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The world's best lobsters?


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#1 Fat Guy

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Posted 13 June 2009 - 06:15 PM

So I was walking down Broadway near Grand Street, stuffing my face with a lamb shish kebab from the Halal food cart near Spring Street, on the way to teach my food-blogging class at the International Culinary Center, when I ran into Dorothy Hamilton. Dorothy is the founder and head of the International Culinary Center, which is the entity that comprises the French Culinary Institute and Italian Culinary Academy. She's also my boss's boss's boss. And she thought it amusing and perhaps horrifying that I'd be eating outside food (as in food not prepared at the International Culinary Center) just half a block from the institution. I believe this caused her to take pity on me. Thinking I wasn't getting enough to eat, she instructed me to come to the fourth floor kitchen on Friday night at 10pm. For what? "A lobster tasting."

Boss's boss's boss or complete stranger, it doesn't really matter: if somebody tells me to be at a lobster tasting, I'm there. I arrived at the fourth floor kitchen about half an hour early. Most of the other guests being chefs, they generally started arriving between one and two hours late. Luckily I'm in the staff category, so I was able to pretend that, no, I'm not some loser with nothing to do on Friday night but, rather, I'm an extremely helpful member of the team and I came early in order to help with setup. Not that anybody trusted me to do very much.

Eventually I was clued in to what was going on. It turns out Dorothy Hamilton's ancestors are from a place in Nova Scotia called Fourchu, on Cape Breton Island. If you happen to live anywhere within the sphere of influence of Fourchu, you take it as a given that the world's best lobsters come from Fourchu. Not from Cape Breton Island in general. If you travel up or down the coast you get inferior lobsters, the local thinking goes. The ones from Fourchu, those are the ones you want.

Dorothy has become a champion of sorts of Fourchu lobsters, and she appears to be on the brink of successfully brokering the importation of a whole bunch of them to New York each year, perhaps starting next year. The season is just a couple of months long, right around now, so these lobsters would be marketed as a premium seasonal delicacy with a terroir-type selling proposition: the Copper River Salmon of the lobster world. She has already led a trip where several of the better New York chefs accompanied her up to Fourchu to check out the situation up there. (The trip is chronicled in Departures magazine by Peter Kaminsky in the May-June 2009 issue.) On this evening, she invited a group of chefs to come to the fourth floor kitchen to play with about three dozen Fourchu lobsters. Also present were about a dozen of the best Maine lobsters available around town, for comparison. Along with the guest chefs and International Culinary Center chef-instructors were various non-chef guests, such as spouses of chefs, as well as hangers on and poseurs like me.

So here we have the unpacking of the Fourchu lobsters:

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The guy there holding the lobster is a terrific chef named Ben Pollinger. At present, Ben is the chef at the restaurant Oceana, so he knows some things about seafood. When I first met him he was a cook at Tabla, the New Indian restaurant that is part of the Danny Meyer empire. I believe he has also worked at Union Square Cafe, at Le Louis XV and a bunch of other places. On the far right is Craig Koketsu. Craig is currently the chef at Quality Meats and Park Avenue Summer (which changes its name, menu and decor each season), which are owned by the Smith & Wollensky group. Craig was, back in the day, one of the hot young cooks working in the Lespinasse kitchen, under both Gray Kunz and Christian Delouvrier. At the end of the Delouvrier era at Lespinasse, Craig was chef de cuisine.

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I really thought, before I went into this evening, that I knew pretty much whatever was to be known about cooking lobster, and that there wasn't much to be known. I was quickly disabused of that notion. I can't believe how little I knew. I came to the realization quickly when Ben Pollinger said, like it was no big deal, "I'm going to crush the lobsters' heads in this thing to make a sauce . . ."

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He then proceeded to make quite a remarkable sauce, which seemed to be a relative of lobster Americaine but also seemed to be mostly improvised. In any event, after being sieved and adjusted and spooned over the lobster, it was excellent.

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Here we have Jimmy Lappalainen.

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Jimmy, who is Swedish, is currently the chef at Riingo, and was formerly at Aquavit. I don't want to play favorites, but of all the lobster preparations I tasted I thought Jimmy's was the most remarkable. I also realized yet again, watching Jimmy work, how ignorant I was about lobster cookery. Did you know it was possible just to cook a lobster in a skillet?

