TRISH DESEINE shares five ways to serve LOBSTER this summer …
Xavier Legrix does not look happy. It’s a hot, sunny July weekend in Schull, the place is packed and I’ve asked him to show me the lobsters I’m only thinking about eating at his seasonal fast food restaurant, now a local institution, L’Escale. My visiting Parisian friends are discerning – even by French standards – and I, in constant anticipation of my next meal, would like to make sure the lobsters will be properly cooked.
“I have 5,000 more outside if you want to look them over too.” He says (understandably) irritated, as he shows me the brilliant blue, wriggling beasts he has fished out of massive tanks in his fresh fish processing factory behind the restaurant.
“Thank you. I’ll probably be back later. Can I book?” I realise what a ridiculous question that is just as it’s half-way out of my mouth and Xavier turns on his heel back to the kitchens with the reprieved lobsters, shaking his head.
That evening, we ordered a feast for three. A lobster each, monkfish tails (lightly marinated before being battered), cod, chips and langoustines were good enough to take our minds off the clamour of clattering chairs as customers go up and down to pick up trays, candy floss and crepes.
The lobsters were perfect, their tailmeat firm, claws more tender, and tasted rich and seaside-y. With shimmering water so close and the soft sea breeze, we could imagine ourselves on the deck of a boat, eating our catch, and not in any kind of restaurant at all.
But still, I almost felt like apologising to my noble lobster that it all had to end for him (her?) in this way. Not on china and linen after being lovingly manipulated, but unceremoniously poached beside the chip pans and served on plastic disposables.
Wind backwards to a few months ago and a lobster feast for friends around my cottage table. It really does make you feel as if you are on a boat as it is built into a square alcove, with curved wooden seats set against the walls on three sides. This time, I was able to set the table the way I like it, though very quickly as the lobster shells are bashed and pulled apart, carnage ensues. And this is part of the fun! Eating food with your hands is a great ice-breaker especially when the prize for your dexterity is sweet, fresh lobster meat. But these days, more than ever, before treating them, you will need to check with your guests that they can and will eat seafood. The issue of the humane killing of lobsters in particular has always been a thorny one.
After years of apparent savagery in the land of drowned ortolans and stuffed geese, and following new research and laws from Switzerland, I now stun my lobsters in the freezer for 20 minutes before boiling or grilling. Temperatures of less than 4?C put them into a stupor – check that there is no movement of limbs or eyes when you pick them up and turn them over – and even if research has not yet concluded that they feel actual pain, they will not thrash about in the boiling water or react to being sliced in two after such chilling. The other method often suggested, of piercing their shell with a knife at the back of the head, is not now thought to be effective as a lobster’s nervous system is spread around its body.
To poach: Bring a very large pan of well salted water to a rolling boil. You can add spices, seaweeds, pepper, bouquet garni to add flavour at this stage. (I love to use a couple of pieces of star anise). Remove the elastic bands around the claws and put the stunned lobster head first into the pot. Cover and simmer for 12-15 minutes for a normal size – 600g/750g – longer for a bigger specimen. Remove the lobster and leave to drain and cool on a board or a tray, stretching the curled-up tail out for easier excavation once cool. You can chill the lobster until needed but I find it most delicious eaten still slightly warm.
To grill: You’ll need a sturdy knife and a strong arm. Be careful! Stretch the stunned lobster flat on a wooden board. Plunge the knife into the back of the head and push the blade down in a straight line through the body pressing with your other hand to slice it in half and break the shell. You could also use strong kitchen scissors to snip through the shell, but you might not have such a clean cut.
Get rid of the “stomach” – the roundish sac in the head and the intestinal tract which runs along the tail, if you like. But they will not do you any harm if you cook the lobster with them and just avoid when eating.
Grill the lobster halves open side down first for five minutes or so, then turn them, and brush with butter or oil and finish them off – about another three to five minutes depending on the size of the lobster. The tail flesh will become pearly and should be firm but still tender to the touch. The claw flesh poaches deliciously inside the shell.
