Boiled whole and served with drawn butter. Split down the middle and grilled. Broiled in the oven and sprinkled with Thai spices. Steamed and chopped into creamy pasta. Cooked in a traditional seafood Newburg sauce, with cognac, sherry, nutmeg, and cayenne. These are just a smattering of recipe ideas now being bantered about in the Santa Barbara Harbor, where the commercial fishermen celebrated the opening of lobster season on October 6.
Though there’s six months to go, there’s always a “lobster mania” that happens with the season kick-off each year, says Melissa Garrigan, who owns Garrigan Seafood Company with her husband, Joe Garrigan. “We think Maine lobster is more like crab,” she said of what separates these Pacific bugs from their Atlantic brethren. “But ours is more tender, sweeter, denser meat.”
The Garrigans are just one of a half dozen or so boat owners regularly selling their catch at the Santa Barbara Saturday Fishermen’s Market, a direct-to-consumer, talk-to-the-fisherman affair that’s been going on weekly since the early 1980s. “Every weekend we have someone say, ‘I didn’t know this was here,” she said. “But it’s been in Santa Barbara for more than 25 years.”
Many of these fishermen also rely on the annual Santa Barbara Harbor & Seafood Festival to stay top-of-mind for locals and tourists. But that free, wildly crowded fall affair was canceled for the second year in a row because of COVID concerns.
Instead, the first-ever Santa Barbara Lobster Festival is going down on October 23, 1-4 p.m., as a pre-ticketed event, costing $15 to enter or $45 for the full lobster chowdown. It’s being hosted by Get Hooked Seafood, a community-supported fishery company, but involving the Garrigans and many other fishermen in the event. Proceeds go to the Commercial Fishermen of Santa Barbara, whose fleet was just listed as number one in rankings for seafood value, with $11.4 million in total sales coming across their docks for 2020.
“Our spiny lobster has always been a hot commodity,” said Get Hooked co-founder Kim Selkoe in a press release, explaining that Santa Barbara’s “Lobster Kings” started exporting to San Francisco back in the 1800s. “Our port still has a thriving, sustainable, small-boat lobster trap fishery to this day, thanks to the abundant, productive waters of the Santa Barbara Channel. These are blessings that everyone in Santa Barbara should celebrate and enjoy!”
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Attendees, who must pick their entry time in advance to keep the crowd moving, can also reserve up to five live lobsters to take home. But what’s the best way to “dispatch” these seafloor crawlers once you get home?
Using a tip she received years ago from a chef, Garrigan suggested, “We tell our customers to put them in the freezer for about 40 minutes before you cook them. That puts them to sleep. It’s a humane way to kill them.”
When it’s not lobster season, Garrigan Seafood Company sells crab and salmon down at the Saturday market, which is located on the City Pier in front of Brophy’s Brothers. Other fishermen, depending on the season, sell uni, shrimp, whitefish, rockfish, halibut, sea bass, and so much more.
“We just like to remind people that we have such an abundance of great seafood right in the channel — there’s so much going on in the world, it’s easy for people to forget,” said Garrigan. “You get a sustainable, local product at the best price and the freshest catch. It’s a win for everybody.”