Foraging for Food: Caribbean Conch and Lobster

Last week, Kristi and I headed to the Bahamas with Janet in tow.  That’s right, I occasionally work, write a blog, AND take island vacations!  How do I keep it all balanced?  Well, It’s really no big deal, no need to call me Super Dad or anything.

Awful spooves aside, Brother John rented a house on the beach in Eleuthera for his 40th birthday and invited friends and family down to enjoy it with him and Julie.  With the holidays and a couple hectic weeks of work, I didn’t give much thought to the vacation in advance.  I did some research on the fish available at the local docks and saw there was a solid farmstand, but aside from the food I had no idea where I was going.  Well then.

Yep, friggin' spoiled jerk blogger had no idea he was going here.  I was blown away when I saw the perfect family vacation house and the absurd ocean out front

Yep, this spoiled jerk blogger had no idea he was going here.  I think I might have just used the second person tense for the first time ever.  I was blown away when I saw the perfect family vacation house and the absurd ocean out front

It wasn’t until we were on the second leg of our trip down, in a tiny propeller plane looking at the green sea, that I realized I might be able to forage some conch while I was down there.  When we arrived at the Five Palms Beach House and I saw the spears and slingshot-style spearguns, I knew I was in for a week of stupidity, heartache, and injuries all at the hands of some shellfish.

Now that you’re hooked, this post is gonna be one wordy son of a so-and-so.  You’ve been warned.

On the ride in from the airport we picked up a 3 pound slab of grouper at the docks for $20 so we were set for dinner, but that didn’t stop Tim and I from doing a snorkeling search for some shellfish.  Thirty minutes later, we had these.

I won't tell you which conch was bigger, but originally this caption was a furious rant about Tim trying to upstage me on my own blog.  Friggin jerk

I won’t tell you who got the bigger conch, but originally this caption was a furious rant about Tim trying to upstage me on my own blog.  Friggin jerk

They look like rocks when you are snorkeling above, but Tim and I had some idea of the shape that we were looking for.  Once you dive down 10-15 feet and flip the rocks, you see the distinct color of conch and the little guy hanging out in there.

It was amazing, with these tilted up it was like you could really hear the ocean.  Wokka Wokka!  I was there all week folks!

It was amazing, with these tilted up it was like you could really hear the ocean.  Wokka Wokka!  I was there all week folks!

Big Peter, the caretaker at the beach house was a wealth of information on how to clean the shellfish in the waters around the house.  But, he’d gone home for the day, and I had watched some youtube videos so of course I fashioned myself an expert.

Side note: Big Peter doesn’t deserve that title since I am bigger than him, but I’m following Arnold’s lead from Pumping Iron and using “Big” as my nickname prefix of choice these days.

Anyhoo, I headed down to the garage and assembled my tools.

"I don't know what you have planned tonight, but count me out."  Simpsons references!  Did you forget that you were reading the blog of an unathletic overweight male?!?!?

“Homer, I don’t know what you have planned tonight, but count me out!”  Simpsons references!  Did you forget that you were reading the blog of an unathletic overweight white male?

Shelling a conch seemed easy enough.  Just create a hole at the pointed end to break the vaccuum inside, use a knife to disconnect the conch from the shell and they should easily pull right out.  So, that’s what I did.

Just a little chisel and hammer and seconds later you have dinner.  Yeeeok.

Just a little chisel and hammer and seconds later you have dinner.  YeeeeeeOK.

First thing I noticed, the shell didn’t have the distinct crown you associate with conch.  Second thing was that the shell was extremely thick and more difficult to get through than expected.  Once open, I tried to “chase” the conch out of the shell by cutting it free, poking it, pushing it with my thumb, cursing at it, everything.  Eventually I recognized I wasn’t going to get it out of there and decided to go berzerk with the hammer until enough of the shell was cracked away and the meat was accessible.  During this time Tim hid his conch from me so I couldn’t ruin it.

Once out of the shell, it again looked a little different than the conch meat I’d seen before.  It also had a bit of exterior sliminess I wasn’t used to, possibly related to my awful job shelling it.


Usually there is more of a “foot” on these things and a lot more soft white meat.  Regardless, I recognize how bizarre conch and whelk meat looks

Given the need to make a full dinner and the tremendous amount of no-see-um bites I was coated with from cracking shellfish at dusk, I chopped the meat and bagged it for the fridge.  I did take a taste of the raw meat and it was interesting: very sweet, a little crunchy, and not seafood-tasting at all.

