Malibu, Pt. Dume 1942
BBQ California Lobster
(Click to jump to recipe)
The monster lobster in the photograph was about 25 pounds and so all
proportions and times for the simple broiled California lobster recipe are
bigger and longer. The technique is the same.
El Niņo brought warm water up the Pacific Coast and many lobsters came along
for the ride. This one could have easily been more than 40 years old! I grabbed
him right off the coast here. The whole act of a Clam Bake brought back rich
When I was a young lad, my Dad would head off with his buddies, sometimes swim
fins, a tire iron and his swimming trunks. We'd wait the day in anticipation of
his victorious return with the mythical abalone for dinner.
Dad was an Olympic springboard diver in the '32 games here in Los Angeles. He
lettered every year at UCLA in diving. He did stunts falling off of pirate
ships in early Hollywood movies. His freshman roommate was Lloyd (Bud) Bridges
of "Sea Hunt" fame and the father of Jeff and Bo.
The ocean was my "baby sitter" growing up and body surfing was "bonding" with
Dad. Actually, anything that had to do with the water was our "quality time"
From my perspective, tagging along with Dad, every pool on the Palos Verdes
Peninsula had some mysterious human (adult) connected to it that Dad would
call. "How would you like us to come over and clean the leaves from the bottom
of your pool?" or "Do you think there's anyone around who wants a diving
lesson?" (for the Chadwick school pool where I met Jann Wenner who went on to
start Rolling Stone Magazine). If there was an "OK" on the other end of the
line, we'd grab our suits and towels, jump in the Chevrolet Bel-Air and be off.
In contexts like these, we kids, the three of us, knew every pool on the hill.
When I became a little older I could tag along for the skin diving expeditions
and swim along with the big guys....Dad's buddies, as they harvested nature's,
and California's, rich bounty.
There was a place out at Portuguese Bend called the Sea Wall. I saw Nick, a
life guard friend of ours, bring in 30-40 abalone at a time. He had an
automobile innertube (also good for riding inside, surfing) with a gunny sack
tied open in the middle that he'd fill up with the creepy snails... pinks,
greens and occasional lower quality blacks. These babies were not small by any
means. I think 12 inches across was a minimum. Some were huge. They felt weird
when you poked them and they retracted. Lying on their backs at home they'd try
to get out of their shells to attach to something hard and flip over. Stick
your tongue out as far as you can for a few minutes. That's sort of what it
looked like. Occasionally there'd be an extra prize--- a "bug"--- a lobster
that just happened to be a little too slow and too close to the men diving for
Scuba diving was just beginning, but few people had the gear. And the number of
deaths associated with aqua lungs was scary. I watched them haul up a blue
body, covered in an olive green army blanket, from Bluff Cove once, it was
pretty spooky to see that dead leg and foot sticking out.
Anyway, Sea Wall was a prime abalone spot. Nick said that he'd gotten 5 once,
pilled on top of each other. You never came home without a dinner in the trunk
of your car.
When you did get home, Dad did the hard work of prying out the meat, trimming
it and cutting the 1/3 inch thick slices off the foot. And then pounding those
slices for what seemed like forever! We had a wooden abalone mallet with lots
of little points on one side for the initial pounding. A gentler, cross-hatched
side finished the job of tenderizing without mutilating the steak. If you had
too much meat for one meal, it would go into clean cottage cheese cartons and
into the refrigerator freezer for later meals.
The pounded steaks were dipped in egg and rolled in a flour seasoned with salt
and fresh ground black pepper, then tossed into a buttered frying pan. Brown
that puppy and flop it onto a hungry child's waiting plate. Squeeze some lemon
juice, add a dollop of Dad's special home made tarter sauce, and away you go to
My job was sitting on the counter next to the stove with a spatula, watching
and listening to the crackling frying pan. Dad would lift me into position or
I'd pull out three drawers and climb up by myself. I learned to cook before I
was tall enough to see the top of the stove. I was the flipper. Bacon, pancakes
and waffle's were my specialty. Grampa had an orange orchard up at Lake
Elsinore and there was always a lug of fresh oranges to be squeezed on weekend
In those days lobsters, like the one in my picture, were not that uncommon. I
remember seeing a "bug" that covered the entire hood of a Volkswagen! It was
probably 4 feet wide by 6 feet long. The California coast had not yet been
plundered and polluted by over population. Your manhood was easily reaffirmed
by bringing home dinner from the sea.
