All photos by Ted Axelrod
Now that we live full-time in Maine, we can get lobsters year ’round easily enough. But except for special occasions or when we have guests visiting from out of town, we tend to cook other kinds of seafood between September and June. In the summertime, however, we rent a little cottage on Cozy Harbor on Southport Island — about an hour and 15 minutes northeast of Portland. There, we cook lobster at least once a week and eat it overlooking the harbor and the Sheepscot River, feeling like the luckiest people in the world.
Southport is in the mid-coast, right next to Boothbay Harbor — prime lobster territory. The shoreline is heavily dotted with lobster trap buoys, each painted in different colors that are unique to each fisherman. There are so many buoys that when we go out with my brother on his power boat, one of his kids keeps an eye out, calling “Dad, buoy!” so Andy doesn’t run over a line and get it caught in the engine propeller. Visitors beware: pulling up or even touching the buoys is a big no-no; they represent someone’s livelihood.
We prepare our lobsters as a “stove-top clambake” – layers of seaweed, clams, corn, new potatoes and lobsters in a large pot with just a bit of saltwater to create the steam. Our seaweed and saltwater comes right from the beach; away from the coast, check with your local fishmonger to see if he can get you some seaweed – lobsters often come packed in it. If not, you can simply use a bit of heavily salted tap water. Our cottage stove is nothing fancy — ceramic-top electric — so don’t feel you need a big powerful stove to do the clambake.
Live lobsters can stay in the fridge for a few hours, but you should plan to eat them the same day that you buy them. We recommend 1 1/2 – 1 3/4 pound lobsters — one per person (or more, no one will judge you!) For clams, allow about a pound per person, which sounds like a lot, until you realize that each one has a shell.
Here’s how the layers work: In a large pot, put seaweed and a couple inches of saltwater, the lobsters, more seaweed, clams, potatoes, and corn. We shuck the outer layers of husk from the corn, then peel back the inner layers and pull out the silk, leaving the inner husk intact for cooking. Small new potatoes can be put in whole, cut larger potatoes into pieces. The whole thing should come up to about 2 inches from the top of the pot. If you don’t have one pot large enough to hold everything, use two.
Once you have “built” your layers, cover the pot, turn the heat to high and watch for the pot to start to steam – this should take just a couple of minutes – check by briefly lifting the lid. When it does, keep covered and steam for 18-20 minutes or until the clams have all opened and the potatoes are soft.
Serve with melted butter, fresh lemon, cold beer or chilled sauvignon blanc – and lots of napkins!