Dressed up or dressed down, fresh lobster is special, indulgent, and sexy as all get out.
Whether fast and furious like a beach side romp on strewn newspapers splashed with sticky drawn butter or prepared slow and steady finished with a booze-infused cream sauce, eating fresh lobster is unabashedly decadent.
While I'm totally game for a down and dirty lobster boil, I'm a hopeless fool for the retro antics and lobstery punch of an old school Lobster Newberg.
Lobster Newberg, created at Delmonico's in New York during the late 1800's, is a simple magical amalgamation of lobster, cream, stock, sherry, brandy, herbs, and aromatics. Served over toasted bread, rice, or puff pastry vol au vents (pastry shells) Lobster Newberg is a romantic throwback to demure extravagance. Although there are great shortcuts for quicker results. sometimes it's fun to bring out the big guns for a labor of love.
An old fashioned lobster date.
Slow and steady.
So, I haven't killed or cooked a live lobster since my school days. While options abound for already prepared lobster, I needed the bodies and shells to fortify a stock, so I picked up two 1 1/2 pound live lobsters from the Lexington Seafood Company and kept them packed on ice while I prepped for my date.
I filled a very large stock pot with enough water to cover 2 live lobsters (about 14 cups), added a handful of whole black peppercorns, 3 bay leaves, and 3 halved lemons. After cranking the heat to high, I slid the lobsters into the freezer for 10 minutes to put them to sleep. When the water came to a rapid boil, I added 1/2 cup salt, removed the lobster from the freezer, and slipped them head first into the boiling water. When the water came back to a simmer, I let the lobsters cook for 6 minutes (until they turned bright red) before plunging them into salted iced water to stop the cooking process.
They make lobster bibs for a reason. Or wet suits. Cracking lobster is messy business. Dodging flying cracked shells and splattering lobster juice, I worked over a large bowl to salvage the precious drippings. Once cooked and cooled, I ripped the tails from the heads, sliced them in half, removed the meat (reserving 2 halves) and set the heads aside. After cracking the knuckles to remove the meat, I added it to the tails and went after the claws. Claws can be tricky and prickly. Using the dull side of a chef's knife, I cracked the claws on opposing sides, carefully pulled them apart, and slipped the meat from the broken shells. I split the bodies in half, reserved the tomalley (liver) for other shenanigans, discarded the innards, chopped the outer shells into large pieces, and set them aside. Cracked, smacked, and covered with lobster bits, I slid the dispatched tender lobster meat into the refrigerator, and moved on.
I love making stock.
After heating 3 tablespoons canola oil in a stock over a medium flame, I smashed the lobster shells into smaller pieces to expose more surface area to the heat, and tossed them into sizzling oil. When they started to toast, I added 3 heaping tablespoons tomato paste and tossed it with the broken shells. As the tomato paste started to caramelize, I deglazed the pot with 3/4 cup brandy and fired it up. After the flames died down, I added 1 1/2 cups chopped celery, 1 cup chopped onion, 3 chopped carrots, 1 cup chopped fresh fennel, 2 cups pureed Elmwood Stock Farm canned diced summer tomatoes, 1 cup dry white wine, 8 cups water, 2 bay leaves. and 4 sprigs fresh tarragon. I brought the stock to a boil, reduced it to a simmer, skimmed the scum, and let it rip for 1 1/2 hours before straining the stock through a cheesecloth-lined chinois, mashing the solids to extract as much flavor as possible.
Working over a medium flame, I melted 3 tablespoons unsalted butter in a heavy saucepan and added 3 tablespoons flour. When the flour/butter mixture formed a smooth blond paste, I added 1 cup sherry, 1 tablespoon smoked paprika, salt, ground white pepper, and 4 cups lobster stock. I brought the sauce to a boil, reduced the heat, and let it simmer for 20 minutes before adding 1 cup heavy cream. After letting the sauce thicken until it coated the back of a spoon, I pulled it from the heat, and set it aside.
I warmed the reserved lobster in melted unsalted butter over a gentle low flame before nestling the pieces around puff pastry shells feathered with lightly dressed baby lettuces. After napping the lobster tails, knuckle meat, and claws with the sauce, I finished with a faint drizzle of Sriracha lemon oil.
With a delicate bouncy bite, the buttery sweet meat countered the tickling acidic heat from the lemony Sriracha as it swirled and puddled through the creamy sherry-spiked sauce.While the baby lettuces provided perky fresh bites, the airy puff pastry added crisp flaky crunch.
Lobster on lobster.
The perfect date.