Next day Big Peter came over and told us that the conch we got isn’t edible.  He ended up backpedaling on that (after giving me quite a scare) and saying that Bahamians don’t eat it by choice but didn’t have a real reason for it.  Generally Queen Conch is the conch of choice and these were Milk Conch, which further research revealed is indeed edible, just way more of a pain to deal with and slimy.  Soooooo, the conch stayed in the fridge to be used as bait later in the week and Tim’s got chucked back into the ocean.

The next day was a little overcast.

The mornings mostly looked like this, overcast but pretty before burning off by noon

The mornings mostly looked like this, overcast but pretty before burning off by noon.  Janet loved exploring and nearly getting awful splinters

Early in the day Tim and I went out for another round of “spear fishing” (read: shooting at pretty fish and missing) and not finding any queen conch.  After we were skunked, I drove out to the docks to buy some conch.  Seems like the right move since you can get 7 shelled conch for $10.

Not the first time conch has been cleaned on this blog, by my count this is the third

Not the first time conch has been cleaned on this blog, by my count this is the third.  But, you shouldn’t trust my count and I encourage you to prove me wrong!

Not too difficult really: pull out the intestine, cut/peel away the colored outer skin and the tough muscle by the foot leaving the white meat that feels like a firm scallop.  The skin and muscle should be boiled in a pot for an hour to tenderize it, while the white meat is tender enough to be used as is.  I ended up making traditional conch ceviche, coconut conch ceviche, conch fritters, and a conch seafood rice, exactly what John dreamed of for his birthday dinner!

That’s right, I didn’t take any pictures.  Had a lot of trouble remembering to use the camera on this trip.  It was pretty and delicious, I highly recommend using a lettuce leaf to serve ceviche like a lettuce taco.

After a few days of unsuccessful spear fishing and regular fishing out of a kayak, things really escalated quick when 3/5ths of the Hub Hollow gang joined us for a few days.  Like us, they were drawn to the beauty of the reef and quickly saw the delicious possibilities in it, leading to this revelatory moment.


When JT came up with this lobster Kristi yelped something like, “oooh, that’s gonna kill Peter…”  While normally she’d be right, I hadn’t explored lobster foraging yet and was excited it was a possibility

After getting a few tips from JT and over my jealousy of his first catch, I headed out to look into the holes and overhangs where those little delicious crustaceans were apparently hiding.  After some failed attempts at getting a large lobster, I found a decent sized spiny guy and I was officially on the board.  Only problem was, due to the size of the ones we were bringing in, we knew we would have to put in some serious effort to make a meal out of it.

The next morning, our last full day in the Bahamas, I headed out with Jason, John, Tim and JT.  They were primarily focused on fish, which paid off, since Jason caught a decent looking Tilefish from the kayak using the milk conch as bait.

Decent catch.  I know, you see that there is a second fish int hat net, we'll get to it later

Decent catch by a patient man.  I know, you see that there is a second fish in that net, we’ll get to it later

As for me, I was singularly focused on lobster from the time we left the beach.  Because of that, I noticed what looked like a monster sticking out of a hole underneath the seaweed.

The nice thing about Caribbean lobster is that they are borderline blind and very stupid; they rely almost entirely on their extremely long spiny antenna to alert them of any danger in the area.  This one had it’s antenna stuck out perpendicular to its head, two feet in each direction of the hole.  So, while any contact with those antenna would cause it to shoot back into its hole, it could care less that I took my time floating in front of it getting my gear together and preparing.  From there, deep breath, dive down 6 feet, grab a handhold on the ridge, and take my best shot at the lobster with the spear.  I knew I had one chance to drive the spear far enough into the front hard shell (read: stab it in the face) to pin it down, so I made my move and… pandemonium.

1) That thing was absurdly strong and its attempts to swim away backwards bent the metal spear.  2) I am fidgety and awful under pressure.  I ended up not being able to spear and grab it in one breath which led to me struggling to get to the surface to breathe while keeping downward pressure on the four foot spear.  After spitting out my snorkel and swallowing too much water I yelled to Tim who eventually heard me, swam over and agreed to hold the spear (I asked him to grab the lobster).  To a snorkeled cry of “HOLY SH*T” from Tim, I pulled the big guy out of his hole and headed in.

It's important to note that beyond the lumpiness and lovehandles, I am enormous.  If you're judging the size of the lobster using me for perspective you are not going to appreciate how friggin' huge this thing was

It’s important to note that beyond the noticeable lumpiness and lovehandles, I am enormous.  If you’re judging the size of the lobster using me for perspective you are not going to appreciate how friggin’ huge this thing was

After a good swig of fresh water and some pictures, my blood thirst drove me back into the water with a lobster bag expecting to catch a few thousand more.  As it turned out, I only caught one other decently large one and the lobster bag turned out to be a complete crock since I could, and was, still scratched by the lobster through the mesh.

