I fell in love with Maine on my first trip to Portland three summers ago. A very good friend and former pastry assistant of mine, Renee, moved back home with her boyfriend Jesse (now husband) after a wild, eventful ride through the rough and tumble culinary world of San Francisco and had finally, after about seven years, lured me up to Maine for a visit. It was one of the most enjoyable, relaxing, fun vacations I’d had in years–full of great company, sensational regional cuisine, gorgeous scenery and kayaking.
Needless to say, I was hooked. And so began my yearly summer sojourn to Maine, where for a week my friends, the Lohreys and Landrys, indulge me with the best food and drink the state has to offer–which invariable involves copious amounts of craft beer, seafood, ice cream, and this year in particular, rhubarb picked fresh from the garden.
I admit, prior to visiting Maine, I never really cared much for lobster. In culinary school I learned how to dispatch a live one by plunging the tip of a chef’s knife between its head and body and turn it into Lobster Americain. Occasionally, I’d have it wok-fried in garlic and fermented black sauce at a Chinese banquet. But it was never my crustacean of choice. Of course, now I know why. I’d never had a Maine lobster, which is arguably the finest lobster one can pluck from the ocean. The meat is sweet and favorable, the texture divine.
I credit the Landrys for turning me into a lobster snob–I won’t even bother eating anything other than the Maine variety now. But when you have something this perfect, it would be criminal to not just to let it shine. The most traditional (and many would insist the best) way to have Maine lobster is steamed whole, served with drawn butter, which is how it’s done at the Landry home near Farmington. It’s a roll-up-your-sleeves, messy shell-cracking endeavor (I’m still getting the hang of the technique), but well worth the effort.
Now no Lobsterpalooza (it’s what I’ve called this latest trip) is complete, however, without a few lobster rolls. I eat at least three on every visit, so after three trips to Maine, it’s safe to say I’ve become somewhat of a connoisseur. I’ve gone to the recommended places like Red’s Eats in Wiscasset and The Lobster Shack at Two Lights, but my favorites so far are the lobster rolls at Eventide and High Roller in Portland–both of which take creative spins on the classic. At Eventide, the lobster rolls are bathed in browned butter and served on a pillowy soft Chinese-style steamed bun.
At the High Roller food cart, I had mine fully-loaded with crisp smokey bacon, fresh avocado and a drizzle of lime mayo. Renee had hers drizzled with jalapeño mayo.
The thing I’ve discovered about eating a lot of lobster in a short period of time is that you won’t get bored or “lobstered out” if you change it up a bit and have it in different forms–whole steamed one day, truffled lobster mac ‘n cheese the next– so you hopefully won’t end up feeling like Julia Roberts (Daisy) in Mystic Pizza (1988).
Summer is not only the best time to indulge in Maine lobster, but it’s also the perfect time (since the season is short) to savor fresh field-grown rhubarb in all its glory. Rhubarb is featured on practically every menu this time of year, from fine dining establishments to truck stop diners. On this trip, I’ve enjoyed an expertly crafted rhubarb cocktail at Back Bay Grill, a deliriously melt-in-your-mouth flaky, buttery rhubarb galette at The Standard Baking Company, a delightful rhubarb pie ice cream at Catbird Creamery, and an impossibly light and airy donut with tangy rhubarb compote at The Well at Jordan’s Farm.
And if this wasn’t enough, Renee had rhubarb growing in her backyard, just begging to be harvested and turned into something delicious. After a couple minutes of brainstorming, and perusal of her refrigerator, we came up with Lemon Ginger Rhubarb Swirl Ice Cream–a rich vanilla bean custard base infused with fresh lemon zest and ginger root, swirled with a sweet, tangy rhubarb compote. While Renee cooked down the diced rhubarb with a little sugar and tapioca starch, I steeped lots of freshly grated ginger root and lemon zest in a mixture of hot milk and heavy cream, then used the infused liquid to make a custard ice cream base. Everything was chilled overnight. The next morning we spun the ice cream base and folded the rhubarb compote into the soft frozen custard.
Our Catbird Creamery-inspired creation provided the perfect sweet ending to yet another spectacular culinary adventure through Maine.
Lemon Ginger Rhubarb Ice Cream
Yield: about 2 1/2 qts.
- 6-8 stalks of rhubarb, washed and diced
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 2 tsp. tapioca starch
- 2 cups whole milk
- 2 1/2 cups heavy cream
- 2 Tbsp. grated fresh ginger (peeled)
- 2 Tbsp. lemon zest
- 2 tsp. vanilla paste or 1/2 vanilla bean, split & scraped
- 10 yolks
- 1 cup + 2 Tbsp. sugar
- 1/4 tsp. sea or kosher salt
Combine the rhubarb, sugar and tapioca starch in a medium saucepan with a splash of water. Cook on medium heat, stirring occasionally for about 8-10 mins., until the rhubarb is soft but still chunky. Cool the mixture to room temperature then transfer it into an airtight container and chill in the refrigerator.
For the custard base, heat the milk and cream in a heavy bottom pot to scalding. Stir in the ginger and lemon zest and let it steep in the hot mixture for about 10-15 mins. covered. *If you’re using vanilla bean instead of vanilla paste add it to the pot now. Meanwhile, whisk the yolks, sugar, vanilla paste, and salt together until pale yellow. Temper some of the hot liquid into the yolks, then whisk all of the tempered egg mixture into the rest of the hot liquid. Cook the custard base on medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until it is thick enough to coat the back of the spoon. Immediately remove the custard from the heat and strain into a bowl set over ice, stirring occasionally to cool down the mixture. Chill the custard for several hours or overnight.
Freeze the custard base according to your ice cream machine instructions. Swirl and fold the chilled rhubarb compote into the soft frozen ice cream, then freeze to set.