Lobster poached in butter

Photos by Donna (commentary here)

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.

Pork belly with potatoes

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.


26 Wonderful responses to “Butter Poached Lobster and
Pork Belly with Clams”

  • ntsc

    Save all the shell, the bodies and make stock. You can save the shells and bodies in the freezer. Simmer as you would a fish stock then freeze or can (as you would a fish stock).

    Personally I would rather drop the live lobster into the boiling water than try and drive a knife into the head. They will move away from the knife and I would rather not cut myself. I’ve done both.

  • Jeannie

    How decadent and the picture of the lobster is beautiful, What a great friend u r! I learned how to cook up mussels simply from Peter Kump, it is one of my favorite simple meals w/some good bread. This lobster recipe is getting filed away!!!

  • Rhonda

    Fantstic! I love this post. I love butter. I am so glad that Donna captured the shot for us to enjoy.

    I was taught, relatively recently, that if you put the lobster in the freezer for a few minutes before it goes into the pot, the lobster essentially goes to sleep and then dies immediately after going into the water. Have you ever heard of this? It came from someone who used to work under MPW so I kind of believe it but then again, the lobsters can’t really tell you can they. Maybe this makes the cook feel better and not the lobster. I’m not sure.

  • E. Nassar

    What a pair of lovely dishes. Your guests are lucky! Was there any dessert after this?
    Lobster with corn sauce must be in the air. I made butter-poached lobster following Keller’s recipe in Under Pressure. Cooked it Sous Vide and served it with an emulsified corn sauce. I also made a fish fillet with beurre blanc (I’m sure you’ll appreciate the French butter sauce Michael).
    Here’s the post: http://foodfilmcorner.wordpress.com/2009/09/10/lobster-mushrooms-corn-haddock-beans-beurre-blanc/

  • Julie

    Looks amazing. I love butter-poached lobster, too; just one of the many delights I’ve enjoyed as a result of TFL Cookbook. Thanks for posting.

  • Laura

    I dinner party such as this I have never attended. I obviously need to expand my circle of friends to include those who poach lobster in butter.

  • rob

    wow… that really looks like heaven on a plate.

    do you kill the heat after you put the lobster in the butter or do you just monitor the temp with the thermometer the whole time? don’t cover the pot correct?

  • ruhlman

    e nassar, I should have mentioned, peter and judy brought fresh peeled peaches, ice cream and raspberry sc, classic all the way.

    rob, it depends. want lobster to hit and stay at the low 140s

  • josh gamage

    I was just reading this recipe today in the French Laundry cook book. I have dispatched probably over 10,000 lobsters and this is my favorite way to eat it.

  • Kate in the NW

    I hope none of my friends read this. They all think that I cook them really special dinners.

    HA!!!! (rolling eyes and throwing hands up in utter defeat)

  • Powder

    Well Ruhlman it looks like we both have some bad karma heading our way now – due to lobster executions!

  • JunkyPOS

    WOW!!! I thought my head hurt before and now this!

    Lobsta and butta…I’am feelin’ verclemph’d. DIVE in’ indeed!

  • Tags

    If you really want to gild the lily, reduce some lobster stock to its strongest flavor beforehand, then add it to the poaching butter.

  • Helen

    Wounds lovely but this, “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” – seriously?! I feel sorry for you. Me and my mates can never get enough of the stuff! We had to re-name our latest gathering the ‘pork party’ 😉

  • jackie

    Good Lord. All I can think is how many calories and how much this would cost.

    Seems like you eat a lot of really rich food. Don’t you worry about weight gain, heart trouble?

    I’m always trying to figure out – do you still live in Cleveland? Where do YOU buy seafood here?

  • Non Dire Gol

    For those of you, who like myself, begin to salivate at the mear mention of pork belly, the first place to seek it out could be your Chinese markets. And you can find all of the other pig parts there, should you be interested.

  • Joe

    Michael – You’re killing me with the shellfish! I was recently diagnosed with a shellfish allergy and can’t have any, of any kind! Believe me, for someone born and bread in New England (and living in a seaport town), the mussels, lobster, and clams are almost too tempting!

  • luis

    Jackie check out the prices…”deliciasdeespana.com”. of ingredients these folks take for granted.
    This is the big time and it’s big on everything. A fantasy world of culinary excellence that requires you spare no expense.
    I can make a fair “fabada” for five or ten bucks or I can make one with their kit averaging 45 dollars… a six serving kit.
    Either way a bargain.. in a restaurant it would cost over 250 bucks to serve six a decent fabada meal…probably more.
    They sell hams for $1300 dollars…. So if Michael blows thirty or forty bucks on a lobster meal…it should not surprise you.
    The trick is to dial in your palate according to your budget. There is no right or wrong palate. Food is great at any level. I can’t stand the fancy charcuterie like serrano ham etc.. I find it extremelly salty and intolerable sometimes. Prosciutto is probably lost on me, although I do like it on my pizza’s.
    No right or wrong…but be carefull were you allow your palate to wander to…let your budget and your health dietary requirements be your guide.

  • Lamar

    September starts Spiny Lobster season here in Hawaii. Yesterday I lucked out and happened upon an impromptu roadside lobster sale. The guys selling it had just been diving for them.

    It gave me the chance to try out butter-poaching. Very nice technique, indeed. Didn’t hurt that the lobster was less than four hours out of the ocean.

    So damn lucky to live here. Apart from lobster season starting, sashimi-grade yellowfin tuna is 3.99 per pound at the moment.