Once back on shore, I twisted the tails off and refrigerated them.  In a separate bowl (and fridge to avoid terrifying people) I saved the bodies and claws to dig around for meat in those later.

The two from the first day are on the left.  Gives some perspective on the size of the big guy

The two from the first day are on the left.  Gives some perspective on the size of the big guy

That's a large bowl you would serve salads in.  WHY WON'T YOU BELIEVE ME ABOUT HOW BIG THESE TWO WERE?!?!?

That’s a large bowl you would serve salads in.  WHY WON’T YOU BELIEVE ME ABOUT HOW BIG THESE TWO WERE?!?!?

With the lobster lined up, let’s check in on the fish.  In addition to the Tilefish that Jason caught, JT was able to spear a fish as well (though I’m not sure what kind, I think we figured out it was a striped snapper of some sort).


We left the cleaning of these to Harry, Big Peter’s caretaking partner.  He was impressively fast scaling and gutting them, and didn’t even act disgusted when I dug through the guts and pulled out a couple of the roe sacks for myself.

Even I didn't know if I wanted to go down this road, but figured they were worth a shot at least

Even I didn’t know if I wanted to go down this road, but figured they were worth a shot at least

I ended up trying to make a quicky salted roe dish, so I coated the roe sacks with salt and left them in a bowl in front of a sunny window for 8ish hours.  In other funky food news, I boiled the lobster bodies and picked around in them a bit.

The bodies were surprisingly different from Maine lobster bodies with a couple sizable chunks of meat, but the tamale that surrounded the meat had a far more assertive flavor.  Like fishy chicken liver mousse, which was odd.  There was also a lot more meat at the front of the head but it didn’t have much flavor.  On the flipside, the legs were much easier to eat since the meat was dense enough to hold together when cracked.  Yeah, got no pictures of any of that.

Here’s the lobster tails after a quick par boiling and split in half for the grill.

Didn't par boil these the second day when I bought some, which made the Bahamian equivalent of Joycie (Big Peter) roll his eyes and espouse the need to par boil.  So we did it this time around and he was right

Didn’t par boil these the second day when I bought some, which made the Bahamian equivalent of Joycie (Big Peter) roll his eyes and espouse the need to par boil.  So we did it this time around and he was right

Due to the amount of lobster and some chicken breasts we had marinating, the fish ended up being saved until following night’s dinner after Kristi, Janet and I would already be gone.  But I still got to eat that roe sack which had expunged more water than I expected in 8 short hours.

These were firm and dry instead of mushy and wet like when they first came out.  No, this isn't some kind of Whats Grosser than Gross joke, it's just one gross state to another

These were firm and dry instead of mealy and wet like when they first came out.  No, this isn’t some kind of Grosser than Gross joke, it’s just the metamorphosis from one gross state to another

After a quick rinse and patting dry, I floured these and fried them in a little olive oil.  About what I expected, salty and a little mealy in texture, but not as fishy as you would think since they were so fresh.  Jason ate one too.  Overall pretty meh.

The lobster tails came off the grill and were served with the chicken, roast vegetables, salad and beans & rice.

I got pretty good at making beans and rice while in the Bahamas.  Bouillon cubes are really the main secret, they make it better every time

I got pretty good at making beans and rice while in the Bahamas.  Bouillon cubes are really the main secret, they make it better every time.  That’s a quarter of the big lobster tail

The lobster was great and had the usual differences of Caribbean lobster vs. the Maine variety; chewier and not quite as sweet.  The par boiling definitely helped the chewy aspect, but in an odd twist the largest tail ended up being the most tender of any of them.  Hope that didn’t sound negative since they were very delicious and made for an awesome dinner on our last night.

I know this post was all over the place and it took two weeks to get it.  I was not into taking food fotos on this vacation for some reason.  Regardless, the trip was amazing, the house was awesome, and catching live lobsters while snorkeling is definitely another item crossed off the bucket list.  Thanks again John and Julie!!

Cleanin’ Out My Cabinets: Lobster Mac and Cheese

This one feels vaguely out of season, but we’ve been traveling on the weekends to weddings and fake college reunions so I haven’t had much time in the kitchen.  I had a choice between using photos from recent meals I haven’t written about or potentially ruining half of tonight’s grilled pizza with a combination of canned goose pate and grape balsamic reduction.  Went with the former, though I need to give that pizza a shot at some point when dinner doesn’t depend on it.

After a trip to Maine this summer we headed home with the usual 6 lobsters, for the absurdly low price of $20, that we planned to steam and shell for use in various meals throughout the week.

