If you’ve ever been to a Rock Lobster restaurant in Toronto, you may have tried their famous cocktail. It’s a feast for the eyes; a spicy Caesar garnished with a Nova Scotia lobster tail and all the regular fixings. It’s one of the many tasty creations by chef and owner Matt Dean Pettit who has earned a name for himself as Toronto’s new, hip seafood aficionado. His restaurants serve up downhome coastal fare — lobster poutine, jerk crab and shrimp, Canadian snow crab legs, traditional Nova Scotian lobster rolls — in a laidback setting where you’re meant to get your hands dirty.
That’s the theme behind his new cookbook; in The Great Lobster Cookbook, Pettit is shucking the idea of seafood as something extravagant and showing Canadians how to create mouth-watering, family-friendly dishes effortlessly. (And p.s. it’s actually quite affordable compared to a holiday roast menu!)
We asked Pettit to share his best tips on creating a stress-free seafood menu, whether he’s hosting a small dinner for 4 or a big party for 12. The key to a successful party — that the host can enjoy too — is all in the prep work and choosing no-fuss menu items. Here’s how to do it.
Party for 4 to 6 people
The Drink: Greet people at the door with a Caesar cocktail (or mocktail), or a beer such as Samuel Adams. Cheers!
1. Raw oysters, three per person. You can shuck oysters a couple hours ahead of time and keep on ice in the fridge. Serve with a lemon wedge per plate.
2. Cooked large prawns, three per person. Serve with Matty’s Seafood Sauce (1/2 cup quality ketchup, 1/4 strained horseradish, juice of 1 lemon, 4 dashes of Worcestershire sauce, Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper).
The Main: Lobster mac ‘n cheese. Prep this recipe the night before, either in individual ramekins or in a large casserole dish to serve family style. Top with panko breadcrumbs and refrigerate overnight. During appetizers, pop the lobster mac ‘n cheese into the oven at 375°F for 15 minutes or until the cheese is bubbly and brown before serving. Get the recipe here.
The Dessert: Mint granita. Another easy-to-make recipe from The Great Lobster Cookbook that you can make ahead of time — and this one will keep up to 2 weeks in the freezer. This frozen dessert calls for 1/3 cup mint leaves finely chopped and added to 2 cups boiled water to infuse for 10 minutes before freezing. Make sure to break up the mixture a few times every hour to get the consistency of fine ice crystals.
Party for 10 to 12 people
The Drink: Same as above.
The Appetizer: Lobster rolls. Make the lobster rolls mixture the night before. Before serving, butter top-sliced hot dog buns and grill each side in a frying pan over medium heat. Spoon lobster mixture into the toasted buns to be served immediately.
Main: Two seafood towers. For the seafood towers, arrange raw oysters, cooked prawns, lobster and Nova Scotia snow crab legs on the different tiers with various sauces (such as Matty’s Seafood Sauce, and garlic butter) for guests to serve themselves. Keep lemon wedges handy. Note: You can pick up a three-tier serving tower at most kitchen supply stores for as little as twenty dollars.
Dessert: Rock Lobster candy. Finish off the meal with this treat to remember. Combine 1/2 cup water hot water, 1 cup light corn syrup and 2 cups granulated sugar in a medium-sized saucepan and cook for 1 to 2 minutes before adding 4 drops of red food colouring and 1 1/4 lb finely chopped boiled lobster meat. Stir together and cook for 12 to 15 minutes, or until the candy thermometer reads 310°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and a sprinkling of sugar. Pour the hot candy onto the sheet and refrigerate for 1 to 2 hours. Crack into 10-snack-sized pieces. The lobster meat really adds a nice texture and flavour to the candy — a sure hit with both kids and adults.
Three Facts About Matt Dean Pettit
1. He launched Matty’s Seafood Co. at Sobey’s earlier this year. So far the product line includes seafood chowder and lobster bisque soup, and early next year expect to see lobster mac ‘n cheese in the freezer aisle!
2. He’s going to be starring in an upcoming Food Network Canada show. Busy guy!
3. If he were stranded on a deserted island, the three kitchen tools he’d have with him are: a good chef’s knife, an oyster knife (easy island meal), and a lighter ( you never know when it’ll come in handy).
Bonus: Get recipes for Butterflied Lobster Tails with Garlic-Lemon Butter and Samuel Adams Boston Lager Lobstah Chowdah.