MAINE LOBSTER BAKE
From the Mary Day
Captain Barry King of the Mary Day, shares with us his secrets to an authentic Maine lobster bake.
Our typical lobster bake is for 36 people with up to 100 pounds of lobster steamed in a couple of #3 wash kettles over a fire on the beach. That may be a little more than you want to cook, so I will just list the ingredients and the order in which we layer them into the kettles. You chose your preferred ingredients and the quantities. Be careful of who you invite for supper. After boasting about our all-you-can-eat picnic, I had one young man eat 13 lobsters in a single sitting!
Steamer clams or mussels
Baby red potatoes
Peeled small onions
Corn on the cob
Whole bulbs of garlic
1 tide-tossed stone
Seaweed, preferably Ascophyllum
Of course, the most important ingredient in a lobster bake is time. Time to do a little beach combing, time to take a swim before supper, time to enjoy casual conversation around the fire as everything cooks. You should plan on several hours to prepare this meal. Along wit the main fare, we serve at least 3 or 4 appetizers, 2 different salads, hot dogs, hamburgers and several desserts. We gather mussels if the tide is right.
Here is how we do it:
You may want to assemble all the ingredients and do a trial fitting into the largest kettle that will fit on your stove. If you are going to do this in your kitchen, you may need several pots. If you are lucky enough to have a big kettle and are able to build a fire in your backyard, go for it. I have also had great luck with large propane burners. You can rent those along with the kettles. I have even seen one person use a metal trashcan. Just make certain that your cooking vessel is clean and free of contaminants. Most important, you need lots of heat to generate the necessary steam. That’s right, steam. You want to steam everything, not boil it, so a cover is very important.
I put about 2-3 inches of water in the bottom of our kettles. If you don’t have seawater from the pristine Maine coast nearby, then add a couple of tablespoons of salt to help raise the boiling temperature of the water.
Get the water boiling before putting in the first layer: lobster. We pull the rubber bands off the claws before we put them in headfirst. Be careful with this step. On top of the lobster add your steamers or mussels. Next come the potatoes, onions and garlic. It is at this point that we use a thin layer of seaweed for flavor. Don’t worry if you don’t have a fresh source of organic seaweed nearby. It will still taste great.
Now is the time to put in the corn. We leave ours in the husk but chop off the ends to save room. On top of this we put the final ingredient, the hot dogs. We cover all of this with a clean piece of canvas (you can use foil) and lots of seaweed to help hold in the heat and steam. Seal it up as best you can and watch for the kettle to begin to boil again. Once we see steam, we generally wait 20 minutes of good hard steaming. I place an oblong small stone (about 3 inches long) in the center of the pile of seaweed standing up on end. I know it is time to check on everything when the stone falls over. The hot dogs should be split open. The potatoes should bee soft enough to poke a fork through easily. Make certain that the clams or mussels have opened up. The lobster meat should be firm and white inside its shell.
You can use special crackers to get into the lobster but while on the beach, we use a rock. We like to think of this as a getting-back-to-basics experience. Don’t worry about the bibs. All the leftover shells can go in your compost bin.
After supper we serve dessert with my very own, piping hot, patent-pending, I can’t tell you what’s in it, registered with every state and federal agency with an acronym, don’t drink this stuff any where near an open flame, four X, kick you in the pants, pick you up or lay down, eye poppin’…captain’s crank coffee. This is not ‘a prank crank.’ This is the real thing. PS…if you prepare this the way I do you will want to drink this with your teeth clenched tightly together.
Now we realize that you may not have all of these ingredients at home but don’t hesitate to create you own variation on this celebratory theme. This highlight of most windjammer cruises is a festive occasion to be shared with good friends. Of course you can always come on a cruise for a first-hand look at how we do it. By the way, how many lobsters can you eat?