The meat looks great and all, but that Tupperware in the background contains the Man of the Match for this meal.  The process of cooking and shelling 6 lobsters makes me sweat an illogical amount

A portion of this meat will always have to be designated to a few lobster rolls on Maier’s Potato Rolls…

Look, I’m seeing these pictures for the first time in awhile myself, and I have no idea how my toe worked its way into the background of this shot.  I am certainly not flexible enough to have my foot that close to food that I am consuming

I love me a good lobster roll, but the majority needed to be saved for the meal I’ve always loved the concept of but has never lived up to my lofty expectations; Lobster Mac & Cheese.  I haven’t sought out or done research on where to find good Lobster Mac (today’s ‘breve), but invariably the ones I’ve tried have been a little bland and lacking the lobster flavor I was looking for.  Needless to say, I had some ideas for how to improve on that and babbled about them to anyone that would listen.  Time to put them to the test.

I got started by making a broth with the lobster shells and some aromatics.  Someone needs to explain to me why this always ends up green in color when I expect it to be pink.

Not as bad as when I made the lobster marinara, but still not an appetizing sight.  Kinda like the header I chose to put on this food blog that makes most visitors vomit before they can even get to a post

Each time I’ve made lobster broth, it ends up smelling strongly of lobster but mostly just tastes like a standard fish stock.  I reserved some of the broth for the cheese sauce, but most of it was earmarked for cooking the macaroni.

A few years ago Kristi and I had pantry moths.  Now we are just hippies, with all dried goods stored in mason jars.  We labeled all the jars based on Phish song related puns.  Spoof’n, can you imagine how infuriating it would be to bake in a kitchen like that?

The macaroni boiled in the lobster broth for a little over half of the normal cook time before being strained and set to the side.  I kind of expected it to pick up some of the green coloring from the broth, but of course it didn’t.  Just like everything else I expect to happen in the kitchen.

“I’m sorry, I don’t want to fight, I’m not in a bad mood or mad at you.  It’s just, I don’t get… I mean, why do you have to use the flash when you take action shots?” – me, as Kristi stares at me in rightful disbelief

With the pasta cooked and the lobster meat ready, it was time to get started on the cheese sauce.  To add some flavor to the dish and the sauce, I started off by cubing a quarter pound of duck prosciutto for browning.

Yeah, had some leftover from the duck prosciutto making festivities over the past few months.  Worked deliciously with the lobster.  Duck and lobster.  Size XL on my monocle, please

The duck prosciutto went into a couple tablespoons of butter to sautee for a few minutes on the stovetop.  Once the prosciutto had browned a bit, it joined the cooked macaroni and chopped lobster in a bowl.

Nobody beats themselves up more than me when an inadequately small bowl for mixing together ingredients is chosen.  Let’s just say I was cursing myself out far more than necessary over having to wash an extra dish when I transferred this to a larger bowl

With the leftover melted butter and duck fat still on the stove, I whisked in 2-3 tablespoons of flour and let it cook on the stovetop for a 10 minutes.  I was carefully to stir it regularly to avoid burning, but I certainly don’t mind a nice brown roux.

Dats a good lookin’ roux

At this point the standard cheese sauce process started; add some milk (plus a little of the broth) then some shredded cheese, then some milk, and so on until you have enough cheese sauce of the right consistency.  I am not going to attempt to explain what that means because I would do so awfully and no one comes here to learn.

I went with straight sharp cheddar for this one, but I knew the secret weapon in this sauce had nothing to do with the cheese and milk, it had to do with this:

“Potentially Poisonous Guacamole of the Gods?!?! Sign me up!” – Line from the imaginary food show I host in my kitchen when Kristi goes to bed

That’s right, when dismantling the lobster bodies I saved the tomalley (lobster offal) and roe in this little container for questionable future use.  It looks gross, and there have been warnings about possible pollutants from the ocean bottom being concentrated in it, but the flavor of it is rich and lobstery.  Perfect for spiking the flavor of the cheese sauce with the lobster note it was missing, so in it went.

You can see it hiding in there now that I’ve told you about it, but I certainly didn’t tell people about it before they tried it

The majority of this pot got stirred in with the other ingredients in a large(r) bowl before going into a Pyrex dish that by some stroke of luck held it perfectly.

I’ll admit I didn’t use all of the cheese sauce and ended up regretting that slightly.  Always becomes less cheese saucy during baking when the macaroni starts a little underdone.  Again, I was acting like a self-hating cartoon character

After a dusting with some breadcrumbs and grated parm, the dish headed into a 375 oven for about 20 minutes until the cheese was bubbling and the top was browned.  Served it while it was hot with some token vegetables to make us feel like we were doing something healthy.

