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Friday, September 24, 2010

Twelve in Ten Challenge: Cooking Lobster & Shucking Oysters

This month's Twelve in Ten Challenge ended up being a twofer...and it coincided perfectly with our trip out east! In retrospect, I am very, very thankful we happened to be on vacation when the need to squeeze in a September challenge arose. Firstly, because Ryan's Aunt Julie was a huge help in the lobster prep (and by that I mean Ryan and I were mere accessories to the task at hand!). I don't think I could have tackled fresh lobster at this point, as you'll see by my face in some of the pictures below! Secondly, fresh seafood from the coast of Maine vs. "fresh" seafood in Missouri? No comparison; this one clearly worked out for the best!

My goal for this particular Twelve in Ten Challenge, which was actually a Ryan suggestion, was to make something with shellfish. As I said, this ended up becoming a two-part challenge. We were able to fulfill part of it while in Kennebunkport, Maine, and then had another shellfish experience in Boston a few days later. While this may not totally qualify as "cooking" in either case, I'm still counting it because it's my challenge and therefore my rules! The whole purpose of this challenge was to expand our food horizons and as you'll see, we certainly did.

First up: the lobster. I've had lobster tail once or twice before and I've seen lobsters swimming in the tanks at grocery stores, but never have I combined these two experiences. Never, that is, until last week! In the end, our experience was much more authentic than a trip to the nearby grocery store. Ryan's aunt and cousin took us to one of the many Lobster and Fish Houses in Kennebunkport where we plugged our noses, selected a dozen soft-shell lobsters, and left, live lobsters in tow!

Once back at their house, the lobsters were transferred to the kitchen sink for a few final moments of...freedom? (can you call it freedom when they're tied up? I suppose not...) Samantha, Ryan's cousin, demonstrated the art of lifting (and consequently, throwing ;)) a captured lobster. Soon the water was a'boiling and the lobsters' time was cut short! One by one, each was thrown into the pot. Julie was on lobster duty, Ryan manned the pot, and I played photographer. Much to our surprise, the lobsters succumbed to their fate without a single scream. Minutes passed and before we knew it, bright, beautiful (and dead! I checked and double-checked!) lobsters were removed from the pot.

After a quick lesson in shelling lobster, I found myself knuckles deep in lobster meat, spraying lobster juices across the dining room table and blissfully digging in. Paired with corn on the cob, potatoes, and a nutty brown bread, we couldn't have asked for a more authentic lobster boil! Thank you again, Julie, what a fun way to complete our challenge!

Just three days later, Ryan and I found ourselves walking all over the streets of Boston. On a sunny Saturday, we ventured off of the historic Freedom Trail for yet another new shellfish experience. This time: oysters! I'd read online about the oyster shucking lessons at Mercado del Mare, a fish market in the North End neighborhood of Boston. We agreed that it fit nicely with our Twelve in Ten goal and decided to take advantage of the free lessons.

Oysters were completely new to me. Not only was I unfamiliar with shucking them, I had also never eaten one! The woman, presumably one of owners of the shop, who taught us was great! Friendly and helpful, she did a great job explaining and showing us the process before letting us fend for ourselves. We shucked two different kinds of oysters, one type from Maine and the other from Cape Cod (we preferred the Maine ones!).

I felt like a true easterner, shucking oysters and throwing them back with a little cocktail sauce and lemon juice. Strange textures don't bother me, so I liked the oysters, although I struggled with finding a way to eat them gracefully! For those of you living in, or planning to visit Boston, I highly recommend taking some time on a Saturday afternoon to shuck some oysters! (They only offer lessons from 1-3 pm on Saturdays.) Lessons are free and you pay for what you eat.

Both shellfish adventures were had were a blast. Without the Twelve in Ten Challenge, I don't think I would have sought out oyster shucking in Boston...and yet I'm very glad we did! What new food experiences have you had lately? I need ideas for upcoming challenges!

For more Twelve in Ten posts, click here.
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