Sunday, February 17, 2008

The Scum of the Earth

Tonight we all had to do one of the few things that I knew was coming at some point during chef school that I would be uncomfortable about: kill a lobster. Most people know that you need to keep whole lobsters alive until the moment you cook them. When people cook fresh lobster at home, typically they place it into boiling water to cook it, and that also kills it pretty quickly. But chefs normally kill lobsters by plunging the point of a chef's knife straight down into the back of their head, and then when the point touches the cutting board, bringing the heel of the knife down through the front of the head while keeping the point on the board, thereby cutting the head in half lengthwise.

Chef Marc knew that some folks might have a problem with this. He had said early in the class that everyone would kill a lobster tonight. Later, he gave a little speech about how lobsters are the scum of the earth, and no one should feel bad about killing them. He said something like, "They eat everything. If they get hungry, they eat their children. They are the scum of the earth." When it came time for him to demonstrate to us how to kill and prepare the lobster for cooking, there was a group of students between him and the lobsters, and he said, "Someone bring me one of the scavengers," and then showed us how to get on with it. One thing he said that I hadn't heard is that we should not put our fingers around the underside of the tail of a live lobster, and I didn't ask why but I think it's because their muscle is strong enough to curl the tail around a finger with enough force to hurt you, or at least to make it hard to get free of the thing.

I dispatched with my lobster without incident.

We prepared our fresh lobsters "on the half shell" cooked in a lobster stock that we had made earlier in the evening from the frozen carcasses of lobsters whose meat had already been used for something else. The stock was thickened into a sauce by using a compound butter that had a bunch of herbs and flour and the coral (roe) of the lobster worked into it. I'm not a big fan of lobster, but I thought this was the best lobster I'd ever tried.

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