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Betsy Block


Good News

Good News

Free-form lobster hash. Photo (and dinner) by BD.

We were on vacation on Cape Cod and rain was predicted for the next few days, so we decided it would be a good time to drag the kids to the one outdoor educational activity of the week. Naturally E, nine, wanted to go to the arcade instead, but we made it clear he didn't have a choice.

Ocean Quest is a nonprofit, "hands-on discovery cruise" out of Woods Hole, Mass. On the one-and-a-half-hour boat trip, kids haul up a lobster trap, hold sea animals and learn about seawater chemistry. It's science education at its best.

Once on board, our guide started talking about the sea and all its wondrous creatures. I cocked my head, nodded, and generally acted enthralled, hoping that the kids would emulate my (only semi-feigned) fascination. P, four, wasn't having any of it - it had started to drizzle and she just wanted to play with the stuffed fish in the covered cabin - but it seemed to work with E and his friend M, who were suddenly holding crabs, filling out data sheets, and asking intelligent questions.

Seeing that the boys were participating, I backed away and stopped paying close attention until - what was that? Could it be? I thought I heard our guide - no, she couldn't have. Here was a marine biologist, an educator in one of the most prominent oceanography centers in the world, and I was almost certain she'd just said that lobsters and crabs don't feel pain. "Excuse me," I piped up once she'd stopped talking, "did you say..."

"Yes," she confirmed. My heart started beating a little faster. "And," she added, "it's a myth that lobsters scream out in pain when they're put into hot water. That's just water coming out of their shells."

Skeptical (but hopeful), I asked, "And how do we know this?"

"Because," she said with authority, "when they get in a tight spot, they can just drop a limb. No other animal does that. " In other words, if a tasty little claw were to get stuck behind a rock, it's not a problem - the lobster drops it and goes on with its day until it can grow a new one.

I had doubts about this theory, but I really didn't want to pursue them. Instead, I stepped back to gather my thoughts as she went on with her lecture. If I understood her correctly, dinner as I'd known it might just have changed forever. And so, while I was very worried she would retract her statement if I pressed her, I pushed forward anyway to ask, "So does this mean it's - you know, ethical - to eat crabs and lobsters?"

Her eyes narrowed and she stared back at me. My heart dropped but I stood my ground. Regardless of what she thought, I had to know. She looked at me, I looked at her, until finally she said, "I don't care, because I'm allergic to shellfish." I laughed - that really was ironic - but still, I needed an answer. Seeing the unsatisfied look on my face, she gave in, adding, "As long as they're fished responsibly, then yeah, I'd say so."

I'd already known that lobsters are so ornery that given the chance, they'll kill each other, but I hadn't thought about the implications: "They can't be farmed, so they're extremely low in toxins," my new best friend said. "Their meat is very clean." Furthermore, they'll actually eat each other (which is understandable, because they must know that they're delicious).

When the trip ended, P was happy to get off the boat, and E and M were ready for lunch, but I emerged a changed woman. I had learned that lobsters are clean yet heartless cannibals who feel no pain. I think you know where I'm headed with this...

(NB: Sometimes, cooking becomes an exercise in both patience and humility. In other words, sometimes things - or BD's lobster cakes - fall apart.

I think it was my fault. "You didn't let me put enough egg in," BD said accusingly. He was probably right, because he won't use mayo, and I don't like eggy seafood cakes. Mea culpa. During dinner, the conversation centered on lobster cakes: more egg? More cream? Time spent resting in the fridge? Later he had the idea of using mashed potatoes as a binder. Definitely worth a try next time.

But fortunately, whenever BD's at the stove, it always ends well.)

BD's Lobster Hash (for Grandma, who loves lobsters, but not their shells)

serves four

1 lb. lobster meat, picked over for cartilege and chopped fine
1 cup bread crumbs (we used panko because we had them)
only 1 large egg (sorry, BD)
1/3 cup cream
cup extra virgin olive oil
juice of  lemon
cup chives, chopped
2 small ribs celery, finely minced
1 Tbsp. tarragon, chopped
salt and pepper to taste (be judicious with the salt)
(and next time I'd add two large potatoes, diced and boiled until tender)

Mix together and fry it all up in a pan. Mm, mm.

(Or if you want to go for mayo-free cakes, use a cup or so of mashed instead of diced potatoes. Form the mixture into patties, but treat them gently because they'll be fragile. Then saute the hell out of them in butter. They'll be crisp and brown and basically addictive.)