I felt as though I'd just asked David Copperfield to divulge the secrets behind his grand illusions.
Scott Andreasen, a chef on Monhegan Island off the coast of Maine, wasn't about to share his lobster stew recipe with me - or with anyone else for that matter. For 25 years, he explained, he has worked on that recipe. It's his child. And it's one drawing card that keeps the dining room at Monhegan House hopping all summer long. His steaks and Chicken Marsala also get raves, but it's the lobster stew that sends summer guests into orbit.
I was hardly the first to ask. Gourmet magazine had tried - and failed.
But Mr. Andreasen didn't exactly say a flat-out no. Instead, he agreed to let me watch him make his lobster stew back in the kitchen. If I watched closely, I just might figure it out. The only clue he'd give is that the recipe calls for 12 ingredients. If I got all 12, he'd tell me. If not, too bad.
At the appointed time, I entered the kitchen, ignoring posted signs to stay out, my pen, paper, and point-and-shoot camera ready to record his every move.
"Not fair," I commented, noticing that he'd already started. "Oh, that's just the lobster stock," he said. "It's the secret to my recipe." I took a good, long look into the pot. Lobster legs and bodies were simmering away in water. OK, he was being straight with me, I realized, still knowing that the Monitor policy of testing and sometimes developing recipes before publication would be especially crucial this time.
He had set down on the counter several tiny plastic cups of ingredients. I gave each one a look and a sniff. White pepper, paprika, minced shallots, and, what's that - honey!
Beside them was a stick of butter and cartons of heavy whipping cream and half-and-half. Whew. I knew the stew tasted rich, but I had no idea how rich. I was about to find out. So far, including lobster and the water it needed for stock, I'd listed nine ingredients on my pad. Only three to go.
His hands moved fast as he tossed ingredients into a sizzling hot saut pan beside the simmering stock.
First the butter, then some chopped shallots, a couple of pre-cooked lobster tails and claws, pepper, paprika, and then he paused to allow me a sniff of an herb he'd submerged in olive oil. Hmm. Parsley? He shook his head. Then after a long silence, during which I thought I'd failed my test, he whispered, "Cilantro." Ah. One of my favorites. I should've guessed.
Into the pan went the cilantro and olive oil. Next, he added two tablespoons of sherry, which can be omitted, then the stock, honey, more butter, heavy cream, and finally, the half-and-half.
As the mixture began to simmer, he turned and asked, "So, did you get all 12?"
As I rattled them off, he nodded in agreement. I'd gotten my recipe, and he'd kept his pride. But best of all was the final test: tasting. After that first rich and flavorful spoonful, I knew Andreasen's test had been worth the extra effort.
MONHEGAN HOUSE LOBSTER STEW
1/2 cup butter
2 shallots, minced
Claw, knuckle, and tail meat of four cooked 1-1/4 pound lobsters, cut into bite-sized pieces (reserve lobster bodies for stock)
1 teaspoon white pepper
1 teaspoon paprika
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
4 to 5 cups lobster stock
(see recipe below)
3 tablespoons honey
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup half-and-half
Additional cilantro for garnish
In a large pot, melt 1/4 cup of the butter over medium heat, watching it closely so it doesn't burn.
Add shallots, and let cook for 1 minute before adding lobster meat, pepper, paprika, olive oil, cilantro, lobster stock, honey, the remaining 1/4 cup of butter, heavy cream, and half-and-half.
Bring to a boil, then turn heat to low and let simmer for about 10 minutes before serving. Serve with additional chopped cilantro, if desired, and a loaf of quality French bread.
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 ribs celery, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
4 lobster bodies
6 cups water
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 bay leaf
In a large pot, heat olive oil. Add celery and onion and saut 2 to 3 minutes. Remove and discard lobster stomachs (small, soft sack directly in back of head).
Break up lobster bodies with hammer or rolling pin and add to pot. Saut for 2 to 3 minutes. Add 6 cups water, fennel seeds, peppercorns, and bay leaf.
Bring to full boil, then turn heat to low boil and cook, uncovered, for 45 minutes, or until stock has reduced to about 5 cups.
Strain stock through coarse sieve or colander.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society