Monday, December 31, 2007

Lobster and the New Year: Last Hurrah

Lobs 5 copy There is the blue lobster like the one owned by my local market—and their prior one, a taxidermied giant now gracing the wall near the check-out counters like a fantasy sculpture you’d see over the door of some dive with a name like “The Shipwreck Bar.” There is the equally fantastic, yet also real, two-toned lobster, vertically divided with hairline precision down its length, half-black, half red, the second one caught by one of my neighborhood purveyors, Sakonnet Lobster—a 1 in 50 million chance. And then there is the last lobster—of the year, that is.
For it’s not just the end of the year, it’s the end of lobster season. Come January, the vast majority of lobstermen pull their pots until spring, repairing them and their boats until the water warms enough to bring the lobsters, pretty much too cold to move from the bottom, back to the surface. Although they are scarce and therefore expensive—not that they are ever cheap—now is the time to have a fresh-caught lobster before they disappear for the winter months, and nothing is available but “held” lobsters, caught previously and kept in tanks or other special holding areas for who knows how long and under what conditions. Eating lobster, accompanied by its perfect match, champagne, seems a fitting way to send off both the year and the winter-torpored arthropod.
My favorite way to cook lobster is to grill it over charcoal, but the season, at least here, is not conducive to outdoor cooking. And maybe, just maybe, the preparation is a bit summery anyway; certainly boiled lobster with drawn butter doesn’t attract the way it does on the 4th of July, when bright sun, a pile of steaming lobsters, drawn butter, lobster bibs, and wooden picnic tables overhanging the pier are akin to a holy tableau. You could bake and stuff your last lobster of the year, a favorite New England preparation, and certainly a warming one. But for New Year’s Eve, one must approach the uncertainty of the turning point in Time’s relentless march—will it be a good year? A bad year? A same old, same old year?--with the defiance, confidence, and dignity so well-represented by the luxurious splurge: lobster bisque and champagne. As you head into the unknown of 2008, only the best will do.
Jane’s LC Lobster-Corn Bisque
This soup is my Rhode Island variation on the classic French haute-cuisine lobster bisque, made with the addition of corn and simplifying the steps a little while preserving the intensity and fineness of the finished product. While not quite as complicated as the original, it still takes a bit of time; I suggest making it over two days, dealing with the lobsters one day, then actually preparing the soup the next. Westport Lobster in Westport, MA, was kind enough to provide me with scarily huge extra lobster carcasses for the stock. Ask your own lobster purveyor or fish market to save you some. If you do not have corn stock (shame on you!), you may substitute a light homemade chicken stock or use all lobster stock. Serves 6.
A 2# lobster
12 cups water
About 2-3 lbs lobster bodies (torsos)LobsBisq veg 2 copy
2 large bay leaves
12 peppercorns
¼ tea red pepper flakes
6 sprigs parsley
6 sprigs cilantro
4 T unsalted butter
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1 ½" piece fresh gingerroot, minced LobsBisqPuree2 copy2
½ large sweet onion, roughly chopped
1 large carrot, roughly chopped
1 large stalk celery, roughly chopped
1 ½ cups corn off the cob, thawed if frozen
¼ tea saffron, coupe grade
1 cup dry white wine
½ cup homemade plain tomato sauce or, if not on hand, imported ground tomatoes
1 quart corn stock, or use all lobster stock or light chicken stock
2 cups strong lobster stockLobsBisqPuree3 copy
salt, pepper
3 T converted white rice
2 T cognac or brandy
¼ cup or more heavy cream
Reserved lobster meat for garnish
Chopped parsley for garnish
In a small stock pot or other pot of at least 16 cups capacity, boil the water and plunge the lobster in head-first, covering with the lid. Boil 15 minutes, remove the lobster with tongs to a colander (reserving the water), and rinse well with cold water. Cool until you can handle it, then remove and refrigerate the meat, reserving the body with the others (see Note).
Preheat oven to 400 F. Clean the lobster bodies of any tomalley, roe, and head sac (you may keep the tomalley for stirring into the soup, but I do not); place them into a buttered roasting pan and roast for about 40 minutes, or until they smell lobster-y. Add ½ cup of water to the hot pan to deglaze, then add the bodies and the deglazed liquid to the pot of lobster water, pressing them down to submerge as well as possible; add the bay leaves, peppercorns, pepper flakes, cilantro, and parsley. Bring to a boil, skim, and then reduce and simmer for about 2 hours. Near the end of the cooking time, add a little salt and taste. It should have a deep lobster flavor. Remove the bodies with tongs, letting them hang over the pot for a minute to drip their juices, and discard; you should have about 2 ½ quarts. Remove two cups broth and freeze the rest for future soups or chowders. At this point you can either proceed or refrigerate the 2 cups broth, covered, until next day.
In a Dutch oven or other pot of at least 16 cups capacity, melt 3 T of the butter. Add all the aromatics and vegetables except for the corn and cook over moderately high heat, stirring so they don’t scorch, for about 8-10 minutes, or until the vegetables are brown. Add the corn and the other T of butter and cook, stirring, for about 5-6 minutes. Dissolve the saffron in the wine and add to the pot along with the tomato sauce; let it boil 2-3 minutes.
Add the corn and lobster stocks to the pot (6 cups total). Bring to a boil, skim the foam from the edges, and reduce and simmer, lid ajar, for 1 ½ hours. Add a large pinch of salt and a few twists from the pepper mill; taste and correct seasoning. Add the rice and simmer for an additional 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Using a food processor or an immersion blender, puree the broth and vegetable mixture. Strain through a conical strainer (a “China cap”) or other fine sieve into a 3 qt saucepan. Refrigerate until serving time.
Bisq Garnished 3 copyTo serve: Reheat the pureed soup base over medium heat. Heat and ignite the cognac, and pour it into the soup. Stir in the heavy cream; this is one of the unusual instances where less is more. Serve in shallow bowls (the classic is a white two-handled cup or shallow, rimmed dish), garnished with the reserved fresh lobster meat and a little finely chopped parsley or other compatible herb. Don’t forget the champagne.
Note: In Rhode Island, as along most of the New England coast, children learn how to remove the meat from a lobster before they know how to tie their shoes. If you are, as they say, “not from here,” you can follow these directions. I use minimal water when making stocks; just cram the bodies into the pan, crushing the shells down if needed.


Stephanie said...

Your recipes always sound so delicious. Happy new year!

Jane said...

Thank you, Stepanie; and a great 2008 to you too.

Ed Bruske said...

thanks for taking the time to record that recipe. Lobster bisque requires great devotion and patience, but the rewards are obvious

Jane said...

You're welcome, Ed; glad to have so appreciative and knowledegable a reader.