Lobster

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No surprise that growing up in Maine, I’ve had my fair share of lobster. It’s the quintessential Northeast seafood, a figurehead for local fishing and the magic of the Atlantic Ocean.

In my house growing up, we would have lobster for special occasions- our birthdays, Easter, and even Christmas a couple of times. You really can’t go wrong with just boiling up a whole dozen, which my dad always took care of in his giant rattling stock pot. I remember watching in horror as he fearlessly plopped the squirming bug-like creepy crawlers into boiling water. He would throw the lid on and have to hold it down for a few minutes until the pot stopped shaking and moving, which horrified a 10-year-old me. I remember one time an antenna was sticking out of the pot squirming for dear life and when we looked away for just a second, the lid came flying off.

Anyway, not to scare you away from trying to cook these beautiful things yourself, but they are not for the faint of heart. I even hear stories of my grandfather, a chef, who used to cut them open whole while alive with a cleaver. Don’t try that at home! But nothing should stop you from at least eating Maine lobster as often as you can. We have thousands of tourists in our town each summer that clog the streets, lined up for miles just to get their hands on fresh lobster rolls.

Recently I was lucky enough to get my hands on a ticket to ClawDown, a local lobster cooking competition. 10 different restaurants craft their best small bit of an original lobster dish, and the public gets to pack into a beautiful string light covered tent and taste flavors from different cuisines while sipping on white wine and gazing out at the water. It was a much more bourgeois experience than I’m used to, but honestly I loved it. And I was extremely inspired after to take a stab at the ultimate lobster dish myself.

A lot of the dishes were inspired by the traditional fixings at a lobster bake- juicy lobster meat, boiled potatoes, and corn on the cob. Originally I planned to use a new corn puree I’ve been obsessed with, but I wanted to stretch the limits of my culinary knowledge and go more outside of the box. I found myself gravitating back towards my love of Asian flavors, so I’d say this dish is a French/Asian fusion. The aesthetic is inspired by the beach, fine sand, caviar, sea foam and the bold orange-red of the lobster.

I started with cooking the lobster perfectly and building the dish around that pure flavor- it includes a miso lobster stock velouté, a lobster rice crepe crumb, lime and orange “caviar”, fresh garlic chives and coconut foam. The concept is not only reminiscent of a beach scene but the hot and cold flavors and textures play with each other in the eating experience. I am most proud of this dish and really took a lot of time and preparation into perfecting it, so I hope you enjoy!

To make the lobster:

1 whole fresh live Maine lobster
5 cups of water
1/3 cup sea salt

So this is the scariest part! I started by picking up a live lobster at my local seafood shop. They stuffed him in this nice bag and off I went, glancing down at my passenger seat to make sure the creature hadn’t escaped on the way home…

When I got home I immediately put on a large stock pot full of water to a boil and added the salt once it reached a boil. I took some photos of this little guy on my cutting board and felt like an awful person, but he actually seemed super chill and like he might be enjoying it? This NEVER happens, so I was so relieved. They usually do everything they possibly can to make your murder of them hell, I suppose for good reason.

Anyway! With a deep breath plop the guy in the boiling water and place the lid on firmly to cook for about 8-10 minutes. You should turn the heat down a little once he’s in to prevent overcooking, but the water should maintain a gentle boil.

In the meantime, get an ice bath ready in a large bowl. Once the lobster is cooked, you are going to submerge it in the shocking temperature to stop it from cooking, or you risk an overcooked, rubbery lobster (and it’s harder to get the meat out).

Let him cool aside in the ice bath for at least 15-20 minutes while we go onto the next steps.

To make the lobster stock:

Shells and scraps from 1 whole lobster
1/4 cup (4 tbsp) red miso butter
1/2 large onion, chopped
2 cloves fresh chopped garlic
1 tbsp fresh grated ginger
1 tsp fresh chopped Thai basil
1 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp Hungarian paprika
1/2 lemon
1 pinch of salt and pepper
4 cups water

Now, in my book it is a sin to throw away any unused lobster parts after getting the standard claw and tail meat out. Not to mention it’s a huge waste and kind of mean to the thing you just brutally boiled to death to throw away 2/3 of it and get a tiny little amount of meat out. So! The best solution is to throw all your scraps and shells and gross parts into a large saucepan and boil it with some water for a couple hours to get the most aromatic and delicious lobster stock ever.

Before you go ahead and do this, you want to cook some yummy things to add depth and flavor to the stock. In your stock pot, throw in some onion, garlic, ginger, spices of your choice (in this case I used paprika and turmeric for the bright color and flavor) and some lemon and salt and pepper. This time, because I was focused on reinforcing the dish with some Asian flare, I made my own miso butter to cook the aromatics down in.

