~By Kate H. Knapp
I have always had a love/hate relationship with lobsters: I love to eat them, but I hate to kill them. This sad dichotomy began when I was still quite young and visiting my father one weekend. He decided to introduce my brother and me to the world of the crawling crustaceans, and by introduce, I mean he actually gave them names such as Harry or Bob (or something that resembled a man who worked on cars instead of a creature who sat at the bottom of the ocean) and then proceeded to say hello in a voice that resembled a cartoon character.
I can still remember the bead-like eyes staring up at me, revealing no knowledge that the boiling pot of water only mere inches away would be its demise. As my father dropped poor Harry into the pot, I felt a tinge of guilt and sorrow for his soon-to-be-ended life. Plus, it didn’t help matters that my father was taking great pleasure in acting like the lobsters were screaming in blood-curdling pain as they were boiled alive.
It was this memory that I carried with me as I approached killing my very own lobster some twenty years later. Staring down at the same black eyes that had pleaded with me so many years ago, my roommate, Emily, and I decided we would do the only humane thing we could think of, which was to make their final hours as comfortable as possible. This entailed filling the bathtub with cold water … because what could be better than a bit of familiar freedom before death?
In our rush, however, to be caring carnivores, we overlooked one small, yet crucial, matter: Lobsters live in salt water. When placed in fresh water, they actually suffocate and suffer a horrible and slow death. We realized this fact while there was still some movement left in their spiny limbs, but the damage had already been done. Instead of treating our lobsters with the love and respect of living animals, we had tortured them as if they held the secrets to who really shot JFK.
I decided then and there that the only truly humane action I could take would be to not postpone the inevitable a moment longer. I grabbed my sharpest knife and placed a traumatized lobster on the cutting board, but I as I hovered the blade precariously over its head, I just couldn’t bring myself to strike. I handed the knife over to my then-boyfriend, Brian, and sheepishly walked away. As he drove the knife straight into Keith Richard’s skull (the name seemed apt since he had survived insurmountable odds), I could hear my father’s voice mimicking the screams of the dying creatures.
It took me another year before I attempted to slaughter yet another lobster. But this time I skipped the bathtub or any other form of compassionate act (other than the name, of course), and instead immediately plunged the knife straight between the eyes that had once haunted me. It was at this moment that I knew that I had truly become my father’s daughter, and I would never hear the shrieks again.
Papa’s Famous Lobster Bisque
3 live 1-pound lobsters
8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 cup dry Sherry (either Amontillado or Fino), plus 1/2 cup
4 cups whole milk
2 cups heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon paprika
Freshly ground black pepper
Chopped fresh parsley
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Plunge the lobsters head first into the boiling water, in batches, if necessary, and cook, covered, for 5 minutes. Transfer the lobsters with tongs to a large bowl filled with ice water to cool. When the lobsters are cool enough to handle, crack the shells, remove the tail and claw meat, and coarsely chop.
Reserve the shells. Tightly cover the meat and refrigerate.
In a large Dutch oven, melt 4 ounces (1 stick) of butter over medium-high heat. Add the shells and cook, stirring, until they turn bright red, 2 to 3 minutes.
Add 1 cup of the Sherry and bring to a boil. Cook until reduced by half, about 3 minutes. Add the milk, cream, paprika, salt, and pepper, and return to the boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer until slightly thickened, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool. Cover and refrigerate at least 6 hours or overnight for the flavors to develop.
Remove the milk and shell mixture from the refrigerator and strain into a clean container through a fine mesh strainer. Set aside. In a large, heavy pot, melt the remaining 4 ounces (1 stick) of butter over medium-high heat. Add the chopped lobster meat and cook, stirring, until lightly colored, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the remaining 1/2 cup of Sherry and increase the heat to high. Cook, stirring, to deglaze the pan and until reduced by half. Add the strained milk mixture and bring to a low boil. Simmer, stirring, until heated through.
Remove from the heat and adjust the seasoning, to taste. Spoon into bowls and garnish with chopped fresh parsley. Serve immediately.