Monday, August 19, 2013

FYI on Lobsters, Maine Lobster!

Although nobody can determine exactly how many live lobsters it takes to make a pound of meat because you need to take molting into consideration, it can roughly determined.. Generally speaking, during the winter time, when lobsters are at their fullest of flesh, it takes about 4 1/2 pounds of live lobsters to get a pound of meat. In the late summer, when lobsters have shed(molted), it takes about nine 1-pound live lobsters to get a pound.

There are approximately two cups of lobster meat in one pound.

To hold a lobster correctly without feeling the "pinch", simply hold it at the end of the carapace where it joins the tail.

To pack lobsters for traveling, put them in a Styrofoam or insulated outer box packed with ice. To prevent lobsters from coming into contact with the fresh water, ice should be enclosed in plastic bags. Cover lobsters with seaweed whenever possible, this will insure them to be alive at least a day of traveling.

You can keep live lobsters for about 15 hours under refrigerated conditions, although most will survive for at least 24 hours. Keep them damp with a wet cloth or a layer of seaweed. Do not store live lobsters in fresh water or enclosed in plastic bags.

In Maine, lobsters are less expensive from the end of August to the beginning of November because this is when most lobsters are harvested.

The difference between a hard-shell and soft-shell lobster is when the lobster outgrows its shell. It molts and discards(or sheds) the old shell. It then has a soft shell and is called a "shedder" or soft shell. As the lobster feeds, its shell hardens, and it adds meat to its body. Soft-shell lobsters have less meat than hard-shell lobsters, but their shells also weight less. Since you buy lobsters according to their weight, they are about the same in terms of price. It should be noted, however, that hard-shell lobsters usually survive longer in the refrigerator than one that have soft shells.

  It is okay to eat a soft-shell lobster and some people prefer them because, as they say, the meat is a little sweeter and they don't need any tools to crack them apart.

  A lobster molts about twenty-five times in the first 5-7 years of their lives. After that, they molt less often, about once a year. After a molt, it takes months for a shell to harden and fill in again with meat.

Lobsters increase  in weight about 20 percent after they shed.

  How much water to boil a lobster? Put one to two inches of water in the bottom of a pot to steam lobsters, or allow 2 1/2 quarts of water per lobster if you want to boil them. You don't have to use salt water, but some chefs believe lobsters taste better if you add salt to the water or use seawater, which contains about 3 percent salt.

A lobster is done when you are able to pull out an antennae easily.

  A live lobster is generally a greenish-brown color when alive because of many different color pigments called chromatophores. When it is cooked, these pigments are masked except for astaxanthin, which is the background red pigment.

  The tomalley functions like a combination intestine, lover and pancreas in the lobster. Some people(this chef included) think this is the best part of the lobster.

  The black vein in the tail is generally removed before eating. It won't hurt you, it is simply the intestine where part of the digestive system is. The taste is slightly unpleasant but not readily tasted.

  The red part you sometimes see inside a lobster is the roe or unfertilized eggs which have not been extruded. It is called "coral" and many people find this very tasty.

There are NO parts of the lobster that is poisonous.

A lobster drops a claw as a defense mechanism, but grows another over a couple of years.

Here are some common terms(both new and old-school) to describe the size of lobsters.

1-pound: chickens
1-pound to 1 1/8-pound: heavy chickens
1 1/4-pound: quarters
1 1/2 to 1 3/4-pound: selects
2-pound: deuces or 2-pounders
2- to 2 1/4-pound: heavy selects
2 1/4- 2 1/2-pound: small jumbos
Over 2 1/2-pound to ab out 4-pound: jumbos

Large lobsters have the same textured meat as smaller. However, cooking a lobster for too long can make it tough, so make sure you only cook lobster until the meat is done, regardless of the size.

Maine lobster is NOT found only in Maine! Homarus Americanus is found on the east coast from Newfoundland to North Carolina.

A crayfish is NOT a baby lobster. It is related but they live n fresh or brackish water whereas lobsters live only in saltwater.

  You can microwave a whole lobster quite easily. Simply plunge the tip of a knife between its head and first segment while on its belly. The lobster may show signs of movement for a few minutes.
  You can, if desired, take a skewer and run it the length of its tail to prevent curling. Arrange lobster in a casserole dish or other high sided microwave-safe dish, add 1/2 cup hot water and cover tightly with film wrap, poking a few holes with a fork throughout the top in order to vent some of the steam. Microwave on high, turning over after 6 minutes for a total time of between 10-12 minutes, or until the antennae pulls out easily.

