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Sunday, March 13, 2011


Trouble, trouble, trouble, trouble,
Trouble been doggin' my soul since the day I
was born.
       -Ray Lamontagne
This past week was an emotional roller coaster, complete with very high highs and pretty low lows.  The success of two huge events within days of each other was rewarding, uplifting, and exhilarating. The highs were short lived with the solemn crash of Ash Wednesday, trouble,  Lent, and lack of deep-fried food. The week finally ended with meatless Friday. Sack cloth.  Heavy boots. Nope.  I wasn't going to settle for a salad or a vegetable plate or a poached egg perched atop toasted brioche.  I wanted needed comfort, warmth, and luxury.  Something to warm the heart and soothe the soul.

Trouble sometimes dogs me in the kitchen.  I have burned countless things while enjoying wine in the parlor with Michael.  Trust me on that one. Sometimes, I'll cook with little trouble and effort.  There are times when I'll  go to a lot of trouble and effort when cooking.  It usually depends on inspiration. Last week, trouble was dogging me like a dark shadow.  I decided to embrace it and cook something  full throttle, hard core, and rewardingly troublesome.

Scratch-made lobster bisque fit the ticket perfectly.

I can't kill a live lobster.  Period.  The notion of tossing it head first into boiling water and watching it flail about until it dies doesn't do it for me.  Nor does the kinder thought of placing it in the freezer to fall asleep before dropping it into the hot death bath.  I was taught to place the tip of a large chef knife between the eyes and plunge it through the head, severing the spinal cord.  I did it once.... in front of a classroom.  It wasn't pleasant.  I haven't killed a live lobster since that very day. 

Thankfully, the kind man behind the seafood counter dispatched a lovely lobster for me, bagged it, and sent me on my merry way. Although cooked, plenty of lobster flavor can still be extracted from the shells for a good lobster stock for bisque.

Working over a dutch oven to catch any dripping juices, I carefully removed the lobster meat from the tail, claws, and joints.  After cracking the body into pieces, I dropped the pieces into the dutch oven with the other shells.

I swirled a few tablespoons of olive oil into the pot, cranked the flame to medium high and sauteed the shells for 2 minutes before adding chopped celery, sliced carrots, diced onions, a quartered roma, smashed garlic, 2 bay leaves, salt, and pepper.
When the vegetables were nicely caramelized, I dropped 2 heaping tablespoons of tomato paste into the pot, stirring  it to incorporate it with the sizzling oil,  shells and vegetables.  I wanted to almost brown the tomato paste for a deeper concentrated flavor.  After the tomato paste browned while enveloping the soft vegetables,I deglazed the pot with 3/4 cups of dry sherry and let it reduce by half before adding 2 cups of clam juice.  I brought the stock a boil, reduced it to a simmer, and let it bubble away for 45 minutes.                            
I used a double straining method for a cleaner stock.  After removing the stock from the heat, I emptied the shells and spent vegetables into a colander over a large bowl, pressing on everything to release as much flavored stock as possible.
After discarding the solids, I poured the strained stock through a fine meshed chinois to remove the final impurites, leaving behind a gorgeous lobster bisque base.
I wiped out the dutch oven, returned the bisque base to the pot, and added 4 cups of heavy cream.  Most bisque recipes require rice or roux as a thickening agent. Didn't want them or need them. With a long simmer, the heavy cream reduced and thickened beautifully.
When it was time to eat, I dropped the reserved lobster meat into the simmering bisque to warm through before ladling it into our oven-warmed soup bowls. Floating bright red claw meat, specks of parsley, and curled orange zest were final garnishes.  Mama June's pimento cheese finger sandwiches were perfect soppers.

All of the effort yielded two small lovely bowls of lobster bisque.  It was so rich, we couldn't have eaten any more than that.  Although packed with creamy lobster flavor, it was velvety soft and light. Juicy sweet lobster pieces floated throughout the bisque suspended by cream, providing occasional subtle briny bursts of sweet meat.  Perfumed undertones of sherry infused the bisque with additional layers of fortified sweetness.   It was perfect.
Perfect and comforting for a meatless Friday.

Was it a lot of trouble?  Hell, yeah.  It was supposed to be.
That's what made it worthy and worthwhile.

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