I’ve lived in Maine for only nine of my 53 years. But in that time, I have easily cooked a hundred times more lobster than I’d cooked in the rest of my years combined. Two weekends ago, I steamed and broke down 10 for lobster-roll eating visitors. Last week, I cooked six, two for guests wanting to learn the difference between shedders and hard-shell lobsters, and then four more to test lobster recipes for a class I’ll be teaching at Stonewall Kitchen in York called Lobster: Now and Later. That class is sold out, so figure in another 38 lobsters to my Maine tally. But even as I cook (and sometimes consume) the crustacean that has made Maine famous the world over, I do still consider lobster a luxury item.

I have many tricks for using up all the bits of everyday foods like radish greens, cilantro stems, chicken feet and ham hocks. But the high price I pay for lobster, combined with my waste-not-want-not sensibilities, makes me determined to extract every last bit of flavor I can out of any little bug that arrives alive to my kitchen.

So yes, I am one of those people who sucks the meat out of the four sets of walking legs each lobster has when I am enjoying a steamed whole one of my own. If I am breaking them down for lazy lobster eaters who want their meat in a stew, a risotto, or on a roll, I clip each leg at an angle with a pair of kitchen shears and use a rolling pin to gently press this very sweet meat in a 1-2-inchs strips out of their cocktail straw-like case. I also pick the tiny lumps of meat out of the knuckles that attach these little legs to the lobster’s body. We are talking about less than a half ounce of meat from these legs and joints, combined. But the shape and texture of these particularly sweet parts of the lobster makes any dish you add them to more interesting.

I also use any eggs I find in female lobsters. Raw, they used to be considered a delicacy, like caviar. But today, by law, lobstermen throw obviously pregnant female lobsters back into the water (obvious because the fertilized eggs, or roe, are visible on the outside of their bodies on the undersides of their tails), so that treat is just a memory. What you may find in the female lobsters that make it into your kitchen are unfertilized eggs. They are also referred to as “coral” to indicate the color they turn when they are cooked. When I’m eating just one lobster and find roe, I toss it into my drawn butter bowl to add flavor, color and texture. In a mass shucking situation, I reserve all the cooked roe and stir it into the mayonnaise or aioli I am serving inside the roll or slathered on bread to be served alongside a stew.

I do not eat, nor can I recommend you eat, the tomalley, the light-green hepatopancreas found inside the carapace of the lobster. While some lobster lovers adore the rich, buttery substance, the FDA warns against eating it because ocean contaminants may settle in the liver and pose a threat to humans. So I compost that, along with most of the body housed in the carapace and the head sac. All of the shells though, from both shedders and hard-shelled lobsters, go into the stockpot. I like the recipe former Zapoteca Chef Shannon Bard taught me, which uses corn cobs to further sweeten the broth. I also add chopped fennel tops to the pot for anise flavor.

Lobster shells can last several months in the freezer, so save them until you can make a huge batch of stock and then freeze it in pint containers. Even if you don’t have lobster meat in seafood-based recipe you’re cooking, a base of lobster stock will sweeten the pot both in terms of flavor and because you’ve stretched your lobster investment even further.

Christine Burns Rudalevige is a food writer, recipe developer, tester and cooking teacher in Brunswick, and the author of “Green Plate Special,” a cookbook from Islandport Press based on these columns. She can be contacted at: [email protected]

Spicy Lobster and Summer Vegetable Orecchiette Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Spicy Lobster and Summer Vegetable Orecchiette

This pasta dish has no chunks of lobster meat, but using stock to make the spicy, tomato-based sauce gives the sauce a mysterious sweetness that eaters will love even if they can’t put their finger on what’s in it. I am a spice wimp, so I err on the mild side when adding red chili flakes to a recipe. If you like it hotter, by all means, add more.

Serves 4

2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/4 cup chopped fennel
1/4 cup chopped carrots
1 tablespoon minced garlic (or 2 tablespoons minced garlic scapes)
1/4 teaspoon crushed red chili flakes
2 cups lobster stock
1 cup crushed tomatoes
Salt
1 pound orecchiette
1 cup fresh peas
1 cup fresh corn kernels
1/4 cup chopped parsley

Warm the olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add the onion, fennel and carrots. Cook until the vegetables start to soften, 3-4 minutes. Add the garlic and chili flakes and cook for 90 seconds. Add the stock and tomatoes, bring the mixture to a boil, reduce heat to low, and simmer the sauce while you cook the pasta.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until al dente. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the pasta into the skillet with the sauce. Add the peas and corn, stir to combine and simmer for 1 minute. If the sauce seems dry (it should be relatively brothy) add 1/4 cup of pasta water to loosen it up. Taste and season with salt if necessary. Serve the pasta hot, garnished with the parsley.


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