Making lobster rolls is no quick feat. It took us close to eight hours to buy, steam, dress and eat lobsters for lobster rolls this past Sunday. In that amount of time, Brett Fletcher, our Knox County source for lobsters, would have been halfway to the coastal island of Georgetown, Maine. Fletcher makes the drive several times a year to catch or purchase fresh Maine lobsters to sell from a shack in the woods of Knox County.
I’d read about this industrious man in a Dispatch article last year, and mentally filed the Lobstah Shack away for a future culinary adventure. Constant lobster roll talk from Maya in New York, combined with a review of Red Lobster’s version of the classic Maine sandwich triggered a decision: Who cares if it’s the middle of winter? Who cares if it’s going to take two and a half hours to retrieve my crustaceans? I’m going to host a Maine meal.
Truth be told, I’d suspected that Fletcher would be a little crazy. I suppose that it makes financial sense to skip the middleman, but rather than drive his minivan roundtrip (filled to capacity with 600 pounds of lobsters) and sell his wares at an urban farmers’ market, he chose to set up stop in the woods of rural Ohio, more than an hour’s drive from Columbus. As four of us made the trek through the hilly and slick roads of Knox County, I began to wonder if we were the crazy ones. The premise was this: drive up north, check out the shack, head back to my house and meet up with half a dozen others to immediately… process… our Atlantic finds and enjoy a summer meal in March.
I was accompanied by two food bloggers and Ben, who was contractually obligated to come along for the ride. Determined to have excellent daylight (and photos) for most of the process, I arranged for a departure time of 9:30 a.m. When I woke up to prepare for the day, I was not thrilled to be greeted by a fresh coat of snow. Not enough to cancel the trip, but just enough to be annoying.
I’d spoken to a very sane-sounding Fletcher several times over the phone. He’d held his entire inventory for our adventure, and helped me to determine how many pounds of lobster would produce the desired amount of meat. (A one-pound lobster will produce about a quarter pound of meat; twelve one and a half pound lobsters will produce four pounds.) The math was the most difficult part of the endeavor. We would be buying all of his lobsters (at $8.95 per pound) and would still need another three pounds of meat to feed the masses I’d invited into my home. I purchased the rest from New Asian Supermarket in the form of a ginormous six pound creature (at $9.99 per pound, perhaps the cheapest in Columbus).
Though he grew up outside of Amity, Ohio, it’s clear that Fletcher’s heart remains along the coast of Maine, in Georgetown, where his grandparents lived. Like a soul separated from his lover, he talked poetically about his longing to be out on his boat, setting his traps. He told us of his future plans: two major fishing expeditions, each producing more lobsters than he can handle. He’ll store his booty in Maine and return to replenish his Ohio stock as needed. I know that at least two of us had thoughts of becoming stowaways on his next run.
Once we picked up our cargo, it was a race against time. We were running a little behind due to some iPhone confusion between Upper Fredericktown Amity Road and Lower Fredericktown Amity Road. If you plan on making this trek, bring an old-school map. And, maybe, wait until the roads aren’t slick. We met a quarter of the people in Amity as they helped pull our vehicle from a ditch, about twenty-five yards from the entrance to the Lobstah Shack.
Back at home, there was work to be done. A lot of work. We systematically steamed all thirteen lobsters between two pots. Every cell phone became a timer. (This guy took close to 50 minutes.)
An army of volunteers scavenged for meat while Ben filled our glasses with Shipyard Brewing Company and Atlantic Brewing Company sample packs provided by the guests. (The guests also provided: manual labor, paper towels, Ray Ray’s BBQ Ribs, newspapers, a giant stock pot, tongs, tools for picking lobster, transportation to and from Knox County, prior knowledge and experience, cucumber salad, blueberry cake and eight or nine iPhones to be used as timers.)
Nearly three hours after we started the process of steaming the lobsters, the salad was put together. I used a recipe from Pearl Oyster Bar, the last place I had a truly amazing lobster roll. Their recipe calls for one pound of lobster meat, which creates a towering mass of awesomeness. You can see it in this link. Seriously. Click through and look. I, however, halved the amount of meat. I wasn’t sure that I wanted my foray into the world of lobster rolls to involve upwards of 26 live critters in my kitchen.
The result: a modest, yet delicious Ohio lobster roll that, without labor, cost about $20. Never again will I balk at the cost of one of these guys. And never again will I eat a lobster roll without remembering my mid-Ohio food adventure with some of my favorite Columbus epicureans. Is it crazy to drive to and from Maine to sell live lobsters out of a shack? Maybe. Is it crazy to try to turn winter into summer and the Olentangy into the Atlantic by buying off-season, out-of-the-way crustaceans? Maybe. But it’s hard to feel crazy when so many people I know would do the exact same thing.
The Lobstah Shack
18784 Lower Fredericktown Amity Road
Mount Vernon, Ohio
Pearl Oyster Bar Lobster Roll
from Lobster Rolls and Blueberry Pie: Three Generations of Recipes and Stories from Summers on the Coast of Maine by Rebecca Charles and Deborah Di Clementi
2 pounds cooked lobster meat, chopped roughly into 1/2 to 3/4 inch pieces
1/2 celery rib, finely chopped
1/4 cup Hellman’s mayonnaise
squeeze of lemon
pinch of kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons unsalted butter
2 Pepperidge Farm top-loading hot dog buns
To make the lobster salad, in a large bowl, combine lobster meat, celery, mayonnaise, lemon and salt and pepper and mix thoroughly. Cover the mixture and store in the refrigerator until ready to serve. It will last up to 2 days.
To prepare the bun, in a small sauté pan over low to medium heat, melt the butter. Place the hot dog buns on their sides in the butter. Flip the buns a couple of times so that both sides soak up and equal amount of butter and brown easily. Remove the buns from the pan and place them on a large plate.
Fill the toasted buns with the lobster salad. Sprinkle with chives and serve with a salad, slaw or shoestring fries.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease and flour 9 x 13 inch baking pan.
4 eggs (separated)
2 cups sugar
1 cup butter (softened)
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
3 cups flour
3/4 cup milk
3 cups blueberries (plus 1 tablespoon flour) – can be fresh or frozen
1 and 1/2 cups icing sugar
1 tablespoon + 2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon milk
Using an electric mixer, beat eggs until foamy. Add 1/2 cup of the sugar and beat until stiff.
Cream butter, the rest of the sugar and egg yolks. Add vanilla, salt, baking powder and cinnamon. Alternately, add flour and milk. Fold in egg whites.
Toss blueberries in 1 tablespoon of flour in a ziplock bag until coated. Then gently fold into the mixture. Bake for 45 minutes (or until a skewer in the center comes out clean). Pour the icing on when the cake is almost cooled and let set for 30 minutes before serving.