  To cook lobster tails on your grill, run a pair of kitchen scissors along the underside of the tail, removing this softer shell. Insert a skewer between the remainder of the upper shell and the meat, to prevent furling while cooking. Place tails with the shell side down on grill grates set in the high position. Grill for 5 minutes over medium heat. Turn tails during cooking, grilling the other side for 6-7 mintues. Return tails to shell side down position and baste meat with melted butter mixed with lemon juice if desired, but watch out for grill flame-ups.

  Lobsters DO have teeth, but they are in its stomach. The stomach is located a very short distance from the mouth, and the food is actually chewed in the stomach between three grinding surfaces that look like molar teeth called the "gastric mill".

  Many, MANY, people have asked me "How do you tell a male from a female lobster?" You simply turn the lobster on its back and look at the first pair of swimmerets. If it's a male, the swimmerets are hard and bone-like; they are soft and feather-like in the female.

Ol' Barney Beal
  One can't talk about lobsters without mentioning a certain Barney Beal. he is larger than life now and apparently was when he was alive as well. many folklore's and legends are just that, but with Barney, it is true.He existed, lived on and around Beal's Island, Maine and was as tough as they came(next to Ol' Gus Bailey that is).
  His feats of strength are stuff of legend but the stories are indeed true, although some may have compounded on that legend.  Here are a couple to enjoy.

  It seems that Barney Beal was on one of his trips along the coast in his freighter. He stopped at Rockland and, while standing on the dock, he became involved in an argument about any man, there, that could lift a 1200-pound anchor which lay on the dock. Several tried it but no one could move it. Then someone turned to Barney and asked him to try. he declined until a man standing nearby said that he would be him five dollars that he couldn't lift it. Well, Barney couldn't let a challenge like that go by, so he accepted. He walked over, bent down, and lifted the anchor clear of the dock.
  When it came to paying off the bet, the fellow backed out. Barney said, "That's all right." he reached down, raised the anchor again, walked it to  the edge of the wharf, and dropped it--right through the bottom of the boat belonging to the man who had refused to pay off the bet!
As told by Olive Coffin, Steuben(1963)
Northeast Archives #62031

  Well, tall Barney Beal weighed about 325 pounds and was just about six feet seven inches tall. He would sit down in a common kitchen chair and drum is knuckles on the floor.
One time he came to Bill Cummings' store here in West Jonesport, and Porter told him he could have what flour he could carry out of the store in barrels. So Barney picked up one barrel and put it on the counter, got another barrel under his arm, and then got the one on the counter under the other arm and took them out the door and down to his rowboat.

Wendell Beal, West Jonesport(1963)
Northeast Archives #15251

                                                              Barney Beal's Home

Barney Beal's Last Great Feat
  Barney Beal was known far and wide for his strength, and it was his strength that killed him. He often would hook his fingers in the front of a dory and pull it up the beach. He was living on Pond Island, in Milbridge Bay, at the time of his death, and this is what caused it.
  He had some in from tending his traps. He got out at the low-water mark, putting the painter of the boat over his shoulder, and started up the beach. As he dragged the dory over the seawall, he broke a blood vessel in his heart and died instantly.

Charles Beal, Milbridge(1963)
Northeast Archives #62030

  As proof of his life and  death, The Yankee Chef has seen Barney's death certificate, The death certificate for Barney Beal indicates he died at 63 on February 1, 1899 of a heart problem

  Tall Barney’s home near Barney’s Cove, Beals Island, Maine. Tall Barney built the house himself in 1873 with the help of his son John, 15 years old at the time. According to Avery Kelley, a great-great grandson of Barney, it was built with lumber that came off a vessel that went ashore.

FYI on Clams

  Prized for their distinctively sweet flavor, clams are a part of many traditions, especially here in the Northeast. This American institution of enjoying clams, needless to say, began with American Indians reaping their rewards from the mud flats that dot every sea and ocean encroached shoreline.

  There is no set way of steaming clams, with each region here in the U.S. having their favorite method. But one should not overcook them. This makes them very rubbery and not very appetizing to enjoy.
  Believe it or not, hard-shell clams and soft-shell clams are unrelated. Here in New England, our favorite clam would have to be the Steamer, which is a small, soft-shell clam and is harvested and served up and down the East coast. They are so called Steamers because of how they are most often prepared and enjoyed.
 Another favorite among us Yankees are the hard-shell clams(more about the differences below) that are most often called Quahogs. Quahogs(pronounced ko-hogs)come in 3 general sizes, with each having their own derivation:

Small quahogs are littlenecks, medium are topnecks and the larger variety are referred to as cherrystone clams.