That zucchini looks even more pathetic in hindsight.  I probably acted like it tasted like poison since vegetables occasionally make me act like I am 8 years old when there is something else I would much rather be eating

Between the pasta cooked in lobster broth and the lobster bits in the cheese sauce, I had accomplished my goal of making something that didn’t just taste like mac and cheese with lobster chunks.  It tasted like lobster mac and cheese.  The cheese sauce had the slightly seafoody sweetness of lobster mixed with rich cheese flavor.  Every chunk of lobster was a great bite and the contrasting crispy pieces of prosciutto were a nice change of pace.  I kinda blew it by not using all of the sauce but, I learned a lesson, and will likely do it right next time.  Then I will make the same mistake again the following time.

Before I wrap up, a quick shout out to occasional blog villain Matt, his wife Wendy and their adorable daughter Sage who has fought mightily through her first four months of life.  Sage underwent a liver transplant yesterday morning at Children’s Hospital in Boston and could use the positive thoughts and hope of everyone who reads this blog as she recovers.  Our thoughts and prayers are with the little Swaddled Warrior, and I hope yours will be too.

Cleanin’ Out My Cabinets: Triggerfish and Little Compton wrap up

Mommy Ryan’s annual Little Compton rental was the past two weeks, hence the lack of posts.  I swear that the internet is barely functional no matter where I go in that lovely seaside town, plus it’s no fun to sit inside writing a blog post when you are at a beach house.  It’s also no fun to pause and take pictures of what you are cooking, so this won’t be my strongest post.

That’s not the house Ma Ryan rented, but it is a pleasant place to have a beer on the deck when the weather is nice.  This was taken a few seconds before Janet started eating pebbles and grass like potato chips and I had to sprint towards her to make her laugh at my lack of athleticism and slow her progress

Little Compton is a bit shaky on the grocery store front, and the best idea is usually to head out of town for most supplies.  The fresh food options are fantastic though, with Walkers (the farm stand en route), dece foraging, the Sakonnet Lobster Company, and a new discovery from this trip on the best place to buy fish.

No real secret to Walkers, just insanely fresh, ripe, locally grown produce that is always delicious.  For the foraging, there are a few sandy spots where you can covertly go quahoggin’ but I have never participated due to fears of undercover shellfish cops.  Elsewhere, the mussel population was unfortunately destroyed years ago due to the introduction of a non-indigenous crab species that wiped them out.  But, we’d heard rumors you could find them on the rocks.

As usual Buschy wanted to go foraging, which meant he wanted to watch and ask questions without getting his nails dirty.  What we discovered on the rocks in front of the house was a huge mussel population well on the way to a full rebound but still a little young.  I plucked a few of the biggest ones for a small appetizer.

I prefer this to the foul smelling mud where I’ve mucked mussels in Maine, but I was consistently positive I was about to break a bone on these rocks

I only pocketed a couple dozen since the mussel population on these rocks likely needed another year to have a full crop of standard-sized shellfish.  The ones we did have were awse; very clean with meat that was tender, sweet, and more white than the usual pink/orange color.  Lots of potential for future years.

Back to the local food sources.  To get the best lobsters and feesh, it’s best to arrive at Sakonnet point between 9 and 10AM.  For the lobsters that will earn you some well priced monsters.

The beer bottle does a far worse job than expected of providing a size and scale reference for the lobsters

To explain, Sakonnet Lobster Co sells on a progressive per pound scale where the larger lobsters are also more expensive per pound.  Pretty standard, but there is a separate price structure for “Cull” lobsters which are priced at 6 or 7 dollars a pound.  Cull generally refers to single claw lobsters, but there are also usually a few that have two claws and are too ugly to be sold for full price.  Considering that you’re not eating the shell, who cares if there is a barnacle or divot on the outside?  You gotta get there early when they are sorting the day’s catch, though; these two pounders with a couple stray barnacles usually go home with the fishermen.

Similarly, around the corner by the jetty at Sakonnet point there is a commercial fishing dock where they sort the day’s catch before 10AM.  If you have cash, you can pay wholesale prices for whatever is fresh caught that day before it heads to the fish markets in Fall River.  Sometimes it’s common fish like Striped Bass or Cod, but the day we went I encountered three fish species I’d never cooked before: Tautog, Triggerfish, and Scup.  After parting with my $8, I headed home with two Triggerfish to clean and prep.

Didn’t get a good shot of the fish, or the awkward 5 minutes where Buschy and I were standing outside the commercial fish docks too nervous and intimidated to go in and ask if they sell fish.  We were acting like high school kids hanging outside a liquor store hoping someone would just offer to buy us some beer instead of asking

Triggerfish are ellipse-like in shape and have a little mouth full of sharp teeth.  Their outer skin is like a solid coat of armor with small scales that were seemingly impossible to remove by scraping.  Since these were whole and fresh off the boat, I wanted to remove the guts and clean them to get that step out of the way.