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I'm still reeling from what an effective cooking method this is. Jimmy cut the lobster up before cooking and first cooked the halved bodies over high heat (what we amateurs call super-high heat and chefs call medium heat) with some olive oil, lemon juice, shallots, white wine (actually I think he used Champagne), salt and whatever else was around. As the lobster cooked it rendered a bunch of stuff, which combined with the olive oil, lemon juice and other ingredients to make the most remarkable sauce. He took the bodies out first, which were just lightly glazed with the pan sauce.

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He then cooked the claws in that sauce. In the end, people stood around the skillet dipping bread into the remaining sauce it was so fantastic.

I can't remember whose this was (possibly Mark Ladner from Del Posto?) but it was great:

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This is Dorothy Hamilton talking to Cesare Casella.

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Cesare is, in addition to being a big-deal Italian chef, one of the deans at the International Culinary Center. I actually share an office with him and Alan Richman, as evidenced by our shared phone:

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Please note that my name is listed first.

And yes that's rosemary in Cesare's pocket. It's his fashion signature, always fresh herbs in his shirt pocket.

Sam Gelman of Momofuku Ko and Ed McFarlane of Ed's Lobster Bar were also in the house.

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Sam and Ed (Sam is on the right) mostly boiled lobsters in order to facilitate the tasting comparison of the Fourchu and Maine lobsters. Note the use of a sheet pan as a stockpot lid.

There were other chefs present, but there were so many working at once, and I was trying to pitch in here and there (unwanted, I'm sure), so I couldn't photograph or keep track of them all. I do remember Michael Romano roasting a lobster in the convection oven such that it rendered out an omelette-like thing in the pan.

In a humorous moment, after we were all stuffed silly with lobster, one of the staff chefs came out with this:

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And also a potato gratin and a ton of other food. It was ridiculous, but a lot of it got eaten.

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You can also see in the background a massive banquet table set for the assembled guests, but really all the eating occurred standing around in the kitchen.

So, perhaps you are asking, are Fourchu lobsters really all they're cracked up to be?

I think the answer, based on this tasting, is yes. Compared to the Maine lobsters the Fourchu lobsters had far superior meat. This isn't just my opinion or my boss's boss's boss's opionion, but also the clear consensus of the chefs present. The Fourchu tail meat was both firm and tender, as opposed to the Maine meat which was firm and not nearly as tender. The Fourchu meat had a lot of nuance, and the Maine meat by comparison did not. It was like the difference between a cheaper and more expensive wine from the same vineyard: both Chardonnay, both with a lot of similar characteristics, but one with far more complexity and structure. The claw meat wasn't as noticeably different, but the tail meat was quite different.

Apparently this is because the waters around Fourchu are the absolute coldest lobster-fishable waters around. As a result the Fourchu lobsters experience very slow growth and molt only once a year. The short, early summer season for lobster fishing in Fuorchu (where there are something like 50 residents, all involved in this industry) is right before they go into their molting cycle, so their shells are extremely hard and their flesh very well developed. It shows.

But of course it will be necessary to conduct multiple repeat tastings to be sure.

(Edited to fix geographic references.)

Edited by Fat Guy, 14 June 2009 - 04:36 AM.

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#2 Holly Moore

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Posted 13 June 2009 - 06:50 PM

Now I know a bunch of stuff about lobster I didn't know this morning. Thanks.

Are any restaurants in Philadelphia or the rest of the US serving Fourchu lobsters (There's a shout out to Greg Ling at the Oyster House in this question)? Are Fourchu available retail?
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#3 Fat Guy

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Posted 13 June 2009 - 07:03 PM

I don't have authoritative answers, but I'm under the impression that 1-no restaurant in the US is currently serving them, 2-if Dorothy succeeds in getting them imported they will be available through the normal distribution channels to restaurants in Non-New-York cities like Chicago where the restaurant industry can support purchases of that sort of premium product, and 3- they are available retail from a Canadian company called Clearwater Seafoods via overnight courier -- you have to very specifically request Fourchu lobsters and it costs like a hundred bucks to ship a few of them, but you can get them that way if you so desire.

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#4 David A. Goldfarb

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Posted 13 June 2009 - 09:18 PM

Thanks for the report. I'm impressed to see a duck press in actual use, and to learn that it can be used for things other than duck.

#5 rlibkind

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Posted 14 June 2009 - 03:57 AM

Eh? Fourchu and Cape Breton are in Nova Scotia, not New Brunswick. (Though the folks in Cape Breton hardly recognize Nova Scotia's dominion.) Two very different provinces, even if they share a border.

