BY THE BLUE BAY OF FUNDY, in old Saint John, I once knew a man named Frank Belyea who was, I think. Canada’s greatest amateur seafood chef. All his recipes began: “Take one steamboat. Scour boiler very clean.”
The boat would be tied to a wharf, and, after scouring the boiler, Belyea would relight the fire and get up steam, which he would pipe ashore through barrels containing clams, lobsters, salmon, corn-on-the-cob and new potatoes, all packed in seaweed. He occasionally fed as many as five hundred picnickers.
Part of the delight of his feasts was the anticipation. While you drank cold beer in the hot sun, a marvellous fragrance wafted so tantalizingly from the barrels that you could hardly wait for the moment when Belyea’s magic touch had brought everything to succulent perfection, the steam was shut off, the tops were lifted, and the goodies were dished out. The maestro saw to it that there was melted butter in which to dip the clams, lobsters, corn and potatoes, plus sauce for the salmon.
A steamboat is impossible to manœuvre in a kitchen or a backyard, and its absence may detract from the atmosphere, but it is not indispensable. I discovered this sampling the wares of the Red Lobster, purveyor of “instant shore dinners,” a new Toronto company that flies live lobsters and clams from the Atlantic coast. In Toronto it has a tank to which salt and the other elements in seawater have been added in the proper proportions. This is important because fresh water literally drowns lobsters.
The crustaceans frisk around in the ersatz ocean until they and the clams are packed in pails, between seaweed, and sold to inlanders who enjoy whipping up a shore dinner without stirring from home.
The pail most in demand contains six lobsters of slightly more than one pound each and half a peck of clams. It has a tightly fitted cover. You punch four holes in the cover, put in one quart of tap water and two tablespoons of salt, and pop the pail on your kitchen stove or outdoor barbecue, where you let it boil for about fifteen minutes after the first steam shows, remembering that the worst
culinary crime is overcooking a lobster, since this makes it tough, stringy and tasteless and converts a wonderful delicacy to garbage.
Lobsters and clams aren’t cheap: the Red Lobster's pail of six lobsters and half a peck of clams is priced, as I write this, at $15.95. To satisfy six persons, you have to serve other things, too. Salmon is excellent, cut in steaks and grilled on the barbecue, or wrapped in aluminum foil and baked in the oven, or boiled. However you do it, an accompanying sauce is a must — cither a cream sauce with chopped hard-boiled eggs and capers in it, or a while-wine sauce, buttery, thickened very lightly, and seasoned with a dash of lemon juice, a few capers and a vague suspicion of garlic. If you’re having salmon, small new boiled potatoes are strongly indicated, dipped in melted butter and rolled in chopped green onions and parsley. And a shore dinner practically screams for tender sweet corn-onthe-cob, shucked and boiled in the ordinary way if you’re a traditionalist, but better if you dampen the husks, wrap the unhusked ears in foil, and cook them in the oven, at a high heat, or poke them right into the glowing charcoal under the grill of your barbecue. And, since we’ve been discussing seafood, maybe you’d like to try these:
LOBOYSTER (not a poor man’s dish): Boil a two-pound lobster in salted water for ten minutes. Shell and chop meat into bite-sized pieces. Sauté in butter or margarine with the juice of one garlic bud. Stir in enough flour to form a roux. Still stirring, mix in half a pint of cream and, when this is smooth and thick, drop in eighteen freshly shelled oysters. Simmer until the oysters curl at the edges, add half a cup of sherry, and serve in French pastry shells.
DORIS HAWK FIRST’S HADDOCK (follower budgets) : Cover a threepound haddock with strips of bacon and onion rings and bake in medium oven for forty minutes. If there’s any haddock left over, which is probable, boil cubed potatoes and chopped celery and onions together in salted water the next day, and when they are soft add the fish (with bones removed) and cold milk. Return to a boil and serve with a chunk of butter or margarine on each bowl.
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