I learned how to clean trout in Michigan when I was 10.  This wasn’t that similar with the massive air bladder and huge liver, but I got through it

These weren’t the simplest fish to clean since the opening wasn’t easy to get my hands into.  Plus, the air bladder was pretty thick and difficult to remove.  Aside from that, I was surprised by how large the liver was for a relatively small fish.  Once fully cleaned I rinsed the insides out with a hose and put the fish in the fridge until dinner prep.

But I certainly wasn’t going to waste that liver.

This is after a rinse in the sink.  I had to at least try them, right?  I mean what kind of weirdo would just throw that away?

It’s going to sound bizarre, but the main reason for why I cooked the livers was the highly encouraging smell.  They were clean/not fishy smelling, and had the general aroma of a freshly steamed New England mud clam (or steamer).  So, once they were fully rinsed and patted dry, I threw them in a pan with olive oil and a couple twists of coarse sea salt.

After a few minutes browning on each side, they were ready.

I wish I had bought 100 Triggerfish just for the livers.  These things may have looked foul and smelled super-fishy at first, but they were pretty incredible

The texture was liver-like, soft with a crispy outside from cooking in the olive oil, but the flavor didn’t have a hint of what you expect from liver.  They tasted most like a fried clam belly and were very mild and rich.  I was stunned when Kristi took a bite and more surprised when she agreed with my previous assessment.  She even commented on how my lunch of fish livers on an English muffin looked good!  I’ve created a monster.

When it came time to cook the Triggerfish, I didn’t have many options.  The skin was like armor with small scales which made boiling it a tricky proposition and I’m not good enough with a knife to fillet a fish that thin.  So, I went with what I know and packed it in a mixture of kosher salt and egg whites with the cavity stuffed with sliced lemon and bay leaves for a salt baking.  As with my previous experience, it came out surprisingly well.

I was a little sloppy removing the huge crust of salt on top and a little flaked back on the fish, but the skin easily pulled away in one solid piece which cleared most of the salt away.  Yeah, like I was really nervous about salt getting on my food

I was pretty into this fish.  The meat near the ribs and collar was very buttery tasting and tender while the more dense meat towards the tail was dense but flaky and more like a traditional whitefish flavor.  Really good.  Next time around I think I will be stuffing with lime, chili peppers, and cilantro to use the fish meat for the best fish tacos of all time.  Can’t wait to go back to those docks.  Thanks to Buschy and Taylor for all the pictures.

My freezer is completely full due to the recent arrival of a tuna head and guts courtesy of the Hard Four crew (big ups to Johnny of course, and Brother Tim for carpooling with the head).  Not sure if it will be the post for next week, but I have some other posts in mind.

Little Compton Hot Dogs

First, my apologies for the lack of posts.  Too much traveling and a lack of internet.  I will try to do better and I have a few recent meals that will make shorter posts.  This is one of them.

On our final Saturday night in Little Compton we had about 15 people staying in the house and we decided the best way to feed everyone would be a lobster bake.  To get people hungry we started out with a guacamole competition between me and my friend Emily.

Emyo's guac is the far one, mine is the closer one. Hers was chunky because her hand hurt too much to mash it well. Waaaahhhhh, poor baby. I am just bitter because hers tasted better

Due to the lack of quality ventilation in the house and it still recovering from my lobster marinara, we decided to do the lobster bake outside.  Enter the Tim Ryan turkey fryer.

When Tim and I first used a turkey fryer we remarked how awesome it would be to cook, like, a hundred buffalo wings in it. As we thought about that in slack-jawed amazement, I realized we would both need seatbelt extensions on airplanes at some point in our lives

Between that and the wooden cornhole game we made (Tim did the woodwork, Kristi did the bags, I criticized), we were definitely the rednecks of this quaint and quiet beach community.

Buschy and Kristi at least looked like they belonged. I was probably shirtless and drinking a budweiser while I took this picture

Back to the lobster bake, the bottom of the pot had three rocks to separate the steamer basket from the water.  Into the basket went 60 clams and 15 lobsters.

I am looking forward to a 6-7 month break from clams and lobsters...

...though I could easily be convinced to change my mind. This picture makes me hungry and it is mainly of decking and shingles

Now for why the post is named “Little Compton Hot Dogs”, once the water was boiling and we were about to put the clam/lobster basket in, I threw 10 hotdogs into the bottom of the pot.  My thought was that they would cook in the liquid that came out of the clams and lobsters and take on some of the flavor.

