After the new year, I got a hankering to make a lobster bisque which is something I have never tackled before. The extent of my lobster experience (other than eating it) has been my grandfather’s annual “Lobster Fest” birthday celebration. The tradition, started by our New Englander Uncle Bob, began with a birthday dinner one year for granddaddy who loved his “lobsta” so much that it became an annual family tradition. Aunt Mary Anne and Uncle Bob hosted dozens of guests, bringing in live lobsters and clams from Maine. The precious seafood was served up hot and fresh on top of newspapers with plenty of warm, drawn lemon butter.
I looked to the beloved Julia Child for a lobster bisque recipe and unfortunately, couldn’t find it in my cookbook. I did, however, find a simple and elegant lobster stew recipe. Oh such richness! If you are like me and don’t like to spend Valentine’s Day out in restaurants fighting crowds for bad service and mediocre food, this could be a great entrée to make at home.
Adapted from Julia Child’s “The Way to Cook”
2 cooked 2-pound lobsters, females if possible, with their tomalley and roe (about 2 cups of lobster meat)
12 Tbs butter
1 ½ Tbs minced shallots or scallions
Salt and freshly ground white pepper
A big pinch of fresh, chopped tarragon
½ to 2/3 cup or more of heavy cream
1 tsp or so of tomato paste (if needed for color)
5 ½ cups half-and-half or light cream
Julia gives a couple of helpful tips about lobsters. First, she recommends female lobsters so that you can make use of the roe for coloring and flavor. It’s the roe that provides the pinkish color in soups and stews. Second, Julia says that steaming lobsters is better than boiling. She recommends steaming the lobsters for about 10 minutes or so. A good test to check for doneness is to grab a small leg and taste the meat. If the leg meat is done, the lobster is done. Take the lobsters out and let them cool. Shell them, and cut 6 thin slices of tail or claw, cover, and refrigerate for final decoration. Cut the remaining meat into bite-size pieces, and set aside. Push the roe, if you have it, and the tomalley (the green stuff) through a sieve, and reserve
Melt 4 tablespoons of the butter in the frying pan, stir in the sieved tomalley and roe, and sauté slowly over moderately low heat for 5 minutes – it will turn a beige-pink; beige only if you have no roe.
Fold in the lobster meat and shallots or scallions, season lightly with salt, pepper, and tarragon, and fold in the remaining tablespoons of butter. Continue the slow sauté another 5 minutes or so, gently folding the lobster in the butter as the roe gradually turns the meat a salmony pink. Let this cool to tepid.
Meanwhile, heat the cream to tepid – the same temperature as the lobster meat. Then, by small dribbles as though making mayonnaise, begin ladling the cream into the lobster meat, folding gently and continually while the cream absorbs the butter and takes on a pale lobster hue. (You should blend in a little tomato paste here if needed for color – i.e., if you do not have female lobsters.) Season to taste with salt and pepper, and let cool, then cover and refrigerate.
Julia says to refrigerate since she recommends making this soup a day or 2 in advance so that the flavor has time to set in.
Serving: Folding gently, bring the stew slowly to below the simmer for 2 to 3 minutes. (Meanwhile gently warm the reserved pieces of lobster meat in butter.) Taste the stew again for seasoning, and ladle the stew into hot soup cups or plates. Rapidly float on each serving a slice of chilled butter on which you place a piece of lobster tail or claw. Accompany with warm toast or English muffins. In the picture below, I actually finished the soup with fennel fronds.