While many of us associate the taste of lobster with summer months, along the coast of Maine, cookbook author Brooke Dojny weaves this iconic food into symbolic holiday meals and makes it a central component of her festive menus when feeding family and friends at Christmastime.
The weather on the coast of Maine can be daunting in the winter, but fortunately there are numerous compensations—most of them, in my world, having to do with food, cooking, social life and family traditions.
For our annual holiday party, which I think of as our gift to friends and neighbors, I do all the cooking. With a guest list of about forty, the party is billed as a “cocktail buffet,” and is composed of a self-serve spread that can be eaten in small bites or can stand in for a light supper—the theory being that you don’t want to serve wine to people driving to and fro in the winter darkness without offering something somewhat substantial to eat. The menu, which changes only slightly from year to year, includes smoked spiral sliced ham with party rye and mustards, chilled Maine shrimp with two dipping sauces, roasted turkey breast with little rolls and orange-cranberry sauce, vegetable crudités with blue cheese dip, a cheese board, spicy Moroccan eggplant with pita crisps, tamari almonds and dried sweetened cranberries, and chicken liver pâté on parsley croûtes with cornichons. As the party winds down we serve hot coffee and cider and I pass plates of spiced hermit bar cookies and maple walnut squares.
As for Christmas Eve and Christmas day, I default to our family’s annual traditions, tweaking them here and there to mix it up a little. On Christmas Eve, my husband’s Polish family always created the Wigilia (meaning “vigil”), a meatless meal replete with symbolism and meaning. There’s a crèche on the table, straw to represent a manger, an offering of coins, and an empty place is set for the “unexpected guest.” A special Christmas wafer gets passed from hand to hand with shared blessings for the upcoming year. In recent years, in lieu of traditional Polish dishes, we have opted for a main course of thin-strand pasta tossed with a creamy, garlicky mixed seafood sauce made with local crabmeat, scallops, shrimp, and haddock.
Christmas day is a coming together in Connecticut of two related-by-marriage families, and the dinner centerpiece is usually an herb-rubbed roasted fresh ham, surrounded by roast potatoes and carrots, Brussels sprouts, and various and sundry other vegetable side dishes. My contribution, which I bring packed in ice, from Maine, is a lobster cocktail hors d’oeuvre—small lobster tails hung on the edge of a large bowl of ice (looking, for all the world, like candy canes), served with tangy horseradish-laced cocktail sauce and wedges of fresh lemon. We pool all our Christmas cookies—decorated cut-out butter cookies, mincemeat tarts, almond crescents, gingerbread people, and bourbon balls—for the sweet finish.
Ryan Dorr, a third-generation lobster fisherman out of Stonington, Maine, prepares this appetizer as a special treat for his family at Christmastime. I’ve written the recipe as individual lobster cocktails to serve four, but since Ryan is usually serving ten or more, he presents the well-chilled lobster chunks on a bed of ice and hangs halved tails over the bowl of spicy cocktail sauce “like candy canes.”
Makes 4 servings
- ½ cup chili sauce or ketchup
- 1½ tablespoons prepared horseradish, or to taste
- 2 teaspoons lemon juice
- 12 ounces picked-out lobster meat, tails and claws intact (see Note)
- 1¼ cups shredded iceberg lettuce
- 4 lemon slices for garnish
- To make the sauce, stir together the chili sauce, horseradish, and lemon juice. Taste and add more horseradish if you like. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour or for up to 2 days.
- Chill four stemmed 6-ounce cocktail glasses, such as large martini glasses.
- To prepare the lobster, split the tails in half lengthwise and remove the black vein. Trim the ragged bottoms of four half-tails to resemble jumbo shrimp. Split the intact claws in half lengthwise to retain their distinctive shape. Cut the remaining lobster meat into bite-size chunks.
- Nestle the shredded lettuce in the bottoms of the glasses. Arrange the lobster chunks over the lettuce, place claws on top, and hang a trimmed lobster tail over the side of each glass. Garnish with a lemon slice. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour to chill thoroughly.
- Place each stemmed glass on a small plate and pass the cocktail sauce for spooning over the lobster.
Cook three 1¼-pound soft-shell lobsters and remove the meat or purchase cooked intact lobster claws and tails.
Recipe excerpted from Lobster! 55 Fresh & Simple Recipes for Everyday Eating © 2012 by Brooke Dojny. All rights reserved.