As sporting fishermen head north and west this August, sorting reels, rods and flies, I shall be fixing ropes and buoys and savouring last year’s bucket of rotten coley. For me, the pastime of plucking wild animals from the water is not done by flogging the surface of rivers and lakes, but by plumbing the kelp forest for the greatest monarch of the deep: the lobster.
My family was taught to fish lobsters during summers in the Hebrides by the island postmaster, Donald Kennedy. After closing the post office, he would set off each calm evening in a wooden boat with a puttering Seagull outboard motor. He laid just three creels, which he made himself of bent ash, nylon net and driftwood planks. Today in the Hebrides younger men go after lobsters with bank-loaned boats, electric winches and great strings of manufactured pots.
I like lobster fishing because it’s free and democratic. Anyone able to throw a bit of weighted net from a rock at low tide can take part. (You can use a shiny tin can as bait, although stinky fish are undoubtedly the best.) I like lobster fishing because it’s crafty—especially when you have to fish round the nooks and crannies of the rocks, as we do in the Hebrides to keep out of the way of the commercial boys. And I like it because when you pull a lobster pot up from the deep, it’s like opening a Christmas present. You watch the shifting shadows and the glimmer as the pot nears the surface and guess what might be inside—a piece of weed? A crab? Two crabs? Or what I really, really want—a lobster! Snapping, seething, blue and gold as a newly-tailored admiral.
Then, of course, there’s the eating of them. I’ve never had a problem with boiling lobsters to kill them: if you can steel yourself to do it, they die within a second or so. For years this was recommended by animal welfare groups, but now freezing them to sleep is preferred. I’ve seen a chef cut a live one in half to grill it—that is cruel and messy.
Most chefs fuss too much with lobsters. They should never need cheese sauces or flaming brandy to prettify them. Lobster thermidor—given a decent fresh lobster—is an absurdity: dressing up lamb as mutton. A Scottish lobster needs only brief boiling, 15 minutes at most, and then serving…