For a good week, Cindie and I googled, researched, consulted, emailed, talked, and gawked over numerous recipes and our overall menu (with Odie in the mix, we would need to satisfy diverse palates). Plus platter options, color schemes, and possible flowers to grace the table (ok, since we were cooking at her house, that would be the bar, not the table, but you get the idea). Cindie was really getting into this blogger's accomplice thing.
When it came down to it, we both had a hankering for plain old boiled lobster with butter, but that seemed a little too simple for the Smackdown (my apologies to anyone who opted to go that route). Eventually, we decided to do lobster three ways. No, not a Cincinnati three-way. Or the kind of three-way Heff might be thinking of (lol). We settled on: 1) An old-school Lobster Thermidor using Julia Child's recipe. 2) A lobster ceviche (Cindie thought it would look pretty on the platter). And 3) A straight-up boiled lobster with butter.
Time to get ingredients in place. I ordered three lobsters from my favorite local fishmonger, Kevin Smith at Lobsta Bakes of Maine.
(No, that's not Kevin.) Kevin is, however, originally from a fishing family in Maine. Each Thursday he has lobster flown in, and many other fine fish to offer as well.
On my way to Cindie's on our appointed Friday, I picked up my/her/our lobsters, some scallops, and three mini-baguettes fresh from the Lobsta Bakes oven, along with three cans of Moxie, which, as I wrote about earlier in the week, is the official soft drink of Maine.
While I had (unsurprisingly) failed to fulfill my make-ahead agenda (roasting asparagus and making its sauce), when I arrived at Cindie's at 4:30, she had completed her appointed prep work - making a blueberry pie. I don't know whether blueberry pie has achieved designation as the "official" dessert of Maine, but it is certainly associated with Maine in popular culinary culture.
First, we started the long, slow process of boiling water and white wine in a big old pot.
We added onion, carrots, celery, and parsley. Plus bay leaves, peppercorns, tarragon, and thyme tied in cheesecloth (a bouquet garni).
While we waited for the pot to boil, we got that asparagus roasted.
And I made that sauce: Sauce Maltaise, or blood orange hollandaise sauce, which I discovered recently. Sounds fancy-schmancy, but this recipe, prepared in a food processor or blender, is a simple and close to foolproof version that doesn't entail a double-boiler. Basically it's just egg yolks, butter, lemon juice, and blood orange zest and juice (you can substitute regular orange for blood orange). Notorious for fiddling with recipes, The Intuitive Eggplant couldn't resist adding some chopped shallots and a bit of tarragon. Cindie thought I added too much lemon juice (and maybe I did, since squeezing citrus into a tablespoon is a pain in the butt and I tend to be a bit lax with measurements). Still, I thought it tasted great with both the asparagus and our (eventually) boiled lobster.
I also did my prep work for the ceviche. The lovely photo from Saveur magazine that inspired Cindie to suggest ceviche was of a recipe full of Asian ingredients I didn't have on hand or time to seek out. So I agreed to go the ceviche route and then just made it pretty much the way I always do - with lime, garlic, shallots, cilantro, serrano, a little thyme, chipotle, and tomato (I forgot the ground, toasted cumin seed this time).
I especially like the way raw scallops, thinly sliced, take to the lime juice and seasonings in "my" ceviche, and was glad I'd bought some to include. Frankly, I thought they were tastier than the (eventually cooked) lobster we added to the mix.
We also went ahead and sauteed mushrooms in butter with lemon juice, per Julia, for the Thermidor sauce.
So much for the easy stuff. The pot was boiling, Cindie's husband was home, and it was time to get serious.
We opened up the box to check out our crustaceans.
Odie was happy to remove the lobsters from their claw confines.
Photos, of course, needed to be taken.
Cindie grabbed her camera and got in on the photogging action too.
Some ritual taunting of Oscar, the overly curious Labradoodle, was also in order.
Then Odie plunged the first lobsters into the pot.
We debated back and forth about how long to cook our one-and-a-half-pounders. Cindie thought most modern recipes recommend 10-12 minutes. Julia says 20 minutes for 2-pound lobsters. I was inclined to go with an oft-repeated rule of thumb that says they're done when the antennae pull out easily. Well, we cooked them past the 12-minute mark, and maybe even past the 15-minute mark, until Odie finally yanked out a doggone antenna and we pronounced them done.
Here are our first two, sitting for a minute in the sink, until we transferred them to a cooler. For the Thermidor, they would need to be cool enough to handle and split lengthwise. For the ceviche, they would need to be cold.