Lobster, tomato and basil fettuccine
If you want a more decadent version, add 200ml cream to the wine reduction instead of the pasta cooking water.
For 2; 25 minutes preparation.
150g dried fettuccine or 250g fresh
2 garlic cloves, sliced in half
20 or so very ripe cherry tomatoes or 3 or 4 larger tomatoes, equally ripe, chopped roughly
Good bunch of fresh basil
200ml white wine
Cooked meat from a 600/750g lobster
Salt and pepper
1. Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil and cook the pasta.
2. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil, and cook the garlic a little, letting it flavour the oil but not brown too much.
3. Tumble the tomatoes into the pan, stir and press lightly so that they release their juices and the flavour intensifies.
4. Deglaze after a few minutes with the white wine, let it bubble and reduce until you have a glossy cooking liquor. Remove the garlic pieces (unless munching on half-cooked garlic is your thing). Add the lobster meat and heat through.
5. Drain the pasta, holding back a couple of ladles of cooking water. Add the pasta to the pan and swirl it through the sauce, pouring a little cooking water in if needed.
6. Heat it all through thoroughly, stirring all the time. Season with salt and pepper, garnish with lots of basil and serve.
Lobster Potato Salad
A retro classic, this is a take on The Barefoot Goddess Ina Garten’s recipe, and a great way of making a lobster go a little further.
For 6; 30 minutes preparation.
1 kg small, waxy potatoes, unpeeled
3 tbsps capers, drained
5 or 6 scallions, chopped finely
2 tbsps finely chopped celery
Juice and zest of a lemon
3 tbsps chopped tarragon
5 or 6 tbsps fresh mayonnaise
Salt and pepper to taste
500g fresh lobster flesh, cut into bite-sized pieces
1. Steam the potatoes until tender but still firm. Cut in halves or quarters.
2. Mix all the other ingredients, apart from the lobster, through the warm potatoes and leave to rest to allow the flavours to develop.
3. Stir through the lobster, season to taste and serve still slightly warm or chill until needed.
4. If you feel the salad is a little stiff when you take it from the fridge, add some cream, oil or lemon juice to loosen it up a little.
Rich lobster meat likes robust spices, but hold off on too much heat. Serve this sauce as is for dipping or use it to flavour a homemade mayo.
For 2/3; 2 minutes preparation.
2 tbsps smooth peanut butter
2 tbsps coconut milk
1 clove garlic
1 tbsp cider vinegar
1 tbsp fish sauce or a tsp of shrimp paste
1 tbsp coconut palm sugar, maple syrup or honey
1. Put all the ingredients in a mini blender and blitz until smooth. If the sauce is too thick, loosen it with a little more coconut milk.
Serve warm with just poached lobster, or brush over half-lobsters before grilling and serve the rest on the side.
For 4; 5 minutes preparation.
150g butter, softened
1 tsp chilli paste or a small chilli (gauge this according to your and your guests’ taste)
1 clove garlic
Grated zest of a lemon
2 tsps ground cumin
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
2 tbsp fresh coriander
1. Put all the ingredients in a mini blender and blitz until smooth. Melt gently before serving with or on the lobster with more fresh coriander to garnish.
I’m saving the elbow grease for the traditional pestle and mortar here. If you want to be super lazy, infuse the saffron in warm water or oil, mix with crushed garlic and then stir into the mayo. It will be rougher in texture but no less tasty.
For 4/6; 10 minutes preparation.
3 organic egg yolks
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
250ml sunflower oil
Juice of half a lemon
1 garlic clove, crushed or a tsp of good garlic paste
Pinch of saffron, soaked in a tbsp of warm water for about 15 minutes
Salt and black pepper
1. Whisk the yolks, mustard and vinegar together to form a thick paste. Still whisking, drop about half a tablespoon of oil into the mixture until it emulsifies. Then pour the rest of the oil in little by little, whisking all the time. Add the garlic paste and saffron in the water. Season (and loosen if needs be) with the lemon juice, salt and pepper.
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