In the middle 50's Mel Fisher opened the first dive shop in the world and
taught aqua lung lessons in the Hermosa Biltmore Hotel's indoor pool. We were
just beginning to play with my surf band, The Bel Airs, when gold mining
devices started to show up in Mel's window, next to Catalina Music, where we'd
buy our 78 rpm singles.
Not long afterwards, our band would be throwing dances upstairs from the pool
with another local group, The Beach Boys, and charging $1 admission. The fan
clubs would sell drinks. Afterwards we'd divide up the one dollar bills equally
and feel really rich. Can you imagine what a few hundred one's felt like
filling your pants and shirt pockets when you are 15? The Beach Boys were a lot
like us but better singers. We were better instrumentalists. None of us had any
idea of the world wide success that was soon to follow.
You might remember Mel Fisher (http://www.melfisher.com/mel.html). He went on
to find the Nuestra Senora de Atocha treasure off of Florida. Thousands of
artifacts were recovered, silver coins, gold coins (many in near mint
condition), amazing objects and wares from the earlier Spanish period,
exquisite jewelry set with precious stones, gold chains, precious metal disks,
a variety of armaments and even seeds (which later sprouted!). This discovery
by Mel Fisher and his "Golden Crew" reflected the richest treasure find since
the opening of King Tut's tomb in the 1930's.. I've heard estimates of more
than $400 million worth.
Life is full of adventures. There have been a few times that I've wondered
whether I should have spent more time in the dive shop with Mel next door to
But I've wandered far from my task here... now here's that simple recipe for
BBQ California Lobster that I promised.
You've probably heard that the small lobsters are better--tender and tastier. I
think that is a story that the commercial fish people made up because the
monsters are rarely available anymore. My catch provided me with mouth-watering
meals for a week plus food for my 9 guests at our end-of-summer clambake. He
was delicious, tender and succulent... I think better than any lobster, Maine
or California, that I've ever tasted. There's nothing like a nice big chunk of
lobster meat, dripping with herbally seasoned butter, plopped into your mouth
for a lengthy chew and savor.
Other items that we cooked for the clambake were:
10 pounds of local clams
5 pounds of colossal shrimp with heads on
8 large Dungeness crabs
10 more 3+ lb. lobsters
5 pounds of New Zealand green lip mussels
5 pounds of local salmon
5 pounds of fresh linguini pasta with a friends cold pressed extra, extra
virgin olive oil, garlic, finely chopped parsley and fresh grated parmesan
May I suggest the delicious Chinois Vinaigrette for the cold left overs? Its
excellent over a salad, but so good you can drink it by itself.
BBQ California Lobster
serves 2... your mileage may vary.
2 lb. live lobster
2 Tbs. butter
2 large shallots, minced (1 heaping Tbs.)
Dash freshly ground white pepper
1 tsp. paprika
1/2 cup melted butter
1/2 cup melted butter
Plunge live lobster into vigorously boiling water for 4 minutes. (Ocean water
is the best for this type of cooking. It has just the right amount of salt and
flavors.) Remove, allow to cool sufficiently to handle, split through the
middle, rinse out entrails (save "lobster butter"... its the yellowish soft
stuff found inside the bug... not the melted dairy product. It is highly prized
by some lobster lovers and makes for delicious eating).
Make a mixture of dairy butter, shallots, salt, pepper, paprika and garlic.
Brush some of this butter mixture on the meat side of lobster. Place over
charcoal broiler, meat side down, shell side up, for 6 minutes. Turn lobster
over, pour on the remainder of the butter mixture, and finish broiling (approx.
10 minutes). Garnish with lemon and watercress. Serve at once with more melted
I wouldn't turn down an invitation should you come across a few too many to
The photo was taken by Charlie Heflin, Art Director of Monaco Records, and one
of the guests at the Clam Bake.