Early in the week, I wrote about how beautiful, simply prepared mussels started off a special meal with two of our closest friends. Herewith the rest of the meal and the thinking and preparation behind it, preparation being key if you want to enjoy your friends and a pre-prandial cocktail and not spend FOREVER in the kitchen away from people.
Peter wanted to do something special, lobsters and clams. I always like to throw some pork belly in there because the only belly people get when they eat at a friend's house is bacon. So, the question became how to use these three main items.
Clams make me think of chowder, especially as the cooler weather is setting in. Salt pork or bacon is the traditional beginning to a chowder, so we know belly and clams go together. But I wanted to feature the belly, so the day before the dinner, Friday, I braised a block of it with coriander and pepper submerged in chicken stock with some orange juice thrown in (which aligns with the coriander) in a low oven till it was fork tender then cooled it in the cooking liquid. Saturday midday I made what amounted to a clam chowder sauce, sans bacon—the cooking liquor with some garlic and thyme strained twice through cloth, reduced a little to fortify it, then thickened with roux, combined it with roughly chopped clams and set it aside. Chowder also has potatoes. I'd picked up some fingerlings at the market. Potatoes can be cooked in advance too (just don't cool them—keep them warm and buttered in a covered pot). I chopped some chives—the oniony herb would go perfectly.
The lobster course. Peter and Judy had never had butter poached lobster, a preparation Thomas Keller popularized at The French Laundry, so that was a no brainer. It's also the perfect way to prepare lobster when you're entertaining. But what to serve the lobster with? There were corn and limas at the market and those always make me think of succotash, which I knew Peter loved. But his body is giving him a hard time and corn was out because of its non-digestibility. Which dismayed me because I'd already bought the corn when he told me he couldn't eat it. So I decided to puree it to death and strain it. Pureed strained corn makes an awesome sauce all by itself, and it thickens on its own as the starch expands. When I make succotash, I start by sauteeing bacon, then cooking minced onion in the bacon fat. I'd do the same think here, mincing the bacon finely and cooking it that afternoon (saving the fat for the chowder roux).
So there it was, two fairly elaborate courses—pork belly and fingerlings on clam chowder and butter poached lobster on a succatash sauce—that come together in moments, with Donna able to take the first plate away for a quickie as I plated the remaining three. Cook, photograph and entertain at the same time. That's how fast it all came together. Saute the belly till it's crisp (actually, I'd fried some potatoes the night before and still had the fry oil on the stove, so I wound up deep-frying the pork belly—they didn't suffer for it!), heated the sauce, heated the potatoes, removed the belly to a paper towel, ladled the chunky chowdery sauce onto a plate, centered the pork belly, garnished with fingerlings and chives. Done.
I also had time to heat the butter I'd prepared earlier (beurre monte, butter melted by whisking it into a couple tablespoons of water so that it stays creamy and homogenized) to about 150 degress. I dropped the lobster tails into the butter and let them finish while we et our belly.
To finish the lobster, I poured the cold corn juice over the minced cooked bacon, brought it up to heat till it thickened, adding some butter
and lemon juice, salt and pepper, rewarmed the limas (cooked, shocked and peeled that afternoon)
in a little butter in the microwave, just enough to warm them. And it's done. So easy if you do everything a head.
I don't think I've written about butter poached lobster tail but it's easy and delicious.
How to butterpoach lobster tail:
Bring a big vat of water to a boil. Have a big pot with equal amounts of ice and water nearby. Boil the lobsters for three minutes. (I don't like to put live lobsters into boiling water so I put a knife straight down through their head—I don't like doing that either, but it's better for the lobster. It shouldn't be easy to put a knife through a lobster's head).
When the lobsters have boiled for three minutes, remove them from the water, twist off their arms. Plunge the lobsters into the ice water. Return the arms and claws to the boiling water for another few minutes. Then put these in the ice bath as well.
When the lobsters are completely chilled, twist off the tails from the bodies (you can do this before or after you shock them). Using kitchen shears or scissors, snip through the underside covering of the tail, peel the shell back and remove the entire tail. Trim away any strands, remove any roe you might find. (Reserve shells, legs and roe if you wish; if making lobster stock, cut away the feathery fleshy lungs above the legs.)
Cut through the legs and claws to remove the knuckle and claw meat. Place all the lobster on a paper-towel-lined plate, cover and refrigerate. (I saved four claws and all the knuckle meat to make a lobster salad for me and Donna the next day. Donna took a shot of the lobster just out of its shell—it looks cooked but it's raw in the middle. She posted on her blog.)
To prepare the butter, put an ounce of water in a sauce pan. Cut a pound of butter into big chunks. Put the pot over medium heat. When the water is hot, add a chunk of butter and begin whisking the water and shaking the pan. The butter will emulsify into the water. Keep adding chunks and whisking continuously until all the butter is melted. Remove from the heat, cover and keep in a warm spot till ready to use.
To cook the lobster, heat the butter (I like it to be 150 degrees, which I check with a thermometer, but if you don't have one, use your finger—the butter should be hot but not boiling or it will break and overcook the lobster). Drop your lobster and let it sit in the butter for about ten minutes. If the butter is between 140 and 150 you can leave it in there for a 20 minutes or longer (it will stay warm but won't over cook).
Finish your sauce with a little of the poaching butter, or, to make it easy, simply use the poaching butter as your sauce and serve with lemon wedges.
There truly is no better lobster than lobster poached in butter.