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Lobster Thermidor - Making Julia proud

by Greg Nicoll with Andy Adams and John Armstrong on 31 Jul 2014
Lobster Thermidor The Galley Guys
Chester Race Week- what more can a Galley Guy say? Lots of boats, top notch race committee work, full on competitive racing, fantastic people, too much wind, not enough wind, mega rain, hot and steamy weather, spectacular scenery, fun parties, lots of handshakes, big-time hugs, a non-stop supply of Goslings dark rum in a concoction called Dark and Stormies (note the use plural), old friends, new friends, first-time stories, stories that you may have heard once or twice before, and a hundred more great reasons to keep coming back to this annual regatta that dates back to 1900!

Chester, Nova Scotia is a jewel, located approximately 45 minutes south of Halifax on Mahone Bay. This most picturesque village with its dress shops, artisan workshops, and the usual touristy stores, also has many fine dining spots and for people who are connected (read 'local knowledge'), some fantastic rustic and often seasonal 'by the sea restaurants'. One afternoon in the cozy confines of the Seaside Shanty Restaurant –next door in Chester Basin – while devouring what might be considered the best seafood chowder ever with our new Chester friends, Jim and Dudley Grove, we got down to business. Lobster-the Galley Guys came for lobster. Actually the Groves are Americans who summer in Chester. Jim, who vacationed here since he was a small lad offered to prepare a special lobster dinner especially for the Galley Guys and a few tired and hungry competitors.

Lobster cooking needs space, and most boats aren't set up nor come equipped with the required massive lobster pot, so we prepared for an on-shore feast. In Jim’s 60 or so years on the bay, he has had his share of lobster and as is his custom the meal preparation begins with a drive to meet his old buddy Danny Shatford, proprietor of Shatford’s Lobster Pound, just down the road in Hubbards to personally select each specimen.

Our first meal plan dilemma centred on whether to use a linen table cloth or simply layered newspapers. I think, if my memory serves me well, it was over an excellent bowl of steamed mussels that we decided on linen, and with this more elaborate setting we upgraded to an even more elegant meal—Lobster Thermidor. The traditional steaming of lobster with all its hammering, cracking and ripping can be messy whereas thermidor, according to Jim, 'takes four time as long to prepare, but tastes twice as good', is eaten with a fork and a spoon along with some crusty fresh French bread. I should note here that when in Chester, stop by Julien’s Patisserie, Bakery and Cafe for some of this bread; it's nearly worth the trip itself.

The preparations that consumed a few hours included story-telling, cold beers and reminiscing of many years of East Coast feasts all which made the time fly by. Our ten fine looking crustaceans were steamed for about nine minutes, just enough to set the meat, then cooled and split in half. I found that a strong chef’s knife was good for the belly cut of the lobster but then I used kitchen shears to make a clean cut of the stronger top side of the shell. The tail meat was removed; the claws and knuckles were cracked and cleaned of their meat. The lobster meat was then placed in a pot with a cream sauce, shallots, butter, brandy and hot smoked paprika and simmered until thickened. Whatever didn’t fit in the shells for dinner was saved for a rich lobster stew the next day.

What makes lobster thermidor so special is the presentation. The sauce and lobster meat is put back into the cleaned red half shells and broiled for 3-4 minutes until just brown on top. All eyes at the table sparkled and glasses were raised as the chefs delivered the platter of lobsters to the table. The meal was complemented with fresh vegetables and greens from the local farmers market and several bottles of icy Veuve Clicquot Champaign.

The eight guest friends that gathered for the feast on this beautiful August night overlooking the Back Harbor raved about the evening’s fare, talked about the day’s racing, the next day's weather and how fortunate we all were to be in Chester, Nova Scotia this night. The eclectic gathering of diners could be itself was worthy of a story; host and hostess Jim and Dudley Grove who summer in Chester, and ply the waters of the Bahamas in the winter, Chief Race Judge Kathy Dyer and hubby, the amazing volunteer Colin Jacobs our race secretary from the Royal Hamilton Yacht Club, local racers Christie (Chester potter extraordinaire) and David (the furniture maker in Chester) Chaplin- Saunders, racer and Royal Canadian Air Force helicopter pilot Captain Eric Hill; and Skipper of the Sail Training Vessel Tuna and his racer wife Angie, owner of the very stylish ladies fashion store Hibiscus in Chester, Katie Coleman Nicoll , Race Judge for Chester Race Week and me representing the Galley Guys on this trip.

I hope all those lucky enough to be out on Back Harbour on this pretty summer’s evening with friends, also enjoying the bounty of the sea, appreciated the sounds of our laughter and the tinkling of our glasses as they went skipping across the bay.

Bon appétit!!

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