Everyone knows there's only one way to cook a lobster: Boil water. Add lobster. Cover. Cook. Done.
Everyone, perhaps, but Jasper White. The famed chef, former restaurateur, and now executive chef for Legal Seafoods restaurants has some other ideas.
Mr. White recently finished "Lobster at Home" (Scribner) due out in February - an entire book devoted to the crusty crustacean, including 95 recipes he had to develop, test, and eat. Poor guy.
And although White swoons over an exotic "spicy-hot" Lobster Vindaloo cooked with ginger, garlic, olive oil, coriander, and mustard seed and wrapped in a coconut crepe, one simple favorite recipe is a no-frills lobster roll blended with mayonnaise laced with fresh tarragon (albeit a frill to some).
"It is quintessential lobster and quintessentially New England," says White. And a 1-1/2-pound lobster can be stretched to make two reasonably sized lobster rolls.
"In Maine you get a simple boiled lobster served on a paper plate with a few pickles and a bag of chips. It's so humble," he says. "Can you imagine the French serving lobster like that?"
White prefers steaming lobster in an inch or so of salted, seasoned water, as opposed to boiling. "It cooks evenly, the flavor is pure and undiluted, and you're not left with five gallons of smelly water you have to get rid of," he says.
Cruel and unusual punishment? Not so, says White. He spends several minutes of animated conversation relating the discussions he's had with neurologists, and scientists. The bottom line: "Lobsters can't survive at a temperature above 70 degrees."
But to make you (if not the lobster) feel better, White suggests you place the critter in the freezer for 15 minutes before you dunk it in the steaming water. After the lobsters are steamed, chef White saves the flavorful water and uses it as part of the liquid when making his Savory Lobster Broth. (See recipe, right.)
A major part of the lobster that inevitably goes to waste, especially among those staring at a red, steaming Homarus americanus in the eye for the first time, is the lobster carcass, or "body" as New Englanders label it.
"The cost of fresh lobster meat is $1.50 an ounce," he says, so it's worth getting out picks and poking away.
White mixes the red roe into his mayonnaise for interest, but says it's more for color than flavor.
A flavorful nugget that is looked on with suspicion, and dumped, is the tomalley (that greenish stuff in the body). "It's the foie gras of the lobster," says White. "I like to mix it with melted butter and dip the lobster in it, so I get it in every bite," he says, "Or mix it with garlic, parsley, butter, salt, and pepper and spread it on toast."
Jasper White's Lobster Salad or Roll
1 pound freshly cooked lobster meat (about 5 pounds of live lobsters)
1 medium cucumber
1/2 cup tarragon mayonnaise (below)
3 small scallions, thinly sliced
Freshly ground black pepper
Kosher or sea salt, if necessary
6 buttered and toasted hot dog rolls
Cut lobster meat in 1/2-inch dice. Peel, seed, and cut cucumber into 1/2-inch dice. Combine lobster, cucumber, and mayonnaise. Add scallion, half an hour before serving. Season with black pepper, and salt. Toss, and stuff into hot dog rolls, or serve on lettuce as a salad. Serves 6.
Add 1 teaspoon chopped tarragon to a good quality prepared mayonnaise if you wish, or try the recipe below.
1 egg yolk (from a large egg)
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons fresh, chopped tarragon
1 cup oil salad (safflower, or sunflower)
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Ground pepper, and salt to taste
Dash of cayenne or hot sauce (optional)
Put egg yolk, mustard, and tarragon in food processor. Pulse a few seconds. With machine running, add half the oil in a slow, stream, then alternate lemon juice and remaining oil. Add 1 tablespoon cold water and pulse twice. Season to taste. Pulse to mix. Cover and refrigerate.
Savory Lobster Broth
4 to 6 lobster carcasses
2 tablespoons plus 1/4 cup olive oil
8 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
3 to 4 medium onions, chopped
3 to 4 medium carrots, chopped
1 small head of fennel, chopped (optional)
6 quarts of water
1 28-ounce can Italian plum tomatoes, chopped
4 celery stalks, chopped
2 tablespoons whole black peppercorns
1 teaspoon saffron threads
3/4 teaspoon dried crushed chili pepper
2 bay leaves
4 sprigs fresh thyme
6 sprigs fresh tarragon
Split carcasses in half, lengthwise; discard head sack. Place bodies, shell side up in a roasting pan. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons olive oil and roast 45 minutes, turning once.
Place remaining oil in large saut pan. Add garlic, onions, carrots, fennel, and cook over medium/low heat. Do not stir for first few minutes, then continue cooking for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking.
Transfer the vegetables to a large stockpot. Add water, celery, and tomatoes. Bring to boil, and add lobster bodies. Deglaze roasting pan by adding a little water and scraping carcass drippings into the stockpot. Bring to boil, skim off any foam; add remaining ingredients. Bring to a steady bubbling, but not a rolling boil. Cook, uncovered, for 1-1/2 to 2 hours. Strain through a fine sieve or cheesecloth; add salt and pepper if needed.
Spoon off some, but not all, of the oil, as it contains much flavor.
Serve as a soup, or add broth to fish chowders or pasta sauces.
Makes about 5 quarts.