Dining out with friends and sharing a nice meal is one of my favorite pastimes, but inviting friends into my home and cooking for them is what I love most. Cooking with my good friend Chef Haru Kishi has become somewhat of a ritual, where I take great joy in sharing our mutual love of cooking and good food. It’s rare to find somebody who has a similar palate and an equal amount of passion for the culinary arts, and I feel extremely lucky to be able to share these kitchen experiences with him. We’ve created some memorable and fantastic meals together using theme ingredients- lamb saddle, suckling pig, white truffle and black truffle. This time we chose lobster, and we prepared a tasty dinner for a special gathering of friends at my house.
Our Maine lobsters arrived alive and kicking in mint condition. Apparently FedEx has state-of-the-art lobster aquariums, designed to keep lobsters in a spa-like stress-free environment for optimum flavor and efficient delivery. Although it’s common to dunk live lobsters directly into hot water for boiling, it is said that the shock of hitting the boiling water toughens the muscles, resulting in a less palatable plate of crustacean. Some also feel that this method is cruel, although research indicates that the lobster has no central nervous system or cerebral cortex to register pain. To kill a lobster humanely, you can put it in the freezer for an hour, or you can do what we did- plunge a sharp knife at the crosshatch behind the eyes through the spinal cord for a quick kill. Of course, the most humane way to kill a lobster is to not kill one, but humans are going above and beyond in trying to devise humane methods of lobster execution, such as a machine that electrocutes crustaceans called CrustaStun. Are we going too far?
After cutting down through the top center of its head, we separated the tail from the head in a steady twisting motion. Removing the hard exoskeleton on the head revealed its contents: gills which were removed with kitchen scissors, and pale green tomalley (liver) and dark green coral (eggs) that were carefully extracted for our sauces. The claws were also removed from the body and the tail was cleaned of its central intestine or ‘vein’.
The lobster tails and the claws were boiled separately in lemon salt water, as they have different boiling times. The flesh was carefully removed whole from each part of the lobster in preparation for the entrées.
All of the shells and legs were thrown into a dutch oven along with star anise, shallots, lemon zest, carrots, bay leaf, garlic, tomato paste, chopped tomatoes, basil stems, black peppercorn, thyme and white wine to make a lobster bisque. This wonderfully aromatic and enticing stew was slowly reduced on the stove top and eventually strained to make the perfect sauce for the lobster dish.
We were pleasantly surprised to encounter an abundance of fresh mushrooms at the Farmers market that morning. Large spongy morels, plump firm porcini and earthy seductive chanterelles were irresistible, even though we already had a summer black truffle for our lobster feast. The three soft mushrooms were pan sautéed with shallots and garlic, deglazed with white wine and finished with heavy cream.
Bright beautiful radishes that came in colorful bunches were transformed into a simple but hearty farmers market vegetable pot along with cherry tomatoes and fresh herbs.
For appetizers we served foie gras 4 ways. I had too many ideas for what I wanted to do with my Rougié whole duck foie gras torchon that I had previously bought from Epicure Imports, so I decided to play around with it a little. Some were coated with Thomas Haas‘ Aztec cocoa powder containing ancho chile powder and decorated with gold flakes. Another variation was simply finished with Halen Môn Welsh sea salt with Tahitian vanilla. Yet another got a luxurious coat of freshly grated summer black truffle while the fourth and final preparation was topped with Bing cherries that were pitted and pickled with apple cider vinegar, black peppercorn, cloves, star anise, sugar and water.
Each preparation introduced a new and exciting way to enjoy foie gras, but the table favorite seemed to be the cherry pairing. The second round of the foie gras torchon was prepared with a combination of all 4, topped with a splash of vanilla sea salt, a heap of black truffles, a topping of marinated cherries and a touch of gold flakes.
For the second course, I wanted to recreate one of my favorite dishes from a recent dinner that I had at Pierre Gagnaire’s Twist in Las Vegas- red beet and champagne parfait with beet würtz spuma. I loved the vibrant blood red color of the beet spuma and the refreshing flavors of the champagne sorbet, but I wanted to give it my own ‘twist’ for a simpler at-home version. After roasting red beets in the oven, I cut them into bite sized cubes and marinated them with Navel orange juice, pulp and zest in the fridge. To serve, I filled martini glasses with the beet cubes, poured champagne over it and topped it with bright red beet root foam made with gelatin. The layers of different textures and sweet flavors was a success, thanks to Gagnaire’s inspiration.
For the final lobster course we quickly sautéed foie gras morsels with a splash of black vinegar, and mixed it with the farmers market vegetables, creamed mushrooms, lobster bisque, lobster coral and lobster tomalley to make a luxurious and flavorful base upon which to crown the juicy lobster meat. This was one decadent and truly delicious plate, bursting with fresh vegetables and fungi at the peak of their season and complemented by the rich umami of the lobster innards and foie gras.
Lobster can’t get any better than this, but even in this already perfect dish, something was still missing. A final garnish of shaved black summer truffles did just the trick.
With wonderful champagne and French wine from our sommelier dinner guest, a beautifully set table with Calla lilies and candles, delicious food, lively music and a good bunch of friends, this intimate dinner at home was a successful and fun event. Dinner chez moi…the best place on earth.
Random trivia: Did you know that you can hypnotize a lobster by rubbing its carapace (the area between the eyes) vigorously with either your hand or an object? We used a butter knife to hypnotize our lobster, and made it do a perfectly balanced handstand on its head and claws with its tail straight up in the air.