Choosing the choicest crustacean


If you could eat only one more meal, would it be lobster, the favored crustacean of New England, or would it be crab, the reigning crustacean of the Mid-Atlantic? I put that question to Jasper White the other day.

At first glance, the odds favored White to pick lobster. He is a New England resident and a noted chef in the Boston area. Anyone with that kind of background has learned to venerate the lobster and its loyal legions. Moreover, White has just written a cookbook, "Lobster at Home" (Scribner, $30), a work offering delicious tribute to the creature.

But the crab had a shot.

As White pondered his reply, he was polishing off a crab cake and a soft crab sandwich at Faidley's Seafood operation in Baltimore's Lexington Market. Fans of the blue crab know that once someone has experienced the bliss of eating properly prepared crab meat, chances are excellent that he will want to do it again and again.

White chose his answer to the lobster-crab question carefully. "I would start with crab," he said, "then move on to the lobster."

It was an adroit response, yet White's admiration seemed genuine. When one of the proprietors of Faidley's seafood operation, Nancy Devine, stopped by, White quizzed her on how she got the crab cakes to stick together and how she got the crust of the crab cake so crisp. First, Devine said, she lets the crab cakes sit, or "set-up," in the refrigerator for several hours before cooking. Secondly, she fries them in very hot oil.

White proceeded to instruct me on the fine points of handling the lobster. In picking a lobster, you want one that acts like a boxer, White told me. You want a lobster that is lively. The lobster should be strong enough to keep his claws up near his face, like a boxer keeping up his guard.

White also gave me a rundown on his hierarchy of lobster meat. The tail meat is easily the most popular meat, because it is so easy to get to. White said he was fond of the meat found between the gills. The meat in the "knuckles," the joints that connect the large claws to the body, is the tastiest morsel in the lobster, he said.

I bought a lobster at the market and a few hours later, following the instructions in White's cookbook, I cooked it, split into halves, on my backyard barbecue grill.

The lobster was very good, even though I overcooked it. The sauce of toasted garlic and avocado that he recommended putting on the lobster was terrific. As I finished off the meal, I told myself that I couldn't wait to try that lobster sauce on some soft crabs.

Grilled Lobster With Sweet Toasted Garlic and Avocado

Serves 2, luxuriously

1 medium to large head of garlic, cloves broken apart and peeled

2/3 cup quality, fruity olive oil

1 tablespoon fresh lime juice

kosher or sea salt

1 canned chipotle chili en adobo, seeded and thinly sliced

5 green onions

1 small avocado, peeled, pitted and cut into 1/3-inch pieces

1/4 cup chopped cilantro

2 live, 1 1/2-pound hard-shell lobsters

Chop the garlic into rough, fine diced pieces. In a small saucepan set over medium to low heat, combine the garlic and oil and keep at simmer until the pieces are very soft and beginning to brown, about 20 to 30 minutes. Add the lime juice, 1/2 teaspoon salt and the chili, raise the heat to medium-high and stir for a couple of minutes until the rapid boiling has subsided.

Prepare a charcoal fire and let it burn until the charcoal is gray ash. If using gas grill, preheat for 15 minutes. Brush the green onions with a little of the garlic oil, and grill until soft and nicely browned, about 5 minutes. Chop onions into 1/4-inch lengths and add to the garlic oil, along with avocado and cilantro. Keep warm over very low heat.

Split each lobster in half lengthwise with cleaver or chef's knife. Remove the head sac and intestine. Crack the claws slightly on the side not exposed to fire. Brush the shells and any exposed meat with garlic-oil. Season lightly with salt. Place lobsters, shell side down, directly over coals. Loosely cover the claws and top of lobster body with a pie plate. Cook for 8 to 10 minutes. When meat where tail enters carcass is creamy white, the lobster is done.

Remove from grill and place on individual plates. Spoon garlic mixture over lobster, letting it pool luxuriously around them, then sprinkle with a little extra cilantro.

Pub Date: 6/28/98


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