Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The lobster - the Cardinal of the Sea

My cousin Billy Eastman, a hard working fisherman from Exeter N.H., caught this, and another monstersized lobster far out to sea off the New England Coast. It weighed 12 lbs, and was probably 30-40 years old. While lobsters are found in large numbers along the Eastern seaboard, they are still regarded as luxurious food elsewhere, where lobsters are not found them in such abundance. Lobsters are up there with foods like caviar, foi-gras, and oysters. Served with roses and a bottle of Dom Pérignon or Krug to the person of your choice you are enterring serious romantic territory.

Some of my best culinary moments are lobster moments. One of them is from Brussels. The best seafood restaurants in the European Capital are found at Place Saint Cathérine. During my stay in 1999, I was visited by my best friend Ketil Johan Zahl. We wanted to have a serious seafood meal and I booked a table at the restaurant l'Huîtrière, at Baaksteenkaai 20. It serves traditional Belgian food, both from Wallonia and Flanders. We chose a menu with four dishes:

- Entree: Foi-gras on toast
- First main dish: One half boiled lobster served with salad and two sauces
- Second main dish: One half oven baked lobster with whisky-sauce
- Dessert: Chocolate cake

We were served a glass of Sautérnes to the foi-gras (ofcourse), and we shared a large bottle of dry white wine. The first lobster dish was served cold with salad and two mayonnaise based sauces, one of them with added tomato paste. The second dish the lobster meat had been taken out of the tail, head and claws, diced and tossed in a cream based sauce mixed with whiskey, filled into the shell and baked in a very hot oven. It was wonderfully tender. The lobster meat had most probably been raw when removed, as shellfish may get very tough if overcooked. I tried to copy the idea on a dinner using boiled lobsters, and it ended up rather tough to eat. The whole meal was stunning and the chocholate cake at the end - filled us to capacity or maybe beyond!

The second lobster memory is from Thanksgiving that I celebrated in San Francisco in November 2000. I stayed with Jude Bartlett, that ran the local wine store . Some friends on a sabbatical stay rented a room there, and I squeezed in for a week. As I stayed there I volunteered to cook the Thanksgiving dinner at the Day, where as we were having an official celebration the following sunday. I was brought up to a fish-market not far from the summit of Twin Peaks, so easily seen from many parts of the city. Here I bought two live Maine Lobsters. My idea was to make a pasta dish from raw lobster meat in a white wine sauce.

Getting the meat raw , I needed to kill them with a knife, and I did. The sauce was a white wine sauce made from scratch with butter, flour, white-wine, lobster-stock (made from the shells), and cream. The sauce was served with tagliatelle, and parmeggiano reggiano. Today I might have added some tomato paste in order to get a stronger taste and to get a seafood-colour on the dish. But still it worked great. The story about the tyrannosaurus-sized turkey served on the Sunday dinner will be told later.

Lobsters must be eaten fresh to be enjoyed fully. If you can get them raw, do, and if you buy them precooked to use them in hot dishes, do make sure that you just heat the meat through. If not, you may end up with a very tough result. I do not buy the frozen ones any more. I have had very bad experiences with the frozen imported canadian lobsters. In the worst cases they tasted quite off, and the meat were usually very tough. They may be used to make lobster-stock, and the meat may be cut in very small dices and mixed with other shellfish and fish. But these kind of lobsters may be substitued by other and better shellfish as raw tiger prawns, shrimps, or crabs.

But - if you are looking for love - buy a bottle of champagne, a bouquet of roses and boil two lobsters - and you're in business. If not - you can still have a great meal.

Enjoy! And good luck!

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