Lobstermen have their own esoteric vocabulary. “Bugs” are what they call lobsters and “shedders” are bugs at their tenderest and, many argue, their most delicious. When a bug sheds its hard carapace and starts to grow a soft new shell that is easy to break open, the meat is sweet and very tender. It is no mistake on Mother Nature’s part that this happens at the height of summer when sweet young corn is ripening in coastal gardens and the two, corn and lobster, can be combined in this extraordinary chowder. It’s very rich and could be served as a main course.
Lobsters should be alive and kicking before they’re cooked, which immediately brings up the question: Do they feel pain? Some experts say they do and some say they don’t, but the consensus comes down on the latter side: Lobsters are invertebrates and as such do not feel pain. If you still have qualms about plunging live lobsters into boiling water, ask your fishmonger to kill them for you. But in that case you should run, not walk, to the nearest pot of rapidly boiling, salted water.
For the story behind this season’s record low lobster prices, see Zester Daily’s: Maine Lobster Wars.
This makes enough for 4 to 6 people.
Three 1-pound live lobsters, or two weighing 1 1/2 pounds each
3 ears fresh sweet corn, shucked
3 bay leaves
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
1 cup minced yellow onion
1 cup minced celery (use the green outer stalks)
3 generous sprigs fresh thyme
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup diced slab bacon, the smokier the better
1/2 cup diced yellow onion
2 cloves minced garlic
2 fresh peppers, green and red, diced
1 fresh jalapeño pepper, minced
1 celery stalk, diced
6 or 8 new potatoes, cut in chunks
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
1/2 cup heavy cream
Chopped fresh chives
Smoked Spanish paprika (Pimentón de la Vera)
1. In a pot large enough to hold the lobsters, bring about 3 inches of water to a rolling boil. Add a good handful of sea salt, then plunge the lobsters, head first, into the water. Cover the pot and cook for 6 or 7 minutes, until the lobsters have turned bright red. While the lobster is cooking, fill a basin with water and ice cubes.
2. When the lobsters are done, remove and shock them in the ice water. When you can handle them, crack and remove the shells. Transfer the shells to a one-gallon stockpot. Dice the meat, leaving the claw meat whole, and set it aside.
3. Scrape the corn kernels away from the ears and set them aside. Add the scraped ears to the pot, along with the bay leaves, peppercorns, onion, celery and thyme. Cover with cold water to a depth of about 1 inch and set the pot over high heat. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat to simmer. Cover the pot and cook gently for about 2 hours. Strain the stock through cheesecloth and set it aside.
4. Melt the butter in a small saucepan and when it foams, stir in the flour using a wire whisk. Cook, whisking, until the roux turns pale brown, about 6 or 7 minutes, then scrape it into a large bowl and whisk in the hot lobster stock, a little at a time, until you have a smooth, creamy mixture. Return this to the rinsed-out stockpot and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. This is the chowder base; it can be made a day or two ahead and kept chilled until you’re ready to finish the recipe.
5. In a large skillet over medium-low heat, cook the diced bacon until it is crisp and brown. Drain and add to the chowder base.
6. Discard all but about 2 tablespoons of fat from the skillet and add the onion and garlic to the pan. Cook until the vegetables are soft, then stir in the peppers, corn kernels and celery. Stir to mix well, and cook gently for about 5 minutes, just until the vegetables start to render up their flavors. Add to the chowder base, along with the potato chunks and thyme. Simmer for 20 more minutes, then stir in the fresh cream and simmer another 5 minutes to bring all the flavors together. At this point, the chowder may be served, but Maine traditionalists will let the chowder “set” for a couple of hours at room temperature, then reheat to a bare simmer for service.
7. Just before serving, stir in the lobster meat, using a piece of claw meat to garnish each plate. Sprinkle with chives and smoked paprika and serve immediately.
Photo Credit: Peter Ralston, www.pralston.com