There was a lot of head shaking off camera. Either no one liked the sound of this idea or no one liked the sound of my voice talking about it nonstop. I blame the idea.

Then the clams and lobsters went in on top.

I made eye contact with a few too many of them during this process.

Some people were distracted by the sunset.

Pretty great spot. Well chosen rental, Mommy Ryan

But I just stared at the pot until it was time to turn off the propane burner and pull the basket.  Which gave us our first look at the cooked hot dogs.

Can't say that people were looking into the pot, slapping me on the back, and congratulating me on a great idea. Most said that it looked like a revolting joke

Hot dogs came out and were put on a plate where they were aptly descibed as looking like, “cafeteria hot dogs”. But I still had hope. We then put the lobsters back in the pot to separate them from the clams.

I was whining about how my hands were still burning through the mitt so Tim came in and barehanded them to show me up. Stupid brother with his stupid calloused hands from doing stupid real man work

Along with 5 pounds of red potatoes and corn it made for an excellent meal.  The hot dogs ended up looking appetizing once they were out of the water for a few minutes and got their color back.

All but one of the dogs ended up being eaten, and I ate that one the next day for lunch

I’d love to say that you could taste the shellfish juice in the hot dogs but you really couldn’t aside from them being a little saltier.  Oh well, I would still do it again.

The whole meal ended up excellent and included Emily getting completely covered with lobster fat while cracking a claw for her fiance Nate.  That upstaged the meal as the highlight of the evening for everyone but Emyo.

Next post will be about an oxtail stew that I made for our fantasy football draft.

Weird Crap I Cook: Lobster Marinara

A few weeks ago we were having dinner with our friends, Buschy, Annie, and Chrissy, at an Italian restaurant in the North End of Boston.  Chrissy is both an Ital and a Mainer, which meant she had some awesome food knowledge to share at dinner.  When she mentioned that her mom makes a lobster marinara sauce by cooking the whole lobsters in the sauce, I knew I would have to give it a try at some point.

This past weekend we visited the extended Ryan family in Little Compton, Rhode Island and stayed in a house across the street from the Sakonnet Lobster company.  I woke up on Sunday morning already planning on attempting the lobster marinara, but once I saw it was raining, I decided to turn it into an all-day event.  Here’s how it all went.

I knew I had the following ingredients in the house:

  • Tomatoes and basil from Tim Ryan’s garden
  • Corn, red pepper, red onion, garlic and more tomatoes from Wilburs farmstand
  • Potato rolls leftover from Leonard’s 30th birthday party (only two weeks old)

So I headed out at 9AM to make the following stops:

  • Fresh spinach fettuccine, yellow onion, and olive oil from Wilburs
  • Two pounds of sea scallops from The Last Stand (another little stand that I got littlenecks from the day before)
  • Seven lobsters from Sakonnet lobster company

I came home excited and ready to fill the house with cooking stink.


This place has great lobsters but walking in through the area where they store the traps smelled like those ingenious trashcans in Philadelphia that are solar powered and emptied once a month.  So they are essentially just solar trash ovens

My plan was homemade lobster rolls for lunch, use the shells for lobster stock, then make the lobster marinara for dinner using the stock (with some scallops on the side).  One important note: the only items in the house that could be considered spices were salt and pepper grinders.  And some sugar, which is kind of a spice.  First order of business was steaming five of the lobsters and shelling them.

I hate those first 10 seconds when you hear them trying to get out

At this point in the process Tim and my mother both decided to stop by the kitchen to offer supportive words like, “smells like sh*t in here” and, “whoa those smell strong”.  That can be expected when you start cooking shellfish in a poorly ventilated kitchen while people are still waking up.  Once the lobsters were ready, I threw them into an ice bath.

You learn things by watching Iron Chef.  Like you don’t need to burn your fingers shelling lobster if you have a bowl of ice

While I shelled and cleaned the lobster meat I boiled two ears of corn to mix in with the lobster salad.

The shelling wasn’t too annoying, just wish I hadn’t been so stubborn about pulling the meat out of each of the little legs

While the corn was cooking, the shells and basically anything that wasn’t meat went into a stock pot.  I crushed them down to make room, covered with water, threw in some quartered red onion and celery and brought it to a boil for the lobster stock.

This pot was too small, I recognized my error long after the boiling over caused a near electrical fire. It eventually went back into the clean steaming pot

Back to the lobster rolls.  The corn was cut off the cob.

You really can’t go wrong combining corn and lobster. And SpongeBob, gotta have him too

It went into a bowl with the lobster, minced red onion, salt, pepper, a tablespoon+ of mayo, olive oil and a teaspoon of bacon grease from Tim’s breakfast.