I not sure attributing the perceived culinary superiority of Fourchu lobsters to "the absolute coldest lobster-fishable waters around" holds (excuse the expression) any water. Newfoundland has a substantial lobster fishery as well, and it is slightly more removed than Cape Breton from the warming effect the Gulf Stream, and considerably closer to the cooling effect of the Labrador Current (though, truth be told, the Newfoundland's waters most exposed to the Labrador Current don't have much of a lobster industry). Local conditions, though, could vary.

Maybe it's in the feed, i.e., the food chain in the local waters off Fourchu.

Edited by rlibkind, 14 June 2009 - 04:31 AM.

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#6 Fat Guy

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Posted 14 June 2009 - 04:42 AM

What I was told is that there are some specific currents coming down from the Arctic Ocean that create a certain microclimate in the waters around Fourchu.

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#7 rlibkind

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Posted 14 June 2009 - 05:04 AM

What I was told is that there are some specific currents coming down from the Arctic Ocean that create a certain microclimate in the waters around Fourchu.

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That would be the aforementioned Labrador Current.
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#8 Fat Guy

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Posted 14 June 2009 - 05:10 AM

It's all Greek to me. I've actually been in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island but probably couldn't point to any of them on a map, save for New Brunswick, New Jersey, since my sister lives near there.

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#9 Chris Amirault

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Posted 14 June 2009 - 05:46 AM

Duck press was squishing live lobster heads? Not that there's anything wrong with that.
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#10 Fat Guy

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Posted 14 June 2009 - 07:21 AM

Well, I'd say the heads weren't alive by the time they made it into the press.

In general it seemed that the chefs preferred live dismemberment. For one thing, I was told (as I have been told a few times in the past -- the one thing I knew going in) tails and claws reach optimum doneness in different amounts of time. So you might ideally want to boil a tail for three minutes and the claws for six. And for another thing, when you separate out the parts you can use the heads and some other parts (which wouldn't normally get eaten by a fine-dining restaurant customer) for saucemaking, stockmaking, etc.

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#11 weinoo

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Posted 14 June 2009 - 09:24 AM

I definitely agree that right before they go into their molting cycle gives you the best tasting lobster...lots of fat stored in the shell.

I get lobster every now and then from the Lobster Farm on Hester St., and you can really taste the difference between the hard-shells and soft-shells (which is what they are right after they molt).

I'm curious as to what effect the overall pricing of lobster has on these specialties. For instance, recently the Lobster Farm was charging $6.50 a pound for 1 1/2 - 1 3/4 pound lobsters - a great price compared to a year ago when they were more like $10 a pound. And that's my favorite size lobster for home cooking.

I also wonder why a comparison wasn't done between the Fourchu's and other Canadian lobsters?

Did you get a sense of the wholesale and or retail price for these?
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#12 Fat Guy

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Posted 14 June 2009 - 05:40 PM

I also wonder why a comparison  wasn't done between the Fourchu's and other Canadian lobsters?


It is essential that Dorothy Hamilton schedule a series of comparative tastings of Fourchu lobsters and lobsters from all the world's major lobster fisheries, and invite me to each of them to taste and Jimmy Lappalainen to cook them for me.

Did you get a sense of the wholesale and or retail price for these?

View Post


I emailed Clearwater to find out the retail, and I'll report back. I assume the wholesale price will be set next year if they're imported in those quantities.

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#13 Peter the eater

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Posted 14 June 2009 - 06:16 PM

That's a very impressive way to enjoy lobster, thanks for sharing the thoughts and pictures. I'm glad to see such enthusiasm for Nova Scotia lobster, and to see that it's in good hands.

Clearwater is an excellent seafood vendor -- I shop at their Bedford store almost every week. They sell lobster year round based on size and hardness of shell, not by which Bay, Province or State from whence it came. If you ask, they will tell.

What makes the world's best lobsters? It's got something to do with cold, nutrient-rich waters and good timing. As far as I'm concerned, what you do with the live creature is paramount. Execute swiftly and do not over cook it.
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#14 johnnyd

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Posted 15 June 2009 - 07:32 AM

Great stuff, Steven! Lobster prices are relatively low right now here in Maine so I've had the great fortune to include them in the food budget often. These guys are inspiring me to take Bugs to a higher level.
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#15 budrichard

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Posted 15 June 2009 - 03:51 PM

All our tastings arer conducted blind. If not using blind tastings, perception can become reality.-Dick

#16 Lapin d'Argent

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Posted 15 June 2009 - 04:44 PM

I've also found I prefer Cape Breton oysters, for much the same reasons. The colder the water, the more subtle and and interesting the flavor.

