Gourmet Secrets: Lobster love is forever
Done correctly (which means painstakingly), the classic Lobster Thermidor will take you straight to heavenbrunch Updated: Mar 03, 2018 21:57 IST
A lobster is one of those foods with which you straight away associate ‘luxury’...even if you don’t eat it. Why? Well, price for a start, and the fact that they are not available everywhere. French chefs love using them because of their beautifully sweet tender flesh and ability to adapt to many sauces and flavours. In India, we don’t actually find lobsters with two prominent fleshy front claws. What we have are crayfish – sweet and juicy and in no way inferior, but not quite the same as its French and American cousins.
I actually love lobster just grilled with garlic butter or basted with good olive oil. If celebration is in the air, then a buttery vanilla sauce made with real vanilla beans or the classic Lobster Thermidor would be my pick. Lobster Thermidor was created around 1880 by Auguste Escoffier, then working in Maison Maire, a Parisian restaurant near the Théâtre de la Porte-Saint-Martin. A successful reprise of the play Thermidor by Victorien Sardou opened in that theatre. The play took its name from a summer month in the French Republican Calendar, during which the Thermidorian Reaction overthrew Robespierre during the French Revolution. Maison Maire’s owner, Paillard, changed the name of this recipe after the play gained in popularity.
Butter makes it better
What’s not to love about succulent lobster meat smothered in a creamy cheesy sauce enhanced with brandy and warm crustacean juices, spiced with mustard and finished with mushrooms? Clearly part of the wave we now refer to as ‘retro food’, partly because nobody in their right mind would be able to digest it on a regular basis anymore and partly because a genuine Lobster Thermidor is indeed a very complicated dish involving great skill and patience. The lobster is cooked traditionally, in a court bouillon or stock of white wine and herbs with vegetables. The mushrooms are stewed separately in butter. Juices are strained and reduced and then added to a roux (cooked flour and butter) which you finish with cream, egg yolks and mustard. The lobster meat is then removed from the shell, sautéed in more butter, placed back into the shell, topped with the ‘mornay sauce’ and Gruyere or Parmesan and dotted with, yes, you’ve guessed it, more butter before it is popped under a grill to brown or gratinate.
You require several pots and pans to fulfil all the stages and elements of the dish, which means French chefs in the late 19th century must have had a whole battalion of people to wash up and prep for them. If you really want to attempt this dish, brace yourself for lots of work and lots of mess in the kitchen.
Bring on the best
My serious advice is to go to the lovely Luna Gusta on the 38th floor of the swanky St. Regis hotel in Mumbai, above their bar Luna Nudo. They make a real Lobster Thermidor with lobster flown in from Boston and there is no compromise whatsoever on any part of this complicated recipe. In true St. Regis style, they have re-done the menu to feature ‘stars’ of the culinary world, timeless classics you understand (well if you are over 50), old favourites done really well. Their shepherd’s pie has chunks of mouth watering lamb braised for hours in red wine and mutton stock with a smooth as silk mashed potato or puree. The avocado on toast is actually toasted brioche, and the mac and cheese has nothing to do with boring white sauce, but is macaroni in a sauce of flavourful melted cheese almost like a fondue. It’s all really delicious and worthy of a great celebration.
Don’t miss the Baked Alaska. You must really be over 50 or a fan of Julia Child to remember that one. All the recipes are executed with great attention to detail by young chef Yogi. Some, like the Lobster Thermidor, go the extra mile with the addition of Cognac instead of brandy and delicate shimeji mushrooms instead of button ones. The Lobster Thermidor here is truly one of the best I have ever had, and certainly the best I have had outside France. Here’s the Luna Gusta recipe if you have the resilience and willpower to try it.
•1 parboiled Boston lobster with claw, meat coarsely chopped. Save shells for use when baking.
•2 tablespoons butter
•1 ½ tablespoons olive oil
•2 tablespoons flour
•¾ cup light cream
•¼ cup white wine
•1 tablespoon lemon juice
•1 clove minced garlic
•1 teaspoon fresh chopped parsley
•¼ cup diced leeks
•½ cup sliced mushrooms
•½ cup shredded cheddar cheese (white)
•¼ cup Parmesan cheese (freshly grated)
•½ teaspoon Dijon Mustard
•Salt and pepper to taste
•2 table spoon Hollandaise
For Hollandaise Sauce
•¾ cup unsalted butter (clarified )
•2 large egg yolks
1.Fill a three-quart saucepan with one inch of water and bring to a simmer over medium heat; then reduce the heat to low.
2.In separate steel bowl put egg yolks and beat over a simmering pot of water until the egg yolks become thick and creamy.
3.Once the egg yolks have reached the desired thickness, remove from heat. Using a ladle, slowly drizzle in the warm clarified butter, starting with just a few droplets first to get the emulsion going.
4.Continue streaming in the clarified butter until it is completely incorporated. Season with salt. Keep aside for further use.
For Lobster Thermidor preparation:
1.Sauté mushrooms in olive oil. Set aside.
2.Melt butter, add leeks and garlic. Cook for one to two minutes. Stir in flour to create roux.
3.Stir in wine and then slowly add cream – stirring constantly. Bring to a boil, and then reduce heat.
5.Add cheddar and Dijon Mustard whisk until cheese has melted. Season it with salt and pepper.
6.Stir in sautéed mushrooms and lobster.
7.Place lobster tail shells in a casserole dish. Fill shells with mixture and sprinkle with Parmesan and gratinate with Hollandaise sauce for five to 10 minutes.
Author Bio: Culinary expert and explorer Karen Anand has been writing extensively on the subject of food and wine for 30 years. Apart from having her own brand of gourmet food products, she has anchored top rated TV shows, run a successful chain of food stores, founded the hugely successful Farmers Markets, and worked as restaurant consultant for international projects, among other things. Her latest passion is food tours, a totally curated experience which Karen herself accompanies, the first of which was to Italy.
This is a fortnightly column. The next edition will appear on March 4.
From HT Brunch, March 4, 2018
Follow us on twitter.com/HTBrunch
Connect with us on facebook.com/hindustantimesbrunch