Cooking at home with lobster

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.

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Bistro LQ

IMG_1030 When I first looked at Bistro LQ’s menu online, I got excited.  Really really excited.  A French restaurant in Los Angeles serving frog legs, foie gras, sweetbreads, head cheese, bone marrow, baby eel, duck gizzards, goat tripe and lamb tongue was a dream come true.  I almost cried tears of joy as I double and triple checked the website to make sure these weren’t typos.  Once inside the restaurant, decorated with floating glass globes that illuminated the tall ceilings, the menu read beautifully with a diversity of proteins and creative preparations that I had never seen before.

There was a lot oIMG_0946f thought and creativity infused into the description of each dish, and Chef Quenioux is not afraid to experiment with bold concepts and expensive delicacies.  It was difficult not to order everything on the menu.

The complimentary amuse bouche was a mussel over polenta with veal jus and lemongrass.  The polenta had a wonderful consistency, but the mussel had a slightly musty flavor.

IMG_0952 We started off with the foie gras 3 ways.  The first was a sautéed foie gras on top of roasted unagi with smoked green apple infusion sauce.  The dish looked mouthwateringly delicious, but the foie gras was unfortunately quite firm in consistency and overcooked.  The combination of foie gras with eel and apple sauce was a complex one that I was not able to appreciate in that one dish.

The other 2 preparations of foie gras came on a long rectangular glass plate.  The torchon style foie with violet scented bitter chocolate was divine.  The incredibly flavorful and tender foie paired beautifully with the bitterness of the thin dark chocolate squares, making for one of my favorite bites of the evening.  The Earl Grey tea roll, however, was hard and dry, reminding me of those stale airplane rolls that come in plastic bags on economy class food trays.

IMG_0955The foie gras sandwiched between quince marshmallows was a delight.  The marshmallows had an almost erotic supple pillowy consistency to them, and the foie was just as soft and delicate.  Except for the clear quince gelée, which was overwhelmingly sweet, this was a fairly good dish.

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The head cheese filo with watercress bouquet and anchovy emulsion was my other favorite dish of the evening.  As I cut through the middle of the filo packet effortlessly with my fork, the thousands of flaky layers of filo gave way to an incredibly rich and flavorful stew of warm head cheese.  The large chunks of tender head meat and collagenous marvels were well balanced with the tartness of the watercress and the salty anchovy emulsion.  This anchovy sauce, a concentrated version of the best bagna cauda you can ever have, was outstanding.

IMG_0963The frog legs were not so exciting.  The barbecue sauce was like American bbq sauce, and the spicy violet and begonia chutney an overly sweet version of Indian mango chutney.  Given Quenioux’s training in French cuisine, I hoped that he would serve frog legs the classic way- pan fried with garlic, butter and parsley.

The eel roll with fresh herbs was not only overcooked and dry, but also served with a plum sauce that was too sweet.  It was accompanied with chanterelle mushroom and grits, which was actually quite flavorful with a nice texture.  There was a small cIMG_0969rock pot of baby eels grilled with piment d’Espellete.  I was really looking forward to this dish, hoping for a true Basque rendition, but the eels were extremely soggy.  In fact, the oily eels easily broke apart, as if it had been marinating for months.  I was hoping for at least a little bit of texture.

 


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I was really interested in trying the monkfish cheeks.  I’ve had beef, veal and pork cheeks before, all of which have been flavorful and tender.  Why not monkfish cheeks?  After the foie, it’s probably the second most flavorful part of the fish.  I’m surprised other restaurants don’t serve it, considering how cheap the overhead is.  Well, this dish at Bistro LQ was a let down.  The cheek meat was overcooked, tough, dry and stringy.  However, the cipollini onions had a wonderful sweetness which paired well with the pomegranate molasses.  The molasses sauce was perfectly tart and sour, and it would go well on risotto among other things.

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The menu item I was most excited about was the lamb composition with medium rare roasted lamb chop, sautéed kidney, sautéed sweetbreads, poached tongue and shoulder confit with swiss chard gratin and jus roti with lemon and star anise.  Lamb is my favorite meat, and I love organs more than meats.  This dish for me was the ultimate extravaganza and dream come true.

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The lamb chop was well done, the sweetbreads were overcooked, the tongue was dry and tough, and the kidneys were stale.  I was so disappointed, I felt like crying. The swiss chard gratin didn’t provide any consolation either.  A delicious glass of Joseph Swan ‘Cuvée des Trois’ Pinot Noir from Sonoma saved my sour mood.

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The baby goat braised with Guajillo peppers and oregano scented tripes was also a disappointment.  The dry stringy goat meat, made into something that looked and tasted like a deep fried egg roll, was mediocre street food.  The tripe was too gamey and left a bad aftertaste.  I’m not sure if enough proper care went into its preparation.

The first dessert we had was the coconut dacquoise, Italian merinques with Mexican green onions, cilantro, fresh coconut and tartar of fresh mangoes with mastic powder.  It was an interesting dessert- I’ve never seen green onions and cilantro in a dessert dish.  I wasn’t too keen on the combination of flavors.

IMG_1019The composition around dark chocolate was much better.  The mole chocolate mousse with hints of complex Mexican spices was deep and tantalizing, and pouring warm dark chocolate sauce on it made it even more decadent.  The chocolate pancake with mascarpone cheese and chocolate oil was light and soft, and the soufflé style chocolate with szechuan peppercorn was wonderful.

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The most exciting part of the evening was the cheese cart.  They pulled out a spectacular rolling wooden cheese cart to the table side that was filled with classic and rare French cheeses.  Our French server was extremely knowledgeable about each cheese, where it came from and what it tasted like. It was so difficult to decide which ones to try, as in a perfect world one should be able to try all of them.

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We received 8 small mason jars containing different cheese condiments.  From what I could taste, they included: roasted cumin seeds, blueberry gelée, sweet onion jam, bell pepper mustard, cranberry chutney, green tomato compote and green tomatillo ketchup.  It was really fun to experiment with different taste combinations of cheeses and condiments, though ideally it would have been nice to receive guidance from the restaurant.

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IMG_1021As I savored the lemon and raspberry macaroons and wonderful marshmallow that came as our petit fours, I reflected on the Bistro LQ experience.  I wanted to call this my new favorite restaurant.  I envisioned myself going here every other week, feeling torn between the venison tartar and slow cooked scottish hare, or shall it be wild boar shank versus pigeon with gizzards and heart?  But alas, the menu and the vision was too ambitious, and the execution just could not keep up.  However, I support Quenioux’s vision and his willingness to serve bold dishes rich in game and organ meats, so I look forward to revisiting Bistro LQ again.

Bistro LQ

Random trivia:  Did you know that when piment d’Espelette (Espelette pepper) was first introduced to Europe in the 17th century, it was considered a cheap and reasonable substitute for black pepper, which was extremely expensive at that time?  Now the roles have reversed.  Piment d’Espelette retails at about $20 per 40 gram jar.