is with garlic butter accompanied by crackers and forks necessary to retrieve the meat. It’s a lot of work and messy. It is not surprising that bibs are provided. Easier ways of enjoying lobster are lobster rolls and lobster thermidor. In both cases, the chef is responsible for recovering the meat. There are dozens of recipes for serving lobster with pasta as well as in salads with mangos and pears which seem the most popular. I have also read lobster tartar recipes, however, I remain skeptical. I like most of the recipes but I must admit that a nice big claw dipped in garlic butter is hard to beat.  

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