Kind of what makes a great Chablis vs a full-blooded Australian Chardonnay. (Not that there's anything wrong with that...)

#17 Mallet

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Posted 16 June 2009 - 05:47 AM

I wonder how much of an affect age plays in taste? In colder waters, a lobster will be older for a given size. Many people prefer the taste and texture of larger, older lobsters (Martin Picard in particular champions the 6-lbs category), and I would be curious to compare a Fourchu lobster to a lobster from different waters but similar age, not size.
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#18 docsconz

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Posted 16 June 2009 - 06:17 AM

Fascinating topic. I always thought that the single most important factor for how good homerus americanus could be was how recently it left he ocean. It would make sense that there would be some variation in merroir. Whether it is sufficient to justify a presumed cost differential will depend on the market.
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#19 MiFi

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Posted 16 June 2009 - 07:53 AM

I'm afraid I'll have to disagree w/Ms. Hamilton; Main a Dieu, also on Cape Breton on the Atlantic has the best tasting Lobster (might be a good place to start a tasting comparison). My wife is from a third generation of fishermen from Main a Dieu, that's how I know.

#20 moira27

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Posted 17 June 2009 - 06:50 PM

I am going to have to agree that Fourchu lobsters are the best. A close second would be the next village, Gabarus. I have had other lobsters and nothing compares to them. Of course part of the difference could be that we drive out and pick them off up the dock. That really does make anything taste better.
It is a very short season from May 15 to July 15 or sometimes the 21 to the 21.
My husband did not even eat lobster until we introduced him to these. now he tells anyone who will listen that they are the best. We also plan part of our vacation around a trip home during the season.

An aside about shopping at Clearwater. When my in-laws were in Halifax last year we thought we would have a feed of lobster. I know guys who sell to Clearwater and knew it was the right season for lobsters from home. I thought I would ask if they knew where the lobster in the tank was from. The girl looked at me straight-faced and said "Downstairs". :rolleyes:
I had to walk away. Those lobsters were good but not the same.

#21 Lukaas

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Posted 22 June 2009 - 01:19 AM

[/QUOTE] I always thought that the single most important factor for how good homerus americanus could be was how recently it left he ocean.[QUOTE]
Posted Image

Hi,

We find these crays hiding in cracks and holes in the rock ledges of the Pacific Ocean around the Northern Beaches of Sydney, Australia. We are not allowed to use any implement such as a hook, spear or snare, only a glove, a snorkel and fins.

The two odd shaped ones are called slipper crays and are prized for their flavour.

We simply chuck em on the barby after cutting em lengthwise, then some garlic butter maybe a sprinkle of seawater and a squeeze of lemon.

Until you have eaten a cray that was in the water 30 minutes ago, I dont think you can say you have eaten the worlds best lobster!!!

Come and try one fat guy!!!!

Oh yeah, one of our dive club members is a Marine biologist and he insists that cutting the lobbie lengthwise is the most humane way of killing them, as the nervous system of the lobbie is immediately destroyed by the knife.....

I still put them to sleep in the freezer for ten minutes though...

Cheers Big Ears, Luke.
QUOTE
My initial flavor test was the classic, bacon-lettuce-and-tomato sandwich. Homemade bread, homemade mayonnaise, homegrown tomato (from a neighbor), homemade bacon. The only thing that wasn't locally grown was the lettuce. It was the best sandwich I've ever had!

Naturally, my expectations were high so I had a bottle of wine to meet that expectation: 1976 Lafitte Rothschild. Mmmmmmm.....


Really Nice Aug 10 2003, 11:22 PM

#22 Lukaas

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Posted 22 June 2009 - 04:20 AM

I always thought that the single most important factor for how good homerus americanus could be was how recently it left he ocean.

Posted Image

Hi,

We find these crays hiding in cracks and holes in the rock ledges of the Pacific Ocean  around the Northern Beaches of Sydney, Australia. We are not allowed to use any implement such as a hook, spear or snare, only a glove, a snorkel and fins.

The two odd shaped ones are called slipper crays and are prized for their flavour.

We simply chuck em on the barby after cutting em lengthwise, then some garlic butter maybe a sprinkle of seawater and a squeeze of lemon.

Until you have eaten a cray that was in the water 30 minutes ago, I dont think you can say you have eaten the worlds best lobster :biggrin:

Come and try one fat guy!!!! 

Oh yeah, one of our dive club members is a Marine biologist and he insists that cutting the lobbie lengthwise is the most humane way of killing them, as the nervous system of the lobbie is immediately destroyed by the knife.....

