Former longtime Editor-in-Chief of Food & Wine, Dana Cowin, travels from New York City …
Cabin Skiffs & Grilled Lobster Tails
The plan, which I had made with Luke Holden, co-founder of Luke’s Lobster and Cape Seafood, was to grill lobster tails at Cape Seafood for lunch, but with temperatures in the single digits, we arranged instead that I would swing by and pick up the lobster tails to grill myself another time.
I had been to Cape Seafood several times before; over the past year I had worked with Luke developing a fisherman’s co-op in Tenants Harbor that partnered with Luke’s and Cape Seafood. When I arrived, Luke was in his “corner office” – it was in the corner, but was the size of a large closet – with no windows. He greeted me with his typical warm, low-key manner and we headed back towards the plant.
Cape Seafood typically processes lobster or crab 5-6 days a week, but that day the plant wasn’t running. I knew there had been very few fishing days the previous weeks – the weather had not cooperated –so getting lobster to process was challenging. “We don’t like this place quiet on a processing day,” Luke said, “but sometimes it can’t be avoided.” I had toured the plant twice before; once when it was processing lobster and once when it was processing crab. Both times I was surprised by everything that went into processing: it made catching lobster look like the simple part. As a starting place there were the stringent FDA requirements (you had to dress as though you were performing open heart surgery when you went in, booties, hair net, gloves, etc). And then, there was the sheer volume. On any given day, Cape Seafood might process 40,000 pounds of lobster from up to as many as half a dozen wharfs around the state. Ensuring yield was critical, and I had been captivated by a machine that extracted meat from lobster legs on my previous tour. When I ate lobster, I loved the legs, they were usually the first thing I ate, and though flavorful, there was hardly anything in them, or so I had thought until I saw this machine, extracting every last ounce of meat from the spindly lobster legs.
Luke pulled half a dozen frozen lobster tails from a tray and the skewers to grill them with, packing them in a lobster cooler. The upside of the plant not running was that it was quiet. We sat down and Luke began writing the grilling instructions on the box. I asked him where the grilled tail idea had come from. “Dad used to do it, we always had grilled tails growing up.” Luke hailed from a lobstering family: his grandfather had been a fishermen out of Kettle Cove, his father had been a fisherman, then gone into lobster dealing and had owned a number of wharves in Portland and further east in Friendship. “I grew up in that world, on the wharfs in Portland and up in Friendship. It was great.”
Last winter when we began working on the concept for a fisherman’s co-op that would partner with Cape and Luke’s, Luke would drive up to Tenants Harbor to meet with our fishermen, and though the meetings often lasted hours, covering all manner of topics from what type of bait each fisherman preferred to lobster boat design, Luke never seemed rushed. There were hours of negotiation and discussion leading to the formation of the co-op, including a lengthy back and forth on New Years Eve while Luke had been camping with his fiancée in the White Mountains: (“hang on I have to hike up a bit further for better reception”). Throughout it all Luke had been steadfast and he showed up again and again to work with the fishermen in Tenants Harbor. What I realized now, sitting in the cool outer room of Cape Seafood’s processing plant, as Luke shared memories of his time growing up on the wharfs, going as sternman, was that he had showed up in Tenants Harbor not only because he was negotiating a partnership, but also because he felt at home in that world of fishermen – it was his world, the world of his youth. As our conversation wound down he told me about a lobster boat he had built as a senior in high school. “It was a pretty cool boat, a cabin skiff.” I wasn’t sure what a cabin skiff was. “I’ll send you pictures,” he said, his face lighting up.
By the time I got home, there were more than a dozen pictures in my inbox of the boat he had built: it was a cabin skiff – a skiff hull design with a cabin, painted a vibrant royal blue with brightwork cabin doors. Photos of a young(er) Luke Holden inspecting the boat before it was launched, the boat silhouetted against the sunset.
The lobster tails sat outside on our deck for the night, and the following morning my husband brought them in to thaw before grilling. We didn’t exactly have a perfect weather window for grilling, the bitter cold had given way to a December snow storm, still I was keen to do the grilling; or better put I was keen to have my husband do the grilling. My son had been out ice fishing with his friend that day and was filleting brook trout as I prepared the lobster tails: “split, remove the poop shoot and skewer” the instructions Luke had written read. I did the prep (surprisingly quick) and my husband took them outside to grill. When we sat down to eat we had a veritable seafood feast: grilled brook trout and grilled lobster tails all on a snowy winter night. My son (age 14) who had earlier dismissed the lobster tails, insulted (in the way only teenage boys can be) we would serve lobster tails next to his prized brook trout, couldn’t resist trying the tails once they were on a platter in front of him. “These are so good,” he implored. “I can’t believe it Mom, they’re so sweet.” (Why we forgive the surly teenage attitude – it’s fleeting and quickly gives way to unbounded enthusiasm). “This is my new favorite way to eat lobster,” he concluded. In the end, there was brook trout left over, but the platter of lobster tails was empty.
1 tail per person
- Fresh or frozen Maine Lobster tails (1 tail per person)
- Thaw tails if frozen
- Split tails and clean the digestive tract
- Sprinkle sea salt on meat side
- Place on a hot grill shell down; baste meat side with butter (liberal amounts) for approximately 3 mins
- Flip and grill meat on shell side (3 mins)
- Flip and grill meat side down until meat is opaque and loses its translucent (approximately 3-5 mins)
- Serve & Enjoy!