  You often hear of clams having to be completely closed tight before cooking. This is not true for all clams. When cooking soft shell clams, such as the steamer, they are mostly slightly open, although there is a thin membrane that is covering this opening. Simply squeeze the clam lightly. Look carefully, if it moves its' neck inward toward the shell(if the neck is present) then it is alive. If it doesn't have a neck but you find that the steamer starts to shut its shell closer together, then it is alive as well. These clams are perfectly acceptable to cook and eat.
  With hard-shell clams, the shells do need to be closed tightly to affirm whether or not they are alive enough to cook and eat. Throw out any dead clams whatsoever, regardless of its' species or variety. Even cracked or broken shells should warn you that something is wrong, therefore discarding them is the appropriate thing to do.
  Next to the ever popular Clam Bake here in New England, simply water steamed clams are the essential element in every tourists culinary "must haves" when visiting. Although melted butter is the perfect accompaniment, many chefs(me included) have opted to spice things up a bit when steaming clams. Adding lemon juice, beer, garlic, onions, wine and various seasonings gives the diner a great flavor combination. Just remember that clams are a delicate lot, so subtlety is key when adding add-ins. I personally think lemon juice is far too strong to add to clams, even fried, but many swear by it.

  Although its popularity is decreasing over the years, some say regulations while others contend that the harvest is declining, clamming has been a way of life and a great past time for many generations. The prerequisite for digging for clams, the clam hoe, resembles a long handled garden hoe, but with short, pitch-fork like tines and is used extensively by those who want to gain the greatest yield of clams for selling.   And don't forget the wire mesh bucket and waders, the latter because of the softness of the mud "beaches" where you will find those breathing holes for the clams. You may need to wade in some water as well, making sure that low tide or the early stages of an incoming tide are present when you are ready for clamming.
  Often times, clams will simply be laying there on the top of the sand. In that case, just reach down and pick them up. But more often than not, you will have to dig a hole with your hoe, or your hands(being very careful and wearing gloves) about a foot down. The edges of a clam are sharp, so wear gloves. Gently dig down until you see the first sign of a clam and gently, without breaking the shell, lift these glorious bits up, throw in your mesh basket and continue. Make sure you take this basket to the water and rinse well when finished harvesting.
  Remember that most cities and towns have regulations regarding clamming, although you are sure to get a one day pass for just a few dollars. Your limit will vary from region to region, but always enough to make a great feed.

  Now for the cleaning, cooking and eating fun.The directions are the same for all clams, either hand dug yourself or store-boughten (Yeah, that's how us Yankee's talk) .You will need to clean them thoroughly and try to rid the clam of any wayward sand in its' belly. Most clams will release the sand and mud in their stomachs if you let them stand for about a half hour in some sea water or salted water(using 1/3 cup salt mixed into a gallon of tap water). Never use regular tap water or unsalted, this will kill them!
  Change water and repeat the soaking 2-3 times. Never mind the "tips and tricks" some use, like corn meal or other ludicrous ways.
  Most of the time, when purchasing clams in a supermarket of other purveyor of seafood, the clams have purged just about as much sand as they are going to, so this step is somewhat unnecessary.
  Make sure you scrub the clams with a stiff brush if you dug them yourself. If not, go ahead and check to make sure all the clams you are about to cook are alive(as referred to above). Discard any dead ones.
If you really want to remove a clam from its shell while it is alive, all you need to do is insert a strong, thin knife between the shell halves near the thick end and run it around between the shell halves. Try not to hit any of the clam meat and make sure you do this over a bowl, the nectar of the clams will trickle out and is great for many recipes. Soft shell clams are the easiest, along with long neck and geoduck, because they do not have very tight-fitting shells.
  Once you have separated the two shell halves, run the knife gently under the very tough muscle that is located  near the siphon to make sure there is no part of the clam still attached. There is nothing worse looking than a mangled, fresh clam. Use these raw clams as directed in your recipe. Clams on the halfshell are great as well. Just rinse off the detached shell and clam meat, replace the clam back onto one half of the shell, drizzle with a dab of lemon juice and eat as you would a fresh oyster.
  Another great way to cook clams in their shell is by simply placing them on a baking sheet then on your grill, close the lid and cook over medium heat until they all open, about 5-7 minutes later.
  Enjoying Steamers is quite another thing entirely. Some people will steam their clams, pull the meat from the shell and "dip to dine". Although a delight, I find the black "sheath" that covers the siphon to be a little too chewy for me, so I slip it off simply by holding the cooked clam belly in my right hand and gently pulling this sheath off with my left. It removes quite easily and now can be enjoyed to its fullest.

  When you go to any restaurant to try steamers, you will always be served with an empty basket(to throw your discarded shells into), a side of melted butter(sometimes ghee or clarified butter) and a bowl of some brackish looking water. This water is the same water that the steamers were cooked in and is used to rinse off any sand or shell particles that may cling to a clam. You dip it into the water, then butter then drag a trail of butter and juice from your shirt, passed your chin and lips and into your moth. Now you know why a bib is required.

