Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Pan-Roasted Lobster with Chervil and Chives

I really enjoy lobster cooked this way. It's based on a recipe that Jasper White popularized in his restaurants. (See e.g. Lobster at Home) It looks complicated, but isn't really so long as you have the right gear assembled. In fact, one of the nice things about this meal is that you can do a lot of the work a couple of hours in advance so this meal can actually involve less last minute mess and fuss than steamed/boiled lobster. (Less mess at the table too.)

The changes I've made mostly relate to some of the preparation details. In particular, I prefer to parboil the lobsters rather than cut them up alive which, in my experience, leads to pieces of lobster thrashing around the cutting board. It's just more drama than I consider absolutely necessary for this dish.

As for equipment, you'll want a large pot for the lobster of course. As for the pan-roasting part, if your oven is large enough to accommodate it, I find a 16-inch Lodge cast iron skillet that I picked up last summer just about perfect. That should handle about four to six lobsters in the chicken to two pound range. If you don't have a big enough skillet or a big enough oven, a workable alternative is to use a baking sheet for the oven part and one or two skillets, as required, on the stove. You will also want a long-necked lighter or some other suitable implement next to the stove to flame the bourbon.

Lobster is inexpensive right now, so go for it!

Ingredients for four people.

4 to 6 lobsters (1.25 to 2 lb.)

3 TBS peanut oil

1/3 cup bourbon (can also use Cognac)

1/2 cup white wine

8 TBS unsalted butter, cut into slices and chilled

1/4 cup of chopped parsley or chervil

1 TBS finely chopped chives

White pepper and salt

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Parboil the lobsters for about 4 minutes. If you don't have a pot large enough to accommodate all the lobsters, you can do this step in two batches. (You'll need one of those big steamer pots or equivalent.)

Cooking LobsterOnce the lobsters have cooled enough to handle, remove the tails, the claws, and the knuckles/arms. Cut the tails in half lengthwise. Thoroughly crack open the claws and the knuckles to minimize the amount of cracking and picking that needs to be done at the table. You'll now have six pieces per lobster plus the body, which you can discard or use to make stock. Weather permitting I prefer to do this operation outside to keep all the lobstery fluids out of the kitchen. If you like, you can prepare the lobster to this point a couple of hours in advance and put it in the refrigerator.

Preheat the broiler. Position an oven rack in the upper third of the oven. Assemble all you ingredients and equipment by the stove. The pan will be hot and you'll want to move quickly. The final preparation only takes about ten minutes so everything else should be more or less ready to go for dinner before beginning.

Place your sauté pan over the highest heat possible. Allow it to heat for a few minutes until it becomes extremely hot. Add the oil and heat it until it forms a film on the surface of the pan. Slide the lobster pieces, shell side down, into the hot oil. Using tongs, move the pieces in order to evenly sear all the shells.

When the shells have all turned bright red,which should take no more than two or three minutes, turn the pieces over. Cooking Lobster

Place the pan in the oven and cook for about three minutes until the shells are slightly browned. It's OK if they're a bit charred in places. Put it on the stove over high heat. It will be very hot! You can put the plates in the oven to warm at this point.

Add the bourbon and ignite. Add the wine and allow to reduce until it is almost dry; a few tablespoons or so will remain in the pan.

Remove the pan from the heat. Remove lobster pieces and arrange on the plates.

Return the pan to low heat. Add the butter and herbs. Season with some white pepper and maybe a little salt (the lobster will be somewhat salty already) and spoon over lobster pieces on plates.

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