Lobsters found in Vancouver fly first class all the way from the east coast to the lobster man‘s water tanks and other seafood market places around. Today’s dish was inspired by a recipe from the book In Pursuit of Excellence by Josiah Citrin, Chef and co-owner of the famous 2 Michelin star restaurant Melisse, located in Santa Monica, CA. where my girlfriend Julia and I had dinner at about 2 months ago.
The best meal we’ve ever had for sure. A few weeks later, the night before I was flying back to Vancouver, Julia, disappeared for about 15 mins. She reappeared with a signed copy of the restaurant’s book for me. The Chef himself happened to be at the reception when she showed up at the restaurant and he offered to sign it when she bought it = Best christmas present EVER!
The book is amazing, the photos and the description of elaborate preparations in detail. This lobster recipe caught my attention and we decided to make it for our cooking club friends on Julia’s last visit a few weeks ago. Can’t go wrong with lobster. I added fennel to this recipe. I don’t even like raw fennel that much but I love what happens when it’s cooked and combined with seafood. It’s simply an amazing pairing.
Ingredients (6 servings):
1000g capellini pasta (if you can make it at home, more power to you!)
1 Tbsp of salt per quart of boiling water.
Porcini Mushroom Froth:
2 Cups of coarsely chopped dried porcini mushrooms.
200g of whole milk
2 Tbsp heavy cream
2g soy lecithin
Splash of lemon juice
8 ounces of unsalted butter
1 Cup Lobster stock.
Shells of 2 lobsters (from above)
2 cups of finely chopped fennel
2 cups of finely chopped leeks
1 cup of finely chopped celery
1 cup of finely chopped carrots
Salt and pepper to taste
Meat of 2 lobsters (4-5 pounds each)
1 Tbsp Unsalted butter
800g San Marzano tomatos (canned is fine)
1 cup finely chopped shallots
1 cup finely chopped carrots
1 cup finely chopped celery
1 cup finely chopped fennel
1 cup of mushroom stock
1 cup of chicken or veal stock
1 cup of chardonnay
1 tsp truffle oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Extra virgin olive oil
Chopped basil (baby basil would have been awesome)
Thin slices of black truffle
To kill the lobster. Don’t enjoy this part but has to be done and done quickly. Before you start, have a large pot of boiling water and an ice water bath ready. The water will take several minutes to boil, so plan ahead. Place the lobsters in the freezer for 10 mins. Get your cutting board and chef knife ready. You need a chef knife of something similar, paring knifes won’t do. The lobster shell is extremely hard and you will need to go all the way through the back of the head and then halve it with a chopping motion downward, this requires not only a strong knife but strong and decisive force. If you have a fancy chef knife, I’d suggest not using it for this task, it might chip. Also, be aware that there will be a fair amount of liquid released onto your cutting board. Keep cutting board on a clean surface away from other tools or ingredients. And have a kitchen towel ready just for this particular task. Tear off the claws and tail from the head. Remove any internal organs from the head (tomalley should be reserved for other uses). Plunge the lobster parts in the boiling water for about 2-3 mins. This won’t cook the meat, just the surface so that removing the shells becomes easier. Retrieve the lobsters and plunge them in the ice water bath. Crack the shells open (you might need odd kitchen tools like a nutcracker or a hammer to help with the thicker shells, like the claws). And reserve the meat. Keep refrigerated until ready to cook.
To make the lobster stock, add the shells and the vegetables to the pressure cooker vessel and add the salt and a bouquet garni. Fill the vessel with water up to the water mark on the inside of the vessel. Pressure cook for 20 minutes. Strain the contents reserving the stock and discarding the solids. Return the stock to pressure cooker vessel, cook without the lid on on medium high heat, reducing until you have about 2 cup of stock. The lobster stock should be cooked first. Then the rest can proceed. The whole process will take about an hour, hour and a half. The reduction takes time.
To prepare the bolognese sauce, add the butter to a heavy bottomed pot on medium heat. Saute the vegetables until translucent. Don’t let them brown, specially not the garlic! Add the tomatoes and the rest of the ingredients and reduce until most of the liquid has evaporated. The sauce should be thick and delicious. Adjust the seasoning as you go. Adding salt through the reduction process rather than a specific amount at the beginning. Adjust pepper as well. If you have a food mill, this is the time to use it. I don’t have one. I did use my immersion blender to get a finer finish on the sauce. Reserve the sauce. It will need the addition of the lobster, but that step is coming up in a bit.
To cook the lobster meat. Prepare the beurre monte. Reduce one cup of lobster stock until you have 1 tablespoon left in the pot. Remove form the heat and add the butter 1 tablespoon at a time, whisking constantly to keep the butter emulsified. This creamy sauce will be used to poach the lobster and finish the lobster bolognese sauce, at least in my interpretation of this dish which I hope isn’t too barbaric. Keep the beurre monte warm over medium low heat. Finely chop the lobster meat. Add the lobster meat to the beurre monte and cook the lobster meat for a few minutes. Don’t over do it. Lobster meat overcooks easily and goes rubbery. If you want to be precise, this is the perfect time to bring out that probe thermometer or even that laser one. Make sure the sauce never goes over 50C-122C. That should give you a pretty nice finish on that lobster meat.
To finish the lobster bolognese sauce. I combined the lobster meat coated in the beurre monte, and the tomato sauce from above. I guess it doesn’t become a bolognese until actual meat is in there. Anyways, semantics. The result is extremely delicious. I can only imagine what the actual dish form Melisse must taste like!
To make the porcini froth. I ended up pressure cooking the dry mushrooms in a little water. Enough to cover them. Cooking for about 20 mins. That ensures that I extract all the flavor from them and don’t have too much liquid so reducing is quicker. Discard the solids. Reduce the mushroom stock until you’re left with about 1 tablespoon of it. Combine the rest of the ingredients and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat and froth using an immersion blender.
The pasta. Finally an easy step here. Pot of boiling water and salty like the ocean. Plunge the pasta until al dente. Get ready to plate!
Plating. Spin the pasta using the a meat fork, and carefully add it onto the plate horizontally. Using a spoon add a layer of lobster bolognese sauce over it. Using another spoon, later the porcini froth over it. Garnish with chopped basil, think slices of black truffles and some pepper.
Although the dish was a big success after many hours of intense labor, the thing people that attended the party will continue to talk about forever is the cheesecake Julia made. It was simply the best dish of evening. I’m not biased at all!