I added a little more mayo later, but you didn’t need to see that

Stirred this all together and let it rest for about an hour in the fridge to let the flavors come together.  Finished product looked like this:

This was enough to fill about 10 hot dog bun-size lobster rolls

The lettuce didn’t add much but seemed like the right thing to do. For health and stuff

Super zoom makes me hungry

After lunch, a long nap, and 4 total hours of the lobster stock boiling down and stinking up our rental house, I got back to working on the lobster marinara.

The stock boiled down to this. A quick (and painful) dip of a finger into the pot confirmed that the liquid did indeed taste strongly of lobster

The stock took a couple trips through the strainer and was reserved for later use.  It had a greenish-brown tint and I was surprised by how unpleasant looking it was despite having a nice seafood flavor.  Just meant I had to keep it covered and not show it to anyone before I added it to the food.  With that done, it was time to start the tomato sauce.

Can’t remember which were from Tim’s and which were from the market, but all were good

The tomatoes took turns going through boiling water for a minute and then into an ice bath.

My first time doing this, I had previously only used canned tomatoes for sauce and chili

Lotsa stuff going into ice baths on Sunday

I was amazed that the peeling was as easy as everyone said it would be.  I was nervous it would be similar to the time I tried making roasted red peppers and was successful in only burning my fingers and pissing myself off.

I will remember the texture and feel of these for some sort of gross prank on my kids in 5-10 years

Midway through the cutting and scooping of each tomato I started to understand why using canned tomatoes is the preferred method for making your own tomato sauce.

Tasting them as I went, I noticed that these were a bit more tart than sweet

Before crushing the tomatoes I chopped an onion, a red pepper, and six garlic cloves and threw them into the bottom of a sauce pot with the olive oil.  The tomatoes were then crushed using hands and a potato masher which generally made a mess of my clothes and the kitchen.  To the crushed tomatoes I added a good amount of fresh basil, salt, pepper, and sugar.

I was really trying to be like Al Pacino in Donnie Brasco adding a punch of this and a punch of that

The contents of the bowl went into the pot with the onions/garlic/peppers and a few ladels of the lobster stock.  After simmering for 20-30 minutes, I added a big splash of white wine at the urging of Chrissy (via email).

It didn’t look promising at this point, a little too thin

As mentioned above, I was pretending to be Italian.  I know, at first, it appeared I overdid it with the sugar.  However, as I tasted the sauce, it turned out to be a good amount; the tomatoes were fresh and none of the stuff that gets added to a can of tomatoes was in there. So, I added the lobsters.

None of those awful ten seconds of movement with this method, it was over once they were submerged

After cooking for 10-12 minutes I pulled the lobsters out and let them cool briefly before cracking them over the pot to make sure all the liquid and “gross” stuff went back into the simmering sauce.  I burned my hands, proving I am still one of the stupider people you have ever met.

I separated all the meaty parts right away over the pot then cracked the rest over the bowl. Both those beers are mine too, Guinness for the deliciousness and a cold Bud bottle for cooling the hand

The remainder of the lobster stock was used to boil the spinach fettuccine and give it some lobster flavor in the process.

I know, it looks gross, but if you closed your eyes it would taste like a cream-free version of lobster bisque

While all of this was going on, Tim Ryan was tasting everything and was also in charge of cooking the scallops and garlic bread.

This picture was taken in between raining blows on each other over various food preparation and flavor decisions. That freaking jerk, I’ll show him what too much butter is. Jerk.

A minute before the spinach pasta was dumped into the pot of sauce the lobster meat went back in.

I waited until the last second before putting the meat back in to avoid it getting rubbery

Pasta went in, was tossed around, and dumped into a bowl for serving.

Mangia! Or something. I was really happy with how it looked

Served with garlic bread and the seared scallops.

John’s sweater makes an appearance at the head of the table. Its made by Brooks Brothers, ever heard of it? It was also purchased at a thrift store for $6 a few hours earlier

The pasta had a strong lobster flavor but not quite enough lobster meat.  Also, the sauce was very acidic when hot.  Not sure what I would change, in hindsight, aside from adding more lobster meat to the sauce or using less pasta.  It was far better as leftovers in the days that followed when the acidity of the tomatoes was less prominent and the lobster and pepper flavor was stronger.

The scallops were perfectly cooked and very sweet but Tim burned the garlic bread.  He tried to blame me but he did it.  Oh well, he’s dropped enough food knowledge on me over the years to allow me to forgive him.  Mostly.

And that was it.  No great epilogue, but really looking forward to heading back to Little Compton today for a long weekend of fishing and our newly made cornhole setup.