I think I can honestly say that I’ve held a genuine obsession for lobsters for the whole of my life. I first handled a live one, probably aged about 5, hunted for them at low-tide with my Father (at not a lot older), and constructed my first homemade pot a few years later, having been shown how to use a netting needle by dear old Dougie.
And here I am, forty-odd years adrift from my first ever catch and still relishing the memory and excitement of that wonderful sense of anticipation, of the contents held, by the weedy and barnacled creel that approaches the surface, the saturated and slippery rope spooling onto the boards of my dinghy as I haul away. The moment of truth, the opening of the door, the discarding of the bycatch: shore crabs, hermits, starfish, a blenny.
Old bait removed, a fresh plaice-frame is doubled over and secured on the string. Door closed and the pot rests briefly on the stern before returning to the sea bed, accompanied by the clattering of the cork line, as it pays back out and the splash of the dahn as it remarks the target.
A sea of glass, the July sun-sparkle shimmering radiantly away to the East’ard horizon. The gentle slop and lap as I pull back towards the shore, oar leathers creaking rhythmically in the rowlocks. Betwixt my bare feet crawls a creature of indescribable beauty- my prize and my possession. My Lobster.
Ok reverie over. It’s time to talk recipes.
Obviously, I’ll take my lobster any which way it comes; boiled, grilled, sautéed, baked or bisqued it’s hard to define which method is preferable. A simple salad, adorned with pasta, a l’Americaine or just in a crusty roll, I adore all, but this weekend with a delivery of Dreckly beauties gracing my kitchen, I decided on an old mainstay.
Lobster Thermidor (For two)
In our house, lobster is usually only consumed by myself and my beloved OH, son not being overly enamoured, and daughter having annoyingly and frustratingly developed a shellfish allergy (only Crustacea) about five years ago. *Sigh*
So, armed with all the accoutrements needed for a Friday night seafood extravaganza, I produced this version of an “Open” Thermidor of Lobster i.e. In this case without the shell, (OH not really being a fan of it- or fish bones either). Just as sublime in taste and texture -just without the aesthetics of the natural receptacle.
I love to cook a live lobster. There’s something about the process that is reverent and symbolises to me the true concept of wild food that has been caught in a wholly natural way. However, I appreciate that most will receive their fish pre-cooked and with this in mind I shall start at the dressing stage. Although I would make the note that, if possible, all shellfish should be cooked in seawater for maximum effect.
Having removed all legs and claws from the body, I then disengage the tails in a gentle twisting action. These can then be “peeled”, as I remove the meat whole by squeezing the tail, face up, in one hand longitudinally, until an audible crack is heard. Once cracked along the length then the shell can be stripped back and the flesh removed in one entire piece. This in then split in half with the knife along its length and the intestinal tract removed. I then return to the head and split that too and set aside the liver (or tomalley) for use in the sauce. The head too contains meat under the carapace, which needs to be winkled out of the cavities with the pick and probably eaten on the spot!
Claws, I separate down into sections, part at the joints and crack with the back of the knife to reveal the meat. Legs too can yield, depending on the size of the fish, but I generally put in the stock, or exert my cook’s prerogative of sucking the meat out of each one, aided by a squeeze of the teeth.
Having removed any unwanted parts then for the cooking, I slice all the meat up into bite size chunks and put into a heavy iron, ceramic or earthenware dish and set aside.
2oz (about 50g) butter
I small onion or 2 shallots (finely chopped)
A generous splash of Vermouth (Noilly Prat)
3/4 pint (500ml) good shellfish stock. (Previously made)
1/4 pint (ish) (100ml) Double Cream
A pinch of freshly chopped Tarragon.
1/2tsp English Mustard
Sea salt and ground black pepper to taste.
A good sprinkling of freshly grated Parmesan.
Sweat the onion/shallots off in the butter, in a saucepan taking care not to caramelise. After a few mins, then add in the stock, vermouth and half of your cream and bring to the boil, cooking further until all is reduced by half. Add in the remaining cream and leave to simmer.
Stir then until the sauce feels thick enough and doesn’t run off the spoon easily. Then you can add in the mustard, the tarragon, the tomalley from the lobsters’ heads, whisk all together and season as necessary.
The resultant mixture I then keep on a low heat, whilst I fire up the grill and get to a high temperature. Once ready to grill, then pour the mixture over the lobster meat and dust with the Parmesan. Then whack under the grill until you have bubbling and browning (and it will suddenly smell sublime!)
Serve how you wish. This time I accompanied it with some freshly-dug and sautéed Maris Bard and a green salad. French bread also serves equally well. A massively flavoursome and entirely satisfying supper.
One day, I shall again, fish my own Lobster Pots.