November 11, 2009

Lobster Thermidor

I learned a valuable lesson last night: Cooking French food is a HUGE pain in the ass, but it's worth it!

I was making lobster Thermidor, practicing Julia Child's classic recipe for my Girls Night Out class on Saturday. For the class, I've chosen all dishes from the Julie & Julia movie: steamed artichokes with lemon butter sauce, onion soup (in France, it's called simply onion soup, not FRENCH onion soup), lobster Thermidor, & chocolate cake with almonds.

Steaming live lobsters is actually much less traumatic in real life.

Ok, so, there are A LOT of steps to making lobster Thermidor...which is basically just lobster meat mixed into a cream sauce with mushrooms, then topped with cheese & baked. Here's a general break-down of the steps:
  1. Steam the lobster in broth of white wine, water, onions, celery, carrots, bay, tarragon, pepper, etc.
  2. Stew sliced mushrooms in butter & lemon juice.
  3. Remove the lobster & drain the broth.
  4. Strain the mushrooms & add their liquid to the lobster broth. Reduce.
  5. Cook butter & flour together, then add the lobster broth.
  6. Strain the lobster's guts (the coral & green gunk inside) and mix with egg yolk, dry mustard, & cream. Add the broth to this mixture.
  7. Add more cream to the sauce, cook until thickened.
  8. Remove the lobster meat from the shells. Cook in butter, add cognac.
  9. Mix the lobster meat with the cooked mushrooms and some of the sauce.
  10. Spoon in the empty shells, top with more sauce & grated Parmesan.
  11. Broil until bubbly & browned.
Half way through all this straining, mixing, & reducing I thought to myself, "There's got to be an easier way! I could have just made a mushroom cream sauce to mix with the lobster. This is RIDICULOUS!" I think Jerad felt the same way; he was getting a tad frustrated after I'd dirtied nearly every pan in the house and gotten lobster juice all over the counter.

But, I was determined to follow the recipe.

An hour and a half later, as I was eating the creamy & richly-sauce lobster, I had an epiphany. THIS is why people are so smitten with French food! I finally understood that all those steps--all the straining, mixing, & reducing--is necessary to create all those LAYERS OF FLAVORS. A simple cream sauce wouldn't have tasted like that. No way. Even Jerad is now a French food convert.

A few notes:
  • Julia's recipe calls for steaming the lobster for 20 minutes, cooking the meat in butter for 5 minutes, and baking the assembled dish for another 10-15 minutes. I think this is WAY too long to cook lobster. I didn't want rubbery pieces, so I steamed the lobster for only 8 minutes (just long enough to kill it and start cooking the meat). I finished cooking the meat in the butter, then just broiled the final dish for a few minutes to heat it through & brown the cheese.
  • I think I'll steam the lobster for a couple minutes longer next time. When I cut it in half, there was green gunk EVERYWHERE inside. I didn't get much to add to the sauce.
  • Cutting the whole lobster in half to use the shells for serving was more trouble than it's worth. I plan to serve this in scallop shells at my cooking class.
  • I found the sauce to be TOO thick, so I added much more cream (and white wine) at the end.
  • While it turned out good in the end, I think part of the trouble was that I was trying to make only a third of the recipe. I'd do either HALF a recipe or the whole thing.
Lobster Thermidor
from Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking


So many steps are involved in the preparation of a really splendid lobster Thermidor, no wonder it costs a fortune in any restaurant! But it is not a particularly difficult dish to execute, and everything may be prepared in advance and heated up just before serving. This is an especially attractive recipe for lobster Thermidor because the meat is stirred in hot butter before it is sauced, and turns a rosy red. Buy lobsters weighing a good 2 pounds each, so the shells will be large enough to hold the filling.

A Note on Dealing with Live Lobsters: If you object to steaming or splitting a live lobster, it may be killed almost instantly just before cooking if you plunge the point of a knife into the head between the eyes, or sever the spinal cord by making a small incision in the back of the shell at the juncture of the chest and the tail.