This is really simple to make to- just take 2 parts butter to 1 part red miso and mix it together in a small bowl and refrigerate. You can keep this stored in your fridge to use in sauces, to cook meats and ad to corn on the cob. I was inspired by a dish at my favorite restaurant called “grilled corn with smoked red miso butter” that was insanely delicious. The miso adds an amazing salty, earthy flavor to the butter and boy will it shake up your cooking game!

Anyway, once you throw your miso butter in the saucepan, make sure it’s on a generous medium-high heat and cook your aromatic until they are soft, about 2-3 minutes. Then, what I like to do is add the lobster scraps a little at a time and turn the heat up to high and essentially roast the s*** out of them. The more caramelized they are the more the stock will absorb that complex lobster flavor. Once you are happy with your lobster remains all being nice and browned and incorporated with your butter mix, throw in a half a lemon and fill the pot with water until it covers the top of the lobster.

Turn the heat down to medium and let it simmer gently for at least 1 hour- 2 or 3 if you can manage to really get the most complex, delicious lobster flavor possible. Keep an eye on it though because if you don’t have enough water and your heat is too high, the sauce will reduce too quickly and could burn. Trust your gut!

Eventually when the stock is made you need to strain it into a heat proof bowl through a fine sieve to get out all of the bones and shells and you will be left with a yellow-orange beautiful aromatic lobster stock. Keep this on reserve to use later to finish the velouté and in the rice crepe.

To make the lobster rice crepe crumb:

1/2 cup rice flour
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup lobster stock
1 egg yolk
1/4 cup olive oil

My recent restaurant excursions had a lot of influence on this dish. Another thing besides the amazing miso grilled corn that I tried, and loved, was an Asian crepe made from rice flour batter. I found the saltiness and crispness of the edges where the oil bubbles dotted the batter to be addictive, and I knew I had to recreate this deliciousness in my own kitchen. So this crepe is turned into a crumb after being fried in oil and pulsed in a food processor into a crumb to replicate that fine fall apart crunch of the crepe, and it gives a nice salty note to the dish.

To make the batter, all you need to do is mix together the rice flour with water and carefully add about 1/2 cup of the reserved lobster stock along with one egg yolk. I’m telling you, the richness of the batter and the flavor of the lobster comes through so much more than you would think- it tastes like what I remember at the restaurant but with a huge punch of lobster flavor that’s perfect for this dish.

Once your batter is ready, heat up a small fry pan with a coating of oil on high heat.

The batter may seem too runny and wet but don’t worry, after a lot of testing, the best way to replicate the thinness and crunch is with a thin batter. Just make sure before you go ahead and spoon in your batter that it’s throughly mixed so the flour doesn’t sink to the bottom.

Coat the bottom of the fry pan with a thin layer of the batter, just like you would cook a french crepe and keep an eye on it as it cooks. You will see this beautiful little air bubbles poke through and the first side will crisp up in a matter of 30 seconds to a minute.

Flip and cook for 45 more seconds until the crepe is really crisp and let it dry on a paper towel lined plate while you make more, or as many as you need for the portion size you want.

Once they dry they will crisp up even further, like wafers, and you can easily crumb them in either a food processor or by hand.

To make the lime/orange “caviar”:

1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1/3 cup fresh lime juice
2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp agar agar
1 1/4 cups vegetable oil

This is really my first foray into molecular gastronomy on this blog, and I’m super excited about it. I have always been fascinated, obsessed, intrigued, by food science and processes you see in the top restaurants in the world.

I knew for this dish that I wanted to create some sort of caviar that looked like fish eggs but tasted completely different. I chose to go with a lime/orange mix to provide a beautiful fresh pop of citrus that not only goes beautifully with seafood, but cuts through the richness of the dish. Not to mention aesthetically they are so cool and satisfying to make and they explode in your mouth like bizarre childhood candies- a sensation I am quite amazed by.

To achieve this you need to take your liquid and boil it with a small amount of agar agar, a chemical stabilizer that is completely safe to eat and made from seaweed. The process is usually referred to as “spherification” and is one of the trendiest, coolest food science phenomenons out there. The good news is that it’s super easy! All you have to do is boil the mixture and let it cool down slightly. Then, to form these small spheres you pipe the warm liquid into freezing cold oil, which provides enough resistance to let gravity pull the beads of liquid into a sphere and the shock of the freezing cold on the hot liquid forces the outside to solidify completely while the inside remains gel-like. It’s honestly something most people wouldn’t normally dream of doing or casually making for their lunch, but I’m telling you, it’s so easy and adds such a cool and complex level to any dish.

SO! First, you want to measure out your oil into a deep container that is small in diameter- I used an immersion blender cup. You could instead use a tall and thin glass or anything else that’s deep enough. Once the oil is ready place your container into your freezer for around 2 hours. After that the oil will actually start to freeze which is a no go- so make sure you monitor the temperate to keep this from happening.

While you wait for your oil to chill, let’s make the actual liquid that will transform into the “caviar.”

