THE WEEKEND BEFORE Memorial Day is when a lot of wonderful commercial enterprises along the Maine coast open up for the summer tourist season. Bertha Nunan’s Lobster Hut, in the tiny fishing village of Cape Porpoise (just up from Kennebunkport), is a case in point. Multiple generations of Nunans have been hauling lobster traps off Cape Porpoise for well over 70 years, but, toward the end of this month, you can go to their restaurant, a nondescript clapboard building sandwiched between Route 9 and a salt marsh, and eat what they’ve caught lately. Better be prepared to wait a bit — especially at mealtime in midsummer — because, for those in the know, Nunan’s Lobster Hut is the place to go for lobsters. It’s even been recommended by Newsweek and given a four-star rating by professional gourmets Jane and Michael Stern.
So anyway, a while back YANKEE Magazine’s executive editor Mel Allen interviewed current owner Bertha Nunan (she’s been there since 1956) and got her to reveal to him her “secret” method of cooking lobsters.
Here it is….
“The secret to cooking lobsters is not to murder them. Give them a nice, slow, respectable way out. Don’t put them in boiling water, and don’t drown them in too much water.
“Boiling them in a lot of water just boils their flavor out, and too much water waterlogs them,” says Bertha. “I put in 2 inches of water, whether I’m cooking two lobsters or 14. I take salt and pour it three times around the pot, then plop! at the end (about 3 teaspoons). When the water is boiling, put in the lobsters, cover the pot, and steam them for 20 minutes. Not a minute less or a minute more. That’s how Grandfather (Captain George Nunan) showed me, and I’ve done it his way ever since.
“When they’re done,” she adds, “draw up your butter and serve the lobster with a dish of vinegar as well. Now the next step is what a lot of people, and practically all restaurants, ignore. It’s why people tell me our lobsters taste the best of any they ever had.
“I always wash the pot after cooking each lobster. Lobsters are scavengers and they can get pretty greasy from the bait. If you look in the pot the next time you cook them, you’ll see a sediment from the shell. That’s why I always put in fresh salted water for every batch of lobsters.
“I’ll never stop being surprised at what some people will do to a lobster. Some folks, to save time, precook their lobsters. When people arrive they throw them in boiling water for a minute. That’s the worst thing you can do. The lobster just fills with water. If you’re eating lobster in a restaurant and when you crack it open water spurts everywhere, you can bet they just threw a precooked lobster in boiling water.
“When you buy lobsters, you should know that from winter to summer the lobsters are hard shelled. They’re packed full of meat then, and you need fewer lobsters for a pound of meat if you’re making a stew. But I prefer them when they’re soft shelled. They’re sweeter.”
And there you have it. But don’t forget that dish of vinegar….
Editor’s Note: Bertha Nunan passed away in January 2009.