A grown man yelped like a little girl. Young women shuddered with revulsion. Others simply turned away. Yet despite my palpitating heart, today I successfully dismembered a live animal with my own hands then ate it 20 minutes later. It was an adrenaline rush.
The matter at hand was Summer Shack's famous pan-roasted lobster. Our instructor Max Harvey—a former sous chef from the popular New England-themed restaurant—walked us through the process that began with cutting a live lobster into 6 pieces. First the claws are twisted off, then with a heavy knife and a swift wrist, the head is removed. Still working quickly, the body is split lengthwise then crosswise. The key to the dish is roasting the morsels of meat over high heat. Max explained that the slight caramelization of the shell imparts a pleasant nutty flavor and enhances the cream-based sauce. After tasting the finished dish, I would agree.
Though the squirming crustacean was the highlight, I don't want it to overshadow the bountiful array of fish we worked with today. Max owns a seafood distribution company (with his old boss from Summer Shack, Jasper White) and unloaded a boatload of ocean delights on our classroom. We started with a selection of oysters that were first eaten raw ("cocktail sauce is for amateurs" according to Max), then later tossed into a creamy stew. Sea scallops were seared by one group and prepared as a crudo by another. Smelts were floured, fried, and served with spicy mayonnaise. Slick Spanish mackerel was transformed into a citrusy ceviche with grapefruit, cilantro and chile (good job my group!). Shell-on shrimp were pan-roasted Louisiana-style with lots of garlic, butter, and Worcestershire. Striped bass was cut into steaks, seared, and roasted with puttanesca sauce. There was monkfish and steamed Jonah crab and a whole salt-encrusted black bass. Phew! Everywhere you looked there was fish.
We were fortunate to be exposed to so many species and I felt lucky to have the opportunity to practice such a specialized butchering skill. Never having chopped up a live lobster before, it made me feel like I really earned the right to eat that meat. That's a feeling I don't get when opening a can of tuna or pulling a package of chicken thighs from the freezer. It was thrilling to have such a close connection to my food, but more importantly it was empowering.