I still put them to sleep in the freezer for ten minutes though...

  Cheers Big Ears,  Luke.

View Post


I might add that there were four divers this day, the posession limit is two per diver.
QUOTE
My initial flavor test was the classic, bacon-lettuce-and-tomato sandwich. Homemade bread, homemade mayonnaise, homegrown tomato (from a neighbor), homemade bacon. The only thing that wasn't locally grown was the lettuce. It was the best sandwich I've ever had!

Naturally, my expectations were high so I had a bottle of wine to meet that expectation: 1976 Lafitte Rothschild. Mmmmmmm.....


Really Nice Aug 10 2003, 11:22 PM

#23 Peter the eater

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Posted 22 June 2009 - 05:22 AM

Posted Image


Lukaas, is there a commercial fishery in Australia for these creatures?
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#24 Fat Guy

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Posted 22 June 2009 - 03:30 PM

I've had the slippers in Singapore, and the spiny lobsters many times in various places. To my mind, when it comes to lobster, nothing beats Homarus americanus. And while freshness is nice, they really stay quite good for a long time if well cared for.

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#25 Lukaas

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Posted 22 June 2009 - 03:53 PM

Posted Image


Lukaas, is there a commercial fishery in Australia for these creatures?

View Post


Yes there is, but the overall handling of our seafood in Australia, particularly in the retail environment is very disappointing. Foe example you will rarely see these
bugs sold live, even at the fishmarkets in Sydney,they are sold boiled and due to slow turnover, and average temp control, a lot of people are dissapointed when they buy them.

Then your typical Sydney fishmonger will display these guys sitting on ice, rather that buried in ice which is a huge mistake imo.

Judging by the comments we get, when we are catching the during the winter, most Aussies have never tasted a really fresh lobby which is quite sad really.

Im am keen to try these French lobbies next time Im in Europe so I can make a comparison.

Till then, Ill be eating these ones quite happily....
QUOTE
My initial flavor test was the classic, bacon-lettuce-and-tomato sandwich. Homemade bread, homemade mayonnaise, homegrown tomato (from a neighbor), homemade bacon. The only thing that wasn't locally grown was the lettuce. It was the best sandwich I've ever had!

Naturally, my expectations were high so I had a bottle of wine to meet that expectation: 1976 Lafitte Rothschild. Mmmmmmm.....


Really Nice Aug 10 2003, 11:22 PM

#26 Peter the eater

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Posted 23 June 2009 - 04:20 PM

How do the spiny lobsters of America compare to the spiny lobsters of Australia?
Peter Gamble aka "Peter the eater"

I just made a cornish game hen with chestnut stuffing. . .
Would you believe a pigeon stuffed with spam? . . .
Would you believe a rat filled with cough drops?

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#27 Shamanjoe

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Posted 29 June 2009 - 08:32 PM

Its funny you should say the handling of Australian lobsters is so poor. I had a lovely Australian lobster the other day, which was delicious. Though I haven't had lobster more than half a dozen times in my life, all within the last two years.
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#28 Lukaas

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Posted 03 July 2009 - 05:15 AM

Its funny you should say the handling of Australian lobsters is so poor. I had a lovely Australian lobster the other day, which was delicious. Though I haven't had lobster more than half a dozen times in my life, all within the last two years.

View Post



Im sure the export product is first rate. Up there with our tuna.


I am talking domestic supply when I talk about dissapointing outcomes....
QUOTE
My initial flavor test was the classic, bacon-lettuce-and-tomato sandwich. Homemade bread, homemade mayonnaise, homegrown tomato (from a neighbor), homemade bacon. The only thing that wasn't locally grown was the lettuce. It was the best sandwich I've ever had!

Naturally, my expectations were high so I had a bottle of wine to meet that expectation: 1976 Lafitte Rothschild. Mmmmmmm.....


Really Nice Aug 10 2003, 11:22 PM

#29 moira27

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Posted 03 July 2009 - 12:44 PM

It's still lobster season in Gabarus and Forchou . I am on my way home tonight. My dad has 14 market size lobsters cooked and waiting for our arrival. Came out of the water at 2 o'clock. I can't wait!!!

#30 stereoboard

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Posted 06 July 2009 - 12:27 PM

I still love the lobsters of my home town and surrounding islands in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland,
Now living in NZ i find the crayfish a poor second,

It's still lobster season in Gabarus and Forchou . I am on my way home tonight. My dad has 14 market size lobsters cooked and waiting for our arrival. Came out of the water at 2 o'clock. I can't wait!!!

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