Yankee Steamed Clams
Although I am very fond of simple steamed clams, I adore the flavor of garlic and shallot mingled with the briny mollusk. The vegetable broth, as well, lends itself perfectly without overpowering these sweet bi-valves. With a torn off piece of crusty bread to soak up any remaining juice at the bottom of the bowl is just a plus n my book!

2 pounds steamers
2 tablespoons butter
1 shallot, sliced
2 teaspoons garlic in oil
3/4 cup vegetable broth or clam juice*
Chopped fresh parsley, optional

  In a large skillet over medium heat, melt the butter. When hot and sizzling, add the shallot and garlic. Cook about 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the clams and broth, cover and cook for about 8-10 minutes, or until the clams open up. do not over cook. Shake the skillet very frequently to baste the clams with the seasoned broth. Remove from heat, pour entire contents into a large bowl and enjoy with parsley sprinkled over the top.
*Clam juice is easily found in any supermarket in a small 6 ounce bottle.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Machias Blueberry Festival

All I can say is "Holy (you know what)"...
By the time I finished my 10th dessert to determine who had the best blueberry concoction, I was ready to for a drink....Wait....that was the next category!
There was everything there from pies, cakes, savory and breads. And I must say, they were all delicious in their own right. AND, I was made a convert along the way.
I have always abhorred the taste of vinegar, in any form. I have hated vinaigrette's since I first started making them, many years ago. However, having said that, I tasted a Blueberry Vinaigrette salad dressing that I judged this past Saturday in Machias, Maine and now I have a new favorite salad dressing. The blueberry flavor shined through.
I especially liked the idea of a children's category and that is where my drink came in. Yes, the adults had a beverage category as well, a Blueberry Sangria that was a little heavy and a Blueberry Mimosa, that was a little heavy on the Blueberry Vodka that was added. The children's winner was a Blueberry-Lemonade, that was extremely satisfying. I would love to see more children participate in the years to come.
There was one outstanding concession stand, however, that got my attention(as well as the attention of my daughter who was holding the camera).
Worcesters Blueberry Company of Maine. They had the best assortment of Blueberry Jams, Jellies, Spreads....... heck, everything blueberry. And not just blueberries, WILD blueberries.
The cooking contest, as well as the whole premise of the festival, is centered around WILD blueberries, as opposed to high bush and cultivated(low bush) blueberries. The difference you ask?
                                                           High Bush Blueberries

                                                          Wild(left) and Cultivated blueberries
                                                                courtesy of

That is open to interpretation and according to who you ask. Ask a cultivator and they will tell you theirs is better. Ask a purist, and the answer will always be the wild. There is one thing, although, that is not in question.
 Considering that the blueberry contains more disease-fighting antioxidants than any other fruit or vegetable, all this power evolves from the skin. Just 3/4 cup of blueberries gives you the same, if not more than, antioxidant protection as five times as much carrots, apples and even broccoli. And the skin is to thank for all that health help!
Because wild blueberries are much smaller than cultivated or high bush, it is almost double the skin content per unit of measure. In other words, while you can fit about 80 cultivated blueberries in a cup, you can hold more than 150 wild blueberries in that same cup, thusly molding more surface area. Consider that!.

 So to sum up this great festival, my body is protected for many years to come.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Not EVER Forgotten

My sister, Wendy Hager, just reminded me that our mother has been gone for 34 years today. It is absolutely amazing how time flies by. I forget many things over the years, and it seems as though every year that passes, more memories fade. But not the people that formed those memories.
It is sad to say that I have precious few pictures of my mother(2 to be exact) and very few momentos of her existence. That is not to say that living momentos, such as her children, grandchildren and extended family, don't bring to the forefront her image because they do. Every single time I see any of my brothers or sisters, I always envision my mother in one form or another.

The predominant image is her smiling because of the sheer number of relatives she created that think of her as often as I do. She would have been in her joy if she were around today because she would have made it a point to have us over to her kitchen table as much as possible.
I will never forget one memory of her. There was an instance one day that she thought someone was trying to break into her house in Bangor, or someone was lurking at night(that portion of my memory is somewhat faded). Now most people would have been frightened at the notion of a burglar or anyone that threatened you family. Not Mom!
All I remember is how angry she became. She rattled on(again, her words skip me)about how no one in the world would ever harm us kids. And the one line I remember her saying is "That would be a mistake!"
Hahahaha, I still think about how good I felt that day when she said that, and how comforting I was knowing that if ANYONE ever tried to harm us kids or our sanctuary, Mom would make sure it would have been a mistake.
I will never stop wearing my pink chefs coat, wherever I am cooking on any stage. It not only reminds me of the suffering she(and many other women go through) but in essence, it is Mom with me.

34 years!!! Where has it gone?