They’re bright and dramatic. Rich and sweet. Great with bubbly. But just in case you need another reason to serve lobster during this season of so much feasting: the end of the year marks the end of the season for our local near-shore lobstermen. It’s time to eat up.
Our winter break from backshore lobsters isn’t actually about the local lobster population, though it may be a good thing for them. Lobstering is tough in an icy nor’easter, so there’s that. But the downtime is designed to protect the northern right whales that swim along the Massachusetts coast in the winter months. That’s when females have their calves in warmer waters south of here. Then, come spring, the rights come through again, eating their way north to their summer feeding grounds.
It wasn’t lobstering but whaling that nearly ended the existence of right whales. Slow-swimming, buoyant, and friendly, these magnificent mammals were the “right” ones to hunt for oil in centuries past. They’ve been protected since the 1930s, but scientists think there may be only about 300 to 400 right whales left. Total.
That’s why it’s so important that our lobstermen do their part to protect them.
The waters directly around us are what the Division of Marine Fisheries calls “a critical habitat” for right whales. Our state’s lobstermen were the first to go to sinking groundlines––a new kind of line that connects lobster pots along the ocean floor. Older-style ropes floated up between the pots, entangling whales. They’ve modified their gear in other ways, too, with weak links that allow ropes to break away easily. During the deep winter, ships are re-routed and asked to travel more slowly to avoid the whales; ship strikes are a major problem.
We can keep you in lobsters from deeper waters through the winter, but it’s not until May, when the whales have moved on, that our local independent fishermen who work from smaller boats in near-shore waters can set their gear again.
Lobster is great for summertime feeds. But I’m for lobster now in honor of our seasonal local lobstermen, and our whales.
Warm Lobster Salad with Orange Vinaigrette
Our end-of-season lobster rush coincides with the arrival of citrus fruits. Lobster, orange, and celery are a classic combination, and the sauteed celery forms a nice warm base for the lobster, so I like this salad even though I’m not a big celery fan. Sometimes I make it with arugula or other salad greens. Just dress them and put the warm lobster on top. Either way, this salad is extra easy to put together if you buy the lobsters already steamed––those of you who are nearby: we can do that for you at Mac’s. If you’re ordering from away, we’ll send instructions on how to steam them.
4 steamed lobsters (one per person if they’re one and a half pounders, fewer if they’re larger)
4 navel oranges
1 bunch celery
1/3 cup fruity olive oil, plus a couple of tablespoons for sauteeing
2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar, tarragon vinegar, or fresh lemon juice
a few sprigs of fresh mint, for about 1/4 cup of minced leaves
a big pinch of salt
Pick the lobster meat from the shells, slice the tails into thick rounds, and set the meat aside while you prepare the rest of the salad. If the lobster is still warm while you’re picking it, great. If it’s cold, plan to reheat it gently in a skillet with a bit of butter just before you assemble the salad.
I like to drop the shells and bodies into a big pot to make lobster broth––it’s great in soups and risottos––later on.
Slice the peels and white pith from the oranges, then cut them into rounds. Lay a few rounds on each plate. Squeeze the ends of the oranges over a bowl, they’ll give you the juice you want for the dressing. Whisk the vinegar or lemon juice and the salt into the orange juice; stir in the mint, and set the dressing aside.
Slice the celery into pieces about 1/4-inch thick. You want about one cup per person. I like to use the ribs that include the delicate inner leaves and throw a few of the tougher outer ribs into my stockpot with the lobster bodies. Saute the celery in two tablespoons of olive oil until it’s crisp-tender.
Warm the lobster in a skillet with a little butter, if need be. Dress the lobster lightly with the orange-mint vinaigrette.
Put the warm celery on the plates next to the sliced oranges. Pile the lobster salad on top the celery, then drizzle a little extra dressing on top before serving.