At the age of 25, I feel as though I’ve just begun to discover food. Heirloom tomatoes, foie gras, and a well-aged Prime porterhouse steak - until a few months ago, I never thought that food could taste so good.
Last Saturday, I rediscovered lobster. I had always thought that lobster was good, but not great. At its best, it was sweet, flavourful, and slightly chewy. At its worst, it was tough, bland, and oily from being drenched in clarified butter.
Over the past year, I had read much about butter-poached lobster, a method for cooking lobster invented by Thomas Keller, chef and owner of Yountville, California’s famed French Laundry. Magazines, cookbooks and menus all raved about the greatness of this dish. Naturally, I was eager to find out just how good butter-poached lobster really was.
I had the opportunity to butter-poach three lobsters for last Saturday’s dinner party, and they were wonderful. Incredibly sweet and flavourful, and so succulent that the meat literally melted in my mouth.
Best of all, it was simple to make. From start to finish, the lobster itself took about half an hour. And with the aid of a thermometer, it was difficult to overcook.
For last Saturday’s dinner, I made Butter-Poached Lobster with Lobster Broth and Mascarpone-Enriched Orzo, one of The French Laundry’s signature dishes that’s also known as Macaroni and Cheese. It’s a very impressive and satisfying dish, and fairly straightforward to prepare. The dish should be started at least three hours prior to serving.
Butter-Poached Lobster with Creamy Lobster Broth and Mascarpone-Enriched Orzo
(adapted from The French Laundry Cookbook by Thomas Keller)
To summarize what needs to be done:
1. Bake Parmesan crisps
2. Steep lobsters in hot water-vinegar solution
3. Remove partially cooked meat from lobsters
4. Use shells to make lobster bisque
5. Cook orzo (pasta) in boiling water, drain, mix with lobster bisque, and add mascarpone cheese
6. Poach lobster meat in Beurre Monté
7. Assemble and serve.
Special utensils: a silicon mat and an instant-read thermometer.
- ½ cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano
Bake at 325F for 8 to 10 minutes, or until golden brown. Use an offset spatula to transfer crisps to paper towels, and store in an airtight container for up to 2 days.
Makes about 12 crisps.
- 3 live lobsters, 1.5 to 2 lbs each
Place one lobster in a tight-fitting pot or heat-proof container. Pour water into the pot until it fully covers the lobster. Transfer water from the pot into a measuring cup to measure the amount of water used. This is the amount of water you’ll need to cook the lobster. From my experience, 4 litre/4 quarts water is usually sufficient.
In a separate large pot, boil the water needed, and add ¼ cup white vinegar for every 4 litres/4 quarts of water. Pour water-vinegar solution over the lobster until it covers the lobster completely, and let the lobster steep for 2 minutes for a 1.5 lb lobster, or 3 minutes for a 2 lb lobster.
Remove lobster and using gloves or a towel, twist the tail in one direction to remove it from the body. Twist off the lobster’s arms (knuckles and claws) and return them to the pot of hot water to cook for an additional 5 minutes.
To remove the tail meat, hold the tail flat and twist the tail fan in one direction to remove. Using your fingers, gently push the meat from the back of the tail and out the front. Cut the tail in half lengthwise, and remove the large red vein.
To remove the claw meat, separate the claw from the knuckles and pull the small pincer claw down, until it loosens. Gently wiggle the lower pincer from side to side (horizontally) until it separates from the meat. Use the heel of a chef’s knife to crack the upper claw about ¾-inch from the knuckle joint. If meat cannot be loosened, crack the shell on the opposite side. Remove claw meat in one piece and discard any cartilage or remaining shell.
To remove knuckle meat, use scissors to cut the shell along the smooth outside edge of the knuckle.
Place meat on a paper towel-lined plate, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until ready to use. Rinse shells and reserve for lobster bisque. Repeat with the remaining lobsters. If your lobsters are female, reserve the dark green roe from the body and tail. Fry the roe in a teaspoon of canola oil until it turns bright red. Finely chop roe and use as a garnish or save for another use.
Lobster Bisque and Orzo
- ¼ cup canola oil
- 3 lobster shells cut into quarters (about 12 oz)
- 1 ½ cup chopped tomatoes
- ½ cup chopped carrots
- -½ oz tarragon
- 2 cups heavy cream
- ½ cup orzo
- 2 tbsp mascarpone cheese
- salt to taste
In a large pot, heat oil over medium-high heat and sear lobster shells (in several batches if necessary) for 1 or 2 minutes, or until they turn red. Add tomatoes, tarragon and carrots, cover the shells and vegetables with water, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer for about 1 hour. Skim off any impurities that float to the surface.
Strain stock through a large sieve or chinois, making sure to remove all the liquid. Discard the shells and vegetables. In a pot, simmer the stock until reduced to 1 cup. Add the heavy cream and simmer until it thickens to sauce consistency and is reduced to 1 - 1 ¼ cups. Strain the broth into a container. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use, up to 3 days.
Bring a small pot of lightly salted water to a boil and add orzo. Cook until just tender and drain under cold water into a strainer. Shake strainer to remove excess water and add orzo to lobster broth. In a small pot, heat orzo and broth to a simmer and whisk in mascarpone cheese. Season with salt to taste, and simmer for one minute. Reduce heat to low and keep warm, stirring occasionally.
- 1 tbsp water
- ½ to ¾ lb unsalted butter, cut into small chunks
- lobster pieces
In a saucepan, heat water until boiling and whisk in one or two chunks of butter to form an emulsion (called Beurre Monté). Reduce heat to low and continue to whisk in butter, one chunk at a time, until the Beurre Monté is about 1-inch high.
Use an instant-read thermometer to maintain the temperature of the Beurre Monté between 160F and 190F during cooking.
Add lobster pieces to Beurre Monté (in several batches if necessary), and cook for 5 or 6 minutes. If lobster pieces are not fully covered, use a spoon to gently turn over after 3 minutes.
- 1 tbsp finely minced chives
- Fried lobster roe (optional)
In a shallow bowl or plate, place 1/3 cup of the orzo and lobster broth (the macaroni and cheese) in the centre of the dish. Use a spoon to transfer one lobster tail onto the orzo. Fold one piece of knuckle meat in half and insert in the centre of the tail, so that it sticks up. Balance one Parmesan crisp on the knuckle meat, and garnish with chives and lobster roe. Serve immediately.
The remaining six claws can either be added to the existing dishes, eaten alone, or used for another dish, such as a salad. Alternatively, you can send any leftovers to me!
Makes 6 servings.