A splash of blood hit the floor. It looked like I had just been shoved through the back door of a slaughterhouse and I was interrupting their daily tasks. Was I in the right place? Had we missed the entrance? The smell of fish filled my nostrils with only two feet between me and the workspace I wondered where to stand.
“Can I help you?” a girl in an apron and hairnet asked.
“Um…um…” I mumbled, fish innards, shells, trays and trays of fresh seafood swum around me.
“We’ll need a minute,” James said.
I’m shuffled forward, another aproned woman comes to help. Somehow I am in front of the assembly line-like belt of seafood ordering and, somehow, have stood solely in front of the lobster tanks with a blonde woman wearing two yellow scrunchies trying to get me to choose between two three pound lobster.
“This one is female, do you want it?” she holds it in front of me, it’s claws reaching out, the antenna on its face searching for water, it’s little buggy eyes pleading, “Don’t eat me.” She throws it on top of a tray of oysters, attempting to scramble across but without any luck. I scoot back and let James’ father move in to choose the lobsters. He holds the next one out to me slowly bringing it towards my face as if I wanted to kiss it. I’m expected to eat this thing later, don’t let me sympathize with it.
As the men continue to shop for dinner, I relax a little and start looking around. Two woman peel shrimp. The men I witnessed as I stepped in are quickly filleting fresh fish and handing them over in slabs to an ice tray. More shoppers come in. I realize there is a system. You enter through the one door, someone approaches you for your order and then you move down the line until you reach the cash register at the end and exit through the back door. Fast, economical, like a fish on a conveyor belt.
We decide on oysters and the two lobsters. The woman shoves them into a plastic bag, their eyes still rolling around, the claws pressed to the sides. She shovels some ice into a bag and drops them in. This will be their final view. A car ride by the bay of Quogue in a green plastic bag with a couple of oysters for company.
When we get back, we realize we don’t have an oyster knife to shuck the oysters. James breaks the tip off of a pairing knife and I search and search around the limp tongue-like oyster to find the broken piece but it has vanished. One oyster opens to reveal, not a pearl, but a transparent baby crab, like a crustacean Venus from the ocean.
Shucking oysters ourselves makes them suddenly less appealing, the dirt and sand, the effort, the questionable things you find inside, but we flick them back and enjoy them with lemon all the same – all except the one with the crab inside, though I’m sure some would consider it a delicacy. Like a strange magic trick, James finds the tip of the knife on his tongue, luckily without cutting himself or swallowing it, after shooting the last oyster. The lobsters boil away on the pot. The storm clouds still brood and I crack open a cider on ice to pretend I’m enjoying the “summer” weather.
The lobsters come out bright red from the pot and we sit down at the table to enjoy. We get cracking and dip our fingers through the clarified butter. This is summer near the sea, sunshine or not.
To find Cor-J Seafood go here.