CAUTION: You want to make sure that this is made when you are ready with the cold oil because you can’t let the liquid cool down for longer than 10 minutes.

When you are ready, heat your liquids, sugar, and salt in a saucepan over medium high heat until it comes to a boil. Add your agar agar and stir letting the mixture boil for another minute or two. Once all of the powder has dissolved, take your mixture off the heat and let it cool for about 5 minutes. If you let it cool too much, the liquid will become a gel and won’t pipe and if you don’t cool it down enough the spheres will have trouble solidifying even in freezing cold oil.

After your five minutes are up, transfer the mix to a squeeze bottle or a pipette, whatever you may have laying around. I used a candy squeeze bottle usually used for chocolate drizzling with a really small tip to be able to control the liquid more easily, but a pipette is ideal.

Over your container of cold oil, carefully squeeze 3-5 drops of your liquid at a time in one spot to form one caviar sphere. They will naturally morph together in the oil if close enough and grow until they are the right size, and when you are done piping the sphere will sink to the bottom of the glass. Repeat this process many times until you have a ton of beautiful glistening caviar drops.

IMG_4198To get them out of the container, simply strain the oil through a sieve and collect the remaining caviar. Now, rinse them gently under cold water to remove the oil residue and to retain the integrity of their shape. And voila! You have just made your very own food science fake caviar. And you can keep them in the fridge for days as long as you don’t mind the risk of the centers solidifying.

To make the lobster velouté:

1 cup reserved lobster stock
1/3 cup chopped onion
1 tbsp fresh chopped garlic
2 tbsp miso butter
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp cayenne pepper or other chili
1 tsp AP flour
1/3 cup heavy cream

This may just be the hero of our lobster dish (besides the beautiful fresh Maine lobster meat of course) because it marries the deep rich lobster stock flavor and a spicy Asian/French fusion base.

This is also the main “hot” component of the “hot and cold” dish so it’s important you get it, well, nice and hot.

IMG_4215To do this start in a clean saucepan by simmering the garlic and onion in your miso butter. Cook until soft and translucent and then add your sesame oil and cayenne. It’s enough to give the sauce a tingly kick but not so much that it will blow your head off, unless you are looking for that in which case I would say go for it!

Once your aromatics are nice and simmered, add in the flour and stir to cook out the raw taste. This will act to thicken the sauce later. After 2-3 minutes of whisking, add your reserved lobster stock and turn the heat up to a heavy boil. Once the sauce has reduced by about half, after around 10-15 minutes, add your heavy cream and stir to combine. You will be left with a hot, rich, luscious lobster sauce that pairs so well with the coldness and freshness of the rest of the dish.

To make the coconut foam:

1/2 cup fresh coconut milk
1/4 tsp agar agar

For our last finishing touch on this elegant, beautiful lobster dish, we are going to replicate ocean foam with coconut milk.

Again, don’t be intimidated by this step because it is totally achievable at home as long as you have the right tools.

Just like we did with our caviar, boil the coconut milk with the agar agar and let cool slightly. When you are ready take an immersion blender, or even a whisk and agitate the mixture as if you are whipping cream. Because of the agar, the top of the liquid will now naturally foam! Take a small spoon and skim the foam off the top to add to your dish.

Not only is it beautiful and theatrical, but the coconut flavor is so perfect for pairing with the spicy and complex asian flavors in the sauce and the citrus caviar.

To plate:

1/4 cup lobster velouté
1/4 cup lobster crepe crumbs
Chopped fresh garlic chives
1 heaping tbsp Lemon/grapefruit “caviar”
3-4 tsps coconut foam
Fresh Maine lobster claw

So, when all of your components are ready, start by plating the lobster sauce with a sprinkling of the crepe crumbs around it. Then, place your lobster claw on top and add a spoonful of the caviar, a few dots of coconut foam and fresh chopped herbs for color and decoration.

I went all in on the final photo shoot this time with lighting, styling, and actually plate the dish several different ways. Here I decided to go with what feels like an epiphany of a picture for me- the colors pop so well on the black plate and it really lets the lobster shine.

In eating the dish, there are so many textures, flavors, and temperatures that combine into a crazy theatrical experience that is lobster focused and reminds you of the ocean. The lobster meat is perfectly tender and chilled like eating a roll by the ocean. The hot and spicy lobster sauce below is rich, complex and doesn’t hold back on flavor. It should be a harmony and back and forth of eating the cooling lobster and fresh bursts of citrus caviar to cut the heat of the sauce while lapping up the crisp and salty crumb and fresh herbs for texture and flavor. Lastly, the coconut foam is subtle, but the coconut flavor pairs so well with the Asian flavors and cools your tongue at the end of the experience.

This is by far one of my favorite things I have ever created, and I really enjoyed the fruits of my labor. I’m confident that my ultimate hot and cold lobster creation can stand next to any dish in any competition!

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