After three weeks of bingeing on divine seafood that had just leaped out of the Caribbean, I am now working out exactly WHAT I ate. As this was the Dominican Republic, names were in Spanish, but they by no means matched the ones I’ve already come across in Mexico and Spain. An example: in Dom Rep red snapper (a fabulously flavoured flakey fish) is chillo, which in Mexico is huachinango – a classic of Veracruz cuisine. But even more complex is the discussion on langosta and langostino.
Lobster is the obvious translation of langosta, but exactly which one? Intense discussions about this took place a few days ago over a lunch table with Susan Shup, an American foodie painter friend and her gourmet Belgian husband, who insisted that Caribbean lobster is what the French call langouste. Now that could translate as crayfish in English, which for me comes out of rivers. So I subsequently emailed a jpeg (see below) and now have their response: “That’s spiny lobster”.
This it seems is different from Maine lobster, the American stalwart. Then she emailed me a recipe from the New York Times for… wait for it… lobster stew under a pastry lid. Now who in their right minds would lose that sweet tenderness of lobster (or crayfish) flesh by stewing it, and, even more, hide its primeval pink claws under pastry? I’ll admit the NYT pic did show one claw sticking out, reminding me of my cat Sooty who has a habit of poking his paw under the (closed) bathroom door. And here’s another version, alive and kicking, straight out of a lagoon in southwest Dom Rep, the Laguna del Rincon. For me, this is crayfish.
Langostino, for me and perhaps you, aka baby lobster (or is THAT crayfish?) came at its best at the hallowed beach restaurant in Cabarete, Casita de Papi. I’ll confess to actually having felt slightly nauseous after consuming their hugely generous portion of langostinos a la Papi, the sweet little things bathed in a lush, rich sauce of cream, garlic, thyme and parsley – plus other ingredients that will remain forever secret.
But what an experience. Plus the vibe was sexy and cosmopolitan, a gentle breeze blew in from the Atlantic (Cabarete is on the north coast) and the mojito to kick off was perfect. In the end, how important are linguistic labels? You say shrimp, we say prawn: it tastes just as good.
p.s. Comments on lobster and langosta in all their forms are very welcome.