While the lobsta cooled, Cindie and I introduced Odie to blogs, by showing him mine and Heff's. We had tried to explain what a blog is, but it didn't really click until he saw one for himself. Now Odie thinks blogs are cool, mentioned repeatedly that he "likes those comments," and went on to tell his buddies all about blogs, his new discovery.
Time to get serious again. The recipe says to add the mushroom cooking juices to the kettle (aka big old pot). But since we had more boiling liquid in our big old pot than Julia called for, AND wanted to reserve some of it for cooking the third lobster, AND we were halving the recipe, AND I didn't think we had a high enough ratio of wine to water in the boiling liquid, I started doing as I usually do, adjusting as I go. We didn't have much in the way of mushroom cooking juices, so we poured some of the boiling liquid into the skillet the mushrooms were sauteed in, added some more wine, then let it reduce.
Meanwhile, Cindie began the roux in a second skillet (ok, so we used skillets instead of saucepans per the recipe, but I think we still ended up with just as many dirty dishes as called for in the original). Anyway, Cindie pointed out an ambiguity from Julia. The recipe says that once the butter and flour have been cooked together without browning, "off heat" you're supposed to beat in the lobster cooking liquid, then boil, stirring for one minute. However, you can't boil "off heat." So we returned the skillet to the burner for the requisite boiling, and moved on to the next step: splitting the lobsters.
Cindie and I realized we suck at splitting lobsters, even with our "good" kitchen knives, so after mangling one, we turned the job over to Odie and his knife. Thank goodness we had an experienced hunter and fisherman to help us out.
He did a far more successful job of cutting his cleanly in half.
Next, Cindie and I set upon the task of removing the lobster meat. To be honest, I'm not sure we actually managed to figure out which were the "sand sacks in the heads and the intestinal tubes," which you're supposed to discard, vs. the lobster coral and green matter, which you're supposed to rub through a fine sieve into a mixing bowl. But we at least set the heads aside (to been turned into lobster stock, along with the remaining shells, at a later date), so I think we're safe there. There wasn't a whole lot of "green matter" but we dutifully tried to rub it through a sieve, where most of it stuck, and combined what little we could salvage with dried mustard, egg yolks, cream, and pepper.
At this point, you're supposed to beat the previously reduced sauce into the mixing bowl stuff "by driblets." But we started to get derailed and instead did it the other way around, beating the mixing bowl stuff into the sauce. I'm sure our derailing was due to the complexity of the instructions, not the beers we'd consumed as we got hungrier and hungrier. Here's our sauce (which by that point had become quite thick) "filmed with cream," which the recipe says you're supposed to do twice, although we only did it once. I haven't a clue what the purpose of "cream filming" is, and I'd say this is more of a douse than a film, but, oh, well.
You're supposed to saute the cut-up lobster with "foaming" butter until it achieved a "rosy" color, THEN add cognac to it, and THEN reduce it by half. But alas, recipe dyslexia overcame me again, and I added the cognac before real "rosiness" was achieved (the red bits in the photo above were just as red before and after this step).
At one point, our sauce actually looked like this:
Nonetheless, we persevered, combining the cognac'd lobster with the long-since sauteed mushrooms and something resembling the prescribed 2/3 of the broken sauce, stuffing the result into Odie's lovely split shells, and topping them with parmesan. Here they are before we put them in the oven and topped them with the remaining sauce.
We also boiled the third lobsta straight up. Here's its much more properly cooked tail:
Five hours after we started, we were finally ready to eat.
Fortunately I snapped the photo above before what happened next. Cindie thought it would make for an attractive photo if we set the asparagus/Thermidor platter on a blue placemat. Reaching for that placemat, she tipped the platter and everything landed on the floor. She managed to pick up most of it before I could grab my camera.
Odie said he wished he had a camera to catch the look on my face when she dumped it. But Cindie coolly pronounced it "Deconstructed Lobster Thermidor" - our inadvertent fourth lobsta dish of the night.
After the cursing and laughter subsided, we gave up on worrying what things looked like and just set in to eatin'.
1. Cook with friends who will humor you, especially when it comes to delayed dining for ambitious projects. Bonus points if they have a dishwasher. This evening was so much more fun than if I'd earnestly tackled this dish by my lonesome!
2. A hunter, and a hunter's knife, are your friends. If, after the knives are put away, you can persuade a hunter . . .
3. If you experience anxiety trying to make a lobster (or other) dish from a Julia Child recipe, just remember this:
4. Even a challenging meal is always better if it ends in dessert, especially if it's one you didn't have to make yourself.