The Surprising Dish You’ll Need for an Authentic Thanksgiving


By Clifford A. Wright

Our image of the first Thanksgiving is a fanciful one created in grammar-schools across the nation. We imagine Pilgrims sharing turkey, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie with the Wampanoag tribe in Plymouth, Mass., in 1621. In fact, there was no turkey on the table although there was water fowl, lobsters and clams, and five deer brought by the Indians. There were no cranberries, no sweet potatoes, and no pumpkin pie, although there was some kind of squash.

Nonetheless, Americans still like to assemble the traditional foods that reflect our flawed notion of a historically correct menu and preserve the continuity of our culinary culture. So we have turkey, and corn bread, and pumpkin pie, and sweet potatoes.

Except in New England, few families serve up lobster on Thanksgiving, yet lobster should be one of the most traditional of Thanksgiving foods because it more than likely appeared at the first Thanksgiving.

Although our family doesn't have lobster every Thanksgiving, a lobster stew is an ideal part of a traditional Thanksgiving menu. Besides, it's nice to serve it first, perhaps long before you sit down for dinner, and that way you keep the hungry hordes at bay with a delicious and traditional dish.

Can good stewardship save New England's lobster fisheries?

First, be aware that lobster stew, is a two-day affair. That's actually ideal for Thanksgiving since you can make it Wednesday night and then just reheat it Thursday. Lobster stew was once considered poor people's food in Maine. The horror writer and native of Maine, Stephen King, whose family was poor when he was a child, describes how his mother kept lobster stew on the stove and would hide it when company came out of embarrassment.

Some believe lobster stew should be half lobster and half liquid. Sometimes you will find white wine or sherry in lobster stew, which is the first type of lobster stew recipe I'm familiar with. The lobster stock I prefer is made from the shells of the lobster you used to get the meat. Boil the shells in water to cover for two hours.

Lobster stew

Makes 4 to 5 regular soup servings or 8 appetizer-type servings


Two 2-pound live lobsters (yields about 18 ounces lobster meat)

6 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 ½ cups whole milk

2 cups heavy cream

3 tablespoons very dry sherry

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Oyster crackers for garnish (optional)


1. In a stockpot, bring an inch of water a boil over high heat, then add the live lobster, partially covered and cook on high for 12 minutes. Remove the lobsters and when they are cool enough to handle, crack them and remove all the meat from the arms, claws, body, legs, and fan tail. Chop into pieces not larger than ¾ -inch. Set aside along with any tomalley and coral you find in the lobster.

2. Place the shells in a large pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil over high heat and boil for 1 hour. Remove and discard the lobster shells and strain the broth, setting aside 1 cup.

3. In a large pot, melt 5 tablespoons butter over high heat then cook the lobster, stirring, until bubbling vigorously, about 2 minutes. Add the milk and cream slowly. Add the reserved 1 cup of lobster broth. Add the sherry and season with salt and pepper. Cook on high heat until tiny bubbles appear on the edges. Turn the heat off. Let cool and place in the refrigerator overnight.

4. Bring water to a boil over high heat in the lower portion of a double-boiler. Pour the lobster stew into the top part of a double-boiler and heat, stirring occasionally, over medium-high heat until very hot but not bubbling, 10 to 15 minutes. Add the remaining tablespoon of butter and once it has melted serve with crackers.

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