Alex and I were sitting on the dock at Whidden’s Marina in Boca Grande, talking to the family that owns the place. I told one of them that I had to go because I had to get a column done before deadline, and I needed to come up with a good Florida lobster recipe.
One of the sisters, Kacy Cheske, suggested a lobster Reuben sandwich. Wait … what? Hang on a minute. That is a great idea. I have cooked for years and always known that lobster is good drowned in butter and garlic, but the idea of some Thousand Island dressing, slaw, bread and cheese with lobster — that’s what I’m talking ‘bout, Willis.
Kacy is an emergency room nurse and her husband Blake is a firefighter. We’re all friends and enjoy an afternoon once in a while sitting on the dock at Whidden’s, discussing the events of the day. On behalf of our entire readership, we’d like to thank both of them and the teams they work with to keep us safe.
With Kacy’s idea fresh in my mind, I had to try and make this dish soon. After leaving Whidden’s, Alex and I went dinner at South Beach in Boca. I ordered a side of their excellent slaw with my entree, planning to take it home so I could try a make this dish ASAP. Summer Sundays on the island are pretty slow, so the local market isn’t open.
The recipe is just as easy as the classic Reuben but with some local ingredients. Florida lobster is an excellent Cracker treat, if you can get your hands on them during the two seasons. The first is a short two-day mini season (it was July 24-25 this year) to allow recreational harvesters to grab a couple bugs before them pros come through and sweep the seafloor of harvestable lobsters.
The mini season is a fun but slightly crazy time, since it draws a lot of folks who don’t spend much time on the water and aren’t the safest boat drivers. If you get a chance to go lobster hunting during the mini season, do it — but watch out for the lunatics.
While lobsters can be found off the Southwest Florida coast, most bug hunters head to the Florida Keys for their clear water and shallow reefs. Locally, there are few lobster in water less than about 60 feet deep, and diving down that far makes a lot of folks nervous.
Although most people call them Florida lobster, the species we catch is more correctly called the Caribbean spiny lobster. They live in coastal waters from North Carolina south to Brazil, including the entire Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean (although they’re not common around the Mississippi River delta).
Florida lobster are great eating, although not quite as sweet as Maine lobsters. They also don’t have the claws that northern folk expect lobsters to have. Claw meat is fine, but the tail of any lobster is what I would ask for at the dinner table. All lobsters are better fresh. Freeze them if you must, but don’t expect them to be quite as tender as fresh lobster is.
I’m excited to create Kacy’s lobster Reuben. I think this will be breakfast for Alexandra and me tomorrow morning, and I think it will be a great start to whatever adventure our day is holding in store.
Chef Tim Spain is a Florida native and has years of experience cooking professionally, both in restaurants and in private settings. He offers private catering and personal culinary classes. For more info, visit ChefTimSpain.com or call 406-580-1994.