Lobster. It rates up there as one of my favorite foods (in fact in at #3 after steaks and burgers – or is that burger and steaks?). I remember first trying it when I was about 12 or 13, in New Jersey. I had a friend who’s dad was from Martha’s Vineyard. Those New England types loooove the lobster – in fact it was at Tom’s house that I first watched someone cook up a live lobster. The big pot, the boiling water, the “scarletization” of the shell, the whining wail of a lobster dying (or so the myth goes), and then finally, the cracking open and feasting on succulence dipped in melted butter. I never looked back. My next experience was the relatively watered down Red Lobster version, but once I moved to New York I was able to make a yearly visit (at another friend’s dad’s expense) to Franscisco’s Centro Vasco, where we usually picked out 4-5 pounders, staring at the trussed-up shells of long-deceased 12-15 pounders. If you’ve never seen a lobster as big as a dog, believe me you wouldn’t want to run into that guy on the ocean floor.
But as far as cooking lobster, I had never tried it. Reasons being, first of all, one should always cook live lobsters – a rule that I myself broke during this, my first attempt (next time I’ll try to get them into my fridge “jibito” – if anyone has a line on live lobsters in Dhaka, please share). Secondly, it makes me a bit squeamish to drop that poor thing into boiling water. And third, I’m just a bit of a pussy when it comes to handling creatures. But as I’ve been staring at those frozen lobsters at Unimart for the past few months, and since my brother in law was visiting, I decided to take “the plunge.”
As I didn’t have access to live lobsters, I decided to go with a lobster thermidor. Purists may complain, but I figured that when I couldn’t guarantee freshness it was better to go with a recipe which didn’t rely so much on the quality of the lobster meat, which was beyond my control. So we went shopping, and CC and I picked up some 300 gram-ers from the local supermarket.
Cooking lobster meat is easier than you’d think. You pretty much just get a pot of water boiling, and throw them in. I stuck some wooden skewers through the tails to prevent them from curling during cooking. Emeril’s recipe recommends lemon, herbs and onions in the water, but for simplicities sake, I skipped that — but if I had to do it again I would definitely include them.
I dropped the lobsters into the boiling water for anywhere between 10-15 minutes – you can basically tell when lobster is done when the shell turns bright red.
Once I felt like they were done (remember, with a thermidor you’re baking it in the oven later anyways, so it doesn’t have to be perfectly done), I dunked the suckers into an ice bath to stop the cooking process.
Then, after removing the wooden skewers, I took some scissors and cut the lobsters in half lengthwise, removing the tail meat and placing it in a bowl. This being my first time with lobster, and these crustaceans being a little on the too-dead side, it wasn’t too pretty inside, so I discarded the head and just kept the tail sections, which I washed out until cleaned and arranged in a bowl.
At this point, I melted the butter in a saucepan and added the flour, stirring for about 3 minutes until I had a blond roux going. I added the shallots and sautéed for about a minute, before adding the wine (optional) and milk. After stirring and finding it not thick enough, I added a dollop of cream for good measure. Once the sauce coated the back of a spoon, I seasoned with salt and pepper and added the mustard, dried tarragon (coz you can’t get fresh here) and some of the parmesan for good measure. After it cooled slightly, I mixed the bechamel sauce (yes that’s that fancy french stuff!) in with the lobster tail meat.
I took a break with the lobster and blanched the haricots verts (french green beans) and dunked ’em in an ice bath — once again to prevent them from getting overcooked.
I melted some butter once again in a frying pan, and added some shallots, sauteeing until they were translucent before adding the garlic. After a few minutes, I added the beans and continued to cook for a few minutes more and then seasoned to taste.
Enough boring veggies. Lets get back to the meat of the matter (yes, I’ll use that tired cliche with every recipe).
It was time to fill the shells with the lobster meat and bechamel mixture, and top each shell with a generous amount of parmesan, after which I baked the shells in a preheated 200 C oven for about 10 minutes.
I quickly realized I hadn’t saved enough shells, but I managed to find some ramekins (fancy word that CC just taught me that means little baking tins) and filled them halfway with the rest of the mixture, topping with parmesan once again. Once the parmesan was a golden brown, I pulled the shells and the lobster “souffles” out of the oven.
All that remained was to arrange the green beans on a plate, ring with the lobster tails, and garnish with lemon slices and parsley and voila – something French happened.
Emeril’s Lobster Thermidor – Serves 4
4 whole lobsters, 300 gms each
2 lemons, sliced
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup flour
4 tablespoons minced shallots
1/2 cup white wine
2 cups milk
1 cup cream
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon dried tarragon
1 cup (for the topping) plus 2 tablespoons (for the sauce) grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup julienned onions
500 gms haricot vert, blanched
Salt and pepper to taste
2 teaspoons chopped garlic
4 teaspoons finely chopped parsley