Two lobsters sit on the doorstep, scrunched inside a bag for life. Rufus, my two-year-old son, comes to see. He never goes anywhere these days except hospital because he has a chronic illness. I think this might be fun. After all, he likes monsters and these are nothing if not very dashing, very scary monsters.
He peers inside the bag. “Wow!” I say — not to excite my stir-crazy toddler, but because they really freak me out. He couldn’t be less interested.
We all go into the garden for a photo-op on a rusty blue table. The crustaceans feel heavy, metallic — and insistently full of purpose.
They were caught by Sion Williams, who fishes off the Llŷn Peninsula in north Wales, and they have come via an east London photographer called Jude Edginton.
The two men met on a shoot. After lockdown, the fisherman wasn’t able to export his catch, so he and Edginton started selling it to the quarantined British public — who do not consume nearly as many native lobsters as they should. Nonetheless, they seem to like them. Since March, Williams and Edginton have sold 800 via the Lockdown Lobsters website.
Ordering my own seemed like a good idea at the time — help out a Welsh lobsterman and his unlikely Hackney friend and dine on lobster. Except these months have frayed my nerves. Most mornings I can cope with buttering toast and pressing the button on the coffee machine. Lobsters are a different ball game.
Blue-black and shiny, they move in diabolical slow-mo on the garden table. Or one does. The other just waits ominously. They wear yellow rubber bands on their claws, which is sad but also good. If we got into a fight, I might just surrender.
I take some photos — they look stunning on the seaweed they came with, a memento from home. And I find that I am bonding. Can you keep a lobster as a pet? I look it up — yes.
After the shoot, we head for the fridge, where my new pets will spend the afternoon, before 30 minutes in the freezer (where they are meant to snooze) and 15 minutes head first in scalding water. (This is the kindest way, they say. You can also stab them in the head, but I’d slice my hand off.)
As the sun arcs over London’s coronavirus blue sky, I think about the fridge incessantly. Are they even friends? I open a bottle of Sancerre to make things seem nicer.
At Eleven Madison Park, Daniel Humm poaches his lobster and serves it with a chanterelle potato tart, Meyer lemon beurre blanc and a lobster bisque sauce. Which sounds delicious, but it turns out you have to be Humm to do things like that. Tim Hayward’s suggestion — boil for 15 minutes, cool and serve with melted butter — also sounds promising.
I squish them into the freezer, which is harrowing for everyone involved. Here they will sink into a blissful coma.
Thirty minutes later, the water is at a churning boil, I don the gloves, retrieve my friends — who are certainly cold but also wide awake — and dip one in head first. The other one waits on the side. (If you put them in at the same time, the temperature of the water drops too sharply.)
My first victim screams. This is quite normal, apparently, and it isn’t actual screaming, but it has me reaching for the Sancerre. After 15 minutes, the lobsters swap places, the first one now nuclear orange. I go upstairs to listen to some Bach lullabies.
My photos of the final dish recall laminated menus of the kind you might have seen on a stag do in Prague in the early 2000s. To my naked eye, it looks quite beautiful. Above all, the lobsters aren’t overcooked — indeed, the meat is sweet and rich and creamy, it has a beauty tinged with sadness…
That night, I make a very aromatic stock that will form the base of tomorrow’s risotto. It smells glorious. But then I forget about it, wake up at 4am and the whole house smells indelibly lobster-y.
The lobsters may have carried little weight for Rufus, but shelling peas for a risotto is right up his street. He shares the task with his toy tiger, which goes smoothly enough until the tiger scoffs too many and my son threatens him with a chopstick.
Getting rid of the carcasses feels like a big moment — like we can all move on — and the risotto is lovely. It’s not even traumatic to cook. Yet three weeks later, the pot still smells of lobster. It’s like they’ve moved in.
Welsh/Hackney lockdown lobster
Serves two (greedy) people
Put the lobsters in the freezer for 10 minutes before boiling. (In theory, they will go to sleep, though mine went in for 30 minutes and stayed awake.)
Boil the first lobster head first in hard-boiling water. This should take 15 minutes once the water has come back to the boil.
Repeat with the second. (Keep the shells and the water to make a lobster stock.)
Cool and serve with melted butter, a squeeze of lemon, new potatoes, salad and a chilled bottle of Sancerre.
Prawn, pea and broad bean risotto
Keep all the shells. Boil them in the same water you cooked them in first time round.
Add the shallots, wine, bay leaf and any other leftover juices. Let it simmer for a couple of hours (or perhaps all night if you happen to forget).
Reduce according to taste.
Sauté the shallots and garlic in olive oil on a low heat. Once softened, add the rice and mix well.
Add a ladle of stock, stir and simmer until it thickens. Add another ladle, stirring as you go. Repeat for about 25 minutes, until the rice is cooked but still springy and the consistency is creamy but not soupy.
Meanwhile, sauté the prawns in butter until golden.
Five minutes before the rice is cooked, add the prawns, peas and broad beans. Add a knob of butter and a squeeze of lemon. Season according to taste and grate Parmesan on top.
Alexander Gilmour is the FT’s Food & Drink editor
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