99 Ways to Eat Lobster and Truffles
BACK in the early 1960s, my Executive Chef and I enjoyed the high living of a lunch at The Plaza in New York City. When I stated my choice, Herr Ober leaned to whisper in my ear, m sorry, sir, but The Plaza has no truffles!" At that time, in my bucolic ignorance, I didn't know a thing about truffles, so I merely said, "Don't let that happen again!" I had my lunch truffleless, but I meditated on the matter and once back in Maine I did a piece which appeared here under the title, "The Plaza Has No Truffles !"
Lovely things happened next. My postman brought a package, and instead of leaving it in the roadside box he drove into the dooryard, hove it onto the doorstep, tootled his horn, and waited for me to open. Charles (his name was Charles) held his nose and shouted, "Better bury this right away!" The stench was overpowering, enough so that when I opened the door my executive chef called, "Shutthatdoor!" This was my introduction to truffles. Since parcel post often comes faster, the next day I got a letter fr om a stranger in Trenton, N.J., who wrote that he was Paul Urbani, an importer of truffles, and he had heard my lament in the Monitor. He felt the lack of truffles at The Plaza was to some extent his fault, and he would see that The Plaza was supplied.
The next day, Charles brought me another letter from Paul Urbani, saying he hadn't realized that truffles would spoil before reaching Maine, and not to eat the things. Not long after that, my executive chef and I sailed from Montreal for a leisurely inspection of Europe, and I asked Paul Urbani to give me an introduction to some truffler over there who would show us around. We thus came to visit Paul's uncle, Carlo Urbani of Scheggino, Umbria, Italy, who was a count and owned mountain acres of truffle fo rests. Did you, kind friend, ever know anybody who owned a thousand dogs? In Italy, they hunt truffles with dogs instead of pigs, and Count Carlo Urbani owned 1,000 truffle hounds that worked in season with his hired truffle hunters.
Count Urbani was also memorable for his French - we conversed wholly in French because I knew no Italian and he knew no English. He learned French with business exposure to truffle producers in France, while I had my patois Yankee from pulpwood cutters in the Maine woods. Funny as my French is, he beat me with his Italian accent. At Count Urbani's home in Scheggino we enjoyed a Sunday dinner with the thrust on the many ways to use truffles - black and white.
All this came to mind a while back when our local newspaper told us The Plaza in New York City had consulted a couple of Maine cooks to find out how to serve Maine lobsters. The Plaza planned a Maine Lobster Festival as a welcome-home gesture to troops of Desert Storm, and hoped to serve Maine lobsters in 100 ways. Joe Feener and Bill Beriau, both competent and accredited, accordingly went to New York to implement this worthy ambition, and I'm sure The Plaza was pleased - although the newspaper story did n't say why The Plaza waited for this late date to get a decent lobster recipe. Sort of like running out of truffles. Nor did the story tell us if many Desert Stormers were expected to head for The Plaza, attracted by a hundred ways.
The last time I went to the lobster wharf to pick up a few, Harlan Wallace shook his head at me and said, "You can't afford 'em!" With the banks sitting tight, it is hard these days to negotiate a mortgage on the homestead and enjoy a few sweet summer shedders. In early days in Maine when the trades took apprentices, we had a humane law that forbade serving lobsters to indentured young folks more than three times a week. It was all right to use them for fertilizer, but don't abuse the help.
So what would be 100 ways to serve Maine lobster? Executive Chef Feener runs the kitchens at The Samoset Resort almost neighbor to me, and he must have had an inward chuckle at the notion of 100 ways. True, the Amerinds cooked lobsters on hot rocks, but civilization produced the bucket, and that's all you need. Put two-three inches of tidewater in a 16-quart pail, and bring to a boil on the beach over a driftwood fire. Give the lobsters about 20 minutes and dump red-hot on the ledge. Have plenty of melte d butter and paper napkins. Some Mainers (we do) keep such a pail just for lobsters. After dining (eating lobsters the right way is juicy) jump in the tide - which is the same as the finger bowl at The Plaza. The other 99 ways can be skipped.