Columnist finally cracks out of shell
“What about this one?” I say, holding up a not-quite-wide-open shell, soot-black and glossy with curried cream.
“Dead before the pot? Or after?”
We’re seated on the second-storey balcony of a downtown Charlottetown pub.
Jazz notes are rising from street musicians on the street below.
The air is comfortably cool and I’ve just ordered my first-ever bowl of mussels (to share).
When it comes to a love of seafood, I’m a late bloomer.
Having grown up on mostly land food, I went from farmer’s granddaughter and butcher’s stepdaughter, to spending my teenage years on the other side of my family tree, as a Seventh Day Adventist vegetarian.
If I did eat seafood, Levitical-type attention was paid to whether, in life, the fish had swum with fins and scales.
Therefore, my longstanding aversion to bi-valves and crustaceans has deep and twisty roots.
Now, as I stick a slender fork between two halves of shell and finagle an orange oval of flesh from its once home, I swallow an upwelling of panic and open wide.
“P.E.I. mussels are renowned for having the highest meat counts in the world,” a reader will later tell me.
Because I’d put off trying West Coast mussels every chance I’d ever had, I have nothing with which to compare.
But, these mussels are sweet and pleasing to the bite.
They are meaty, yes, and I conclude I rather like them.
Given the right setting, I could even see myself acquiring a hankering.
But, more importantly, this shellfish novice suddenly feels ready to move on from the safer waters of haddock and ahi that started off our week in the Maritimes and consider other things.
Having eaten mussels, maybe raw Malpeque oysters from Raspberry Point will be next.
Perhaps even something with an exoskeleton and pincers and alien-like eyes suspended on waving sticks — like the lobsters that seem to follow us everywhere we go.
And, I do mean everywhere.
Including, we’ll later discover, the departures area of the Halifax airport, where one can have a live lobster packed up to take home in a cardboard carrier that is essentially a pet caddy packed with ice.
For now, however, as we drive toward our next meal, a sign under a set of golden arches makes pull a U-turn.
“McLobster is Back!” the sign proclaims.
While this certainly will not be where I will encounter lobster for the first time, we stop, click and post photographic evidence on Facebook for all of our friends in the West.
Later, it’s in a salt box of a seaside restaurant in Cavendish, P.E.I., where I finally work up an appetite for something the Maritimes is famous for: A lobster roll.
Mounded on a soft pretzel bun, the crustacean meat is tossed in a light mayonnaise dressing and is firm and sweet and everything (I imagined) it should be.
A perfect lunch in a perfect place.
So that, before we board our flight home later in the week, I’ll take a good long look in that tank in the Halifax airport, considering whether I want to travel with a giant sea bug by my feet.
And whether, once I get it home, I’ll be able to dispatch it into a pot.
I’ll look at Chefhusband, who will fix me with an are-you-kidding look that lets me know he’s not interested in a lobster pet.
And, when we take off, we’ll already be planning when to come back — and what to eat when we do.
P.E.I. lobster rolls
1 1/2 lbs. cooked lobster meat (4-1.5 pound lobsters)
1/2 cup mayonnaise
3 tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 celery stalks, finely chopped
Flaked kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
4 pretzel rolls (or other soft artisan buns), split and lightly toasted
Melted butter for brushing
Extract meat from lobsters; discard shells or use for stock. Chop meat into bite-sized pieces.
In a bowl, gently toss lobster with mayo, lemon juice and celery. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Refrigerate 10 to 15 minutes, allowing flavours to develop.
Brush cut sides of pretzel rolls with melted butter. Stuff with lobster salad and serve.