Monday, August 11, 2008

Mission: Monster Lobster

Consider the lobster: a primordial creature, scuttling along the bottom of the sea, constantly on the lookout for prey (or other lobsters), the proud carrier of some 100,000 neurons or so, unburdened by anything resembling a brain: essentially a giant, primitive bug.

The lobster, it is safe to say, has no inner life. It moves about, attracted by whatever it is that attracts lobsters, and eventually finds its way into a trap. The trapped lobster is tossed into a hold, transported to your area, and dunked in another tank with a bunch of other lobsters. At the market, some of those lobsters snooze. Some of them "fight." And some just scuttle around. But one of them eventually ends up on the scale, ready to come home with you, just so:

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(Now this recipe is called "Monster Lobster," and in the book Chef Picard uses a 5 lb bruiser for his work. After due consideration we decided to go with a smaller specimen - about 1 1/3 lbs - instead. Neither of us have much experience cooking these little fellows but we have heard that larger lobsters are often rather tough; and beyond that (and more importantly, frankly) 5 lb lobsters do not seem to exist for sale in Northern California. So we compromised. Seeing that (spoiler alert!) we were stuffed after eating this size, we think it was the right decision.)

Back to business. Quare: What goes well with lobster? Butter, or even better, hollandaise! So while our friend the lobster - Valentino Metallica is what we named him - enjoys the confines of a cardboard box inside our fridge, we got to building the sauce. Now: there is some dispute on the proper hollandaise base. Tradition, and Chef Picard, use clarified butter. But Jacques Pepin (in Complete Techniques) uses simply melted butter, which while waterier does produce a sauce (he says) that is more heat tolerant and less likely to break. (Faithful readers will remember that we do have a problem with breaking sauces in our kitchen.) We went with tradition on this one - because we TICP, and because Jacob wanted to make a "proper" hollandaise, and because... well, it is Chef Picard's recipe, not ours, eh?

So first we clarify:

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Over low heat for a bit, until everything is melted, and then we skim to see this:

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It was in focus in real life, we promise. From here, we have a brief pause for a "meez:"

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Again with the focus! Well, it had been a long day, we suppose. Anyway, from this point we take our fabulous new ball whisk and bust on it 'til white meat shows:

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Then, when done, we put it into a vessel and kept it warm.

Now, while Jacob has been furiously working his sauce thang in the hot, hot kitchen, Valentino Metallica has been chilling (as it were) in the cool, cool fridge. He's had quite a life, but now it's about time for him to sacrifice himself for the good of the order. So after a pep talk from our mascot:

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And our dog:

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Into the steamer he went. Being a lobster, he felt nothing; but he did turn a wonderful shade of red after the appropriate time:

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Meanwhile, we had steamed some asparagus. At this point we were ready to take the tomalley from the thorax and mix it up with some of the hollandaise (so we did that). Next we removed the tail meat and filled the tail up with hollandaise and then replaced the meat. Then we drizzled some hollandaise-tomalley over the shell, put some potatoes down along with the rest of the asparagus, and stuck it in the broiler for a moment. Then out it came:

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And then into our bellies.

Now a few words about this meal. Actually, just one: RICH. As if we should be surprised, right? But really: RICH. Whoa. Boy. As we mentioned - what you see plated here was more than enough for the two of us. And we had had a long and busy day and were hungry, so that should tell you something.

Other things: as mentioned, this was Jacob's first time making a hollandaise, and he was very pleased at how it turned out (and how not-difficult it was). Sure, we've made bechamel, we've made aioli, we've made mayonnaise; but there's something intimidating about hollandaise (and that something is called the bain-marie, and the resplendent warnings to closely watch temperature so the egg yolks don't scramble while you're making the sauce) and something very satisfying about making a darn good one. Which this one was. (Sorry, Chef Pepin: we won't be trying your version for awhile, at least.)

The tomalley-hollandaise was... like lobster flavored hollandaise. Neither of us had had tomalley before (Jacob had always heard that people ate it, but never knew anyone who actually did, and Melissa was unfamiliar with it) and we were a little put off by it; but it was quite nice.

The dish on the whole, aside from being RICH (did I mention this was a RICH dish?), was very good. Definitely excellent overall; the asparagus played very well with the lobster and hollandaise; giving an excellent base flavor for the others to take off from.

Note to selves: Why are lobsters so expensive? Is that they must be kept alive and in a controlled environment during transport? Or is it prestige? Or what? Also, if they're so expensive, then why did the lobster fishing version of Deadliest Catch fail to be even slightly interesting? Couldn't they afford writers at these prices?

Time, mis to eat: Well, we didn't have a formal mis this week - except for the hollandaise. So let's say about 75 minutes, including steaming times.

Next Up: Tomato sauce. Using 30 lbs of tomatoes from the farmer's market. Yeah, you heard us.

Blast from the past: Watching a sauce break is like watching a car wreck in slow motion.

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