Serves 6

Kitchen Supplies:

* Covered, enameled or stainless steel kettle with tight-fitting cover
* Covered, enameled or stainless steel saucepan
* enameled or 4-cup stainless steel saucepan
* 1/2-quart enameled or stainless steel saucepan
* Wooden spoon
* Wire whip
* 3-quart mixing bowl
* 12-inch enameled or stainless steel skillet
* Shallow roasting pan or fireproof serving platter

Steaming the Lobster:

* 3 cups dry white wine or 2 cups dry white vermouth
* 2 cups water
* 1 large onion , thinly sliced
* 1 medium carrot , thinly sliced
* 1 stalk celery , thinly sliced
* 6 sprigs parsley
* 1 bay leaf
* 1/4 tsp. thyme
* 6 peppercorns
* 1 Tbsp. fresh or dried tarragon
* 3 live lobsters , 2 pounds each
* 1/2 pound sliced fresh mushrooms
* 1 Tbsp. butter
* 1 tsp. lemon juice
* 1/4 tsp. salt

Sauce:

* 5 Tbsp. butter
* 6 Tbsp. flour
* 1 Tbsp. cream
* 1 Tbsp. dry mustard
* 2 egg yolks
* 1/2 cup whipping cream
* 4 to 6 Tbsp. more whipping cream
* Pinch cayenne pepper

Sautéed Lobster Meat:

* 4 Tbsp. butter
* 1/3 cup cognac

Final Assembly:

* 1/2 cup grated Parmesan or Swiss cheese
* 2 Tbsp. butter , cut into bits

Steaming the lobsters: Simmer wine, water, vegetables, herbs, and seasonings in the kettle for 15 minutes. Then bring to a rolling boil and add the live lobsters. Cover and boil for about 20 minutes. The lobsters are done when they are bright red and the long head-feelers can be pulled from the sockets fairly easily.

While the lobsters are steaming, stew the mushrooms slowly in the covered saucepan with the butter, lemon juice, and salt for 10 minutes.

The sauce: When the lobsters are done, remove them from the kettle. Pour the mushroom cooking juices into the lobster steaming juices in the kettle and boil down rapidly until liquid has reduced to about 2 1/4 cups. Strain into the 4-cup enameled or stainless steel saucepan and bring to the simmer.

Cook the butter and flour slowly together in the 1 1/2-quart saucepan for 2 minutes without browning. Off heat, beat in the simmering lobster-cooking liquid. Boil, stirring, for 1 minute. Set aside. Film top of sauce with the cream.

Split the lobsters in half lengthwise, keeping the shell halves intact. Discard sand sacks in the heads, and the intestinal tubes. Rub lobster coral and green matter through a fine sieve into the mixing bowl, and blend into it the mustard, egg yolks, cream, and pepper. Beat the sauce into this mixture by driblets.

Return the sauce to the pan, and stirring with a wooden spoon, bring it to the boil and boil slowly for 2 minutes. Thin out with tablespoons of cream. Sauce should be thick enough to coat a spoon fairly heavily. Taste carefully for seasoning. Set aside, top filmed with a spoonful of cream.

Sautéing the lobster meat: Remove the meat from the lobster tails and claws, and cut it into 3/8-inch cubes. Set the skillet with the butter over moderate heat. When the butter foam begins to subside, stir in the lobster meat and sauté, stirring slowly, for about 5 minutes until the meat has turned a rosy color. Pour in the cognac ("Off the heat!" says Kelly. "You don't want to set your kitchen on fire!") and boil for a minute or two, shaking the skillet, until the liquid has reduced by half.

Final assembly: Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Fold the cooked mushrooms and two thirds of the sauce into the skillet with the lobster meat. Arrange the split lobster shells in the roasting pan. Heap the lobster mixture into the shells; cover with the remaining sauce. Sprinkle with cheese and dot with butter. The recipe may be prepared ahead up to this point and refrigerated.

Place in upper third of 425-degree oven for 10 to 15 minutes, until lobster is bubbling and the top of the sauce is nicely browned. Serve immediately on a platter or serving plates.

1 comment:

WizzyTheStick said...

Wow! You are a brave gal. Prior to kids I might have attempted this. I can imagine that it is so worth the effort.