Christmas Lunch 2010 Part 1 – Thomas Keller’s Lobster Rolls
At one point in my life, Christmas Lunch was a Big Deal. It began as a haphazard cooking competition: each family member would cook a dish and present it to my grandma for final judgement. In a perfect world, grandma would objectively rate each dish based solely on taste, and the sole winner would receive her blessing, eternal love, and have bragging rights for the rest of the year.
Unfortunately, our competitive efforts ended on the very first try. I don’t think Grandma ever quite understood what we were trying to accomplish; she liked pretty much everything we made. In her mind, one dish wasn’t really better than the rest, and considering she likes her steak a charred, overcooked slab loaded with more carcinogens than meat, perhaps she wasn’t the best judge.
It also didn’t help that my dad simply made variations of scrambled eggs with different toppings every year. And of course, self-proclamations of his eggs being superior to all the other dishes on the table never ended. So my mom had the bright idea of scrapping the cooking competition and simply having the children (me and my two sisters) prepare Christmas Lunch while the adults (my parents, aunt, and grandma) relaxed in the living room. And so our competition evolved to a family tradition of me and my two sisters preparing lunch for the family. No rivalry, no bragging rights, just lots of love, and (hopefully) lots of Good Food!
This year, I decided to make Thomas Keller’s Lobster Rolls. Casual yet luxurious, they seemed like a satisfactory choice for Christmas lunch. One slight problem though: I had never dealt with live lobsters before!
Easy steps first: make a stock to steep the lobsters in. Keller advises to use a Court Bouillon, which literally translates as “quick stock” and is often used for cooking seafood.
Court Bouillon, Adapted from Ad Hoc at Home
4 leeks (white and green parts only), split lengthwise, washed well, and cut crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces
4 large carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch-thick rounds
3 cups coarsely chopped onions
2 medium fennel bulbs, trimmed and coarsely chopped
4 quarts water
2 cups dry white wine (I used Sauvignon Blanc)
1 cup white wine vinegar
2 lemons, halved
First, combine the chopped vegetables and water and bring to a boil. Then reduce it to a simmer and add the wine and vinegar. Finally, squeeze in the lemon juice, add the lemon halves to the pot, and you’re done!
Court Bouillon is fantastic to use, especially if you’re poaching seafood. Keller recommends steeping the lobsters in the flavored liquid because it adds more flavor and complexity to the meat rather than cooking them in water or steaming them. I definitely agree–– with a strong acidic kick from the wine, vinegar and lemon, the stock brings out the sweetness in the lobster.
With the Court Bouillon ready, it was time to cook the lobsters!
I approached the live lobsters with trepidation, and I’m still not sure why. Perhaps it was because Julia and Julia was the last movie I had seen, and I remembered the chaotic lobster cooking scene. Or possibly it was because lobsters reminded me of gigantic forearm-sized cockroaches with giant pincers.
In any case, I needed protection, so I armed myself with every housewife’s first line of defense: a trusty orange rubber glove. My grandma saw me readying myself with the gloves, and she just laughed. Apparently most people just pick up live lobsters with their bare hands?
The live lobsters were cooked one at a time and placed in head first; it’s supposed to be the quickest and most painless way to kill a lobster. If placed in tail first, they splash boiling liquid all over the place. After the lobsters are submerged in the Court Bouillon, cover the pot, and let it come to a boil again. Once the stock is boiling, remove the lid and let it continue to boil for two minutes.
After two minutes, remove the pot from the heat, let the lobsters steep in the hot broth for ten minutes, and then remove. At this point, I ran cold water over the lobsters to avoid any carryover cooking and risk overcooking the lobster meat.
Working over a tray, twist off and remove the tail from each lobster body. Then twist and pull off each of the claws. To remove the tail meat, hold each tail flat, back shell facing up, and using a sharp knife, cut lengthwise in half. Then, pull out and discard the vein (digestive tract) that runs the length of the tail. Don’t forget the meat from the knuckles and legs! I’ve found those to be a lobster’s sweetest meat! To remove the leg meat, simply roll a rolling pin over the legs to force the meat out. As for the knuckles, I just hit it with the blunt end of my knife to crack the shell and wiggled the meat out.
With the lobster meat cooked, it was time to assemble the lobster rolls!
Keller’s Lobster Rolls, Adapted from Ad Hoc at Home
1.5 lbs. (about 4 cups) cooked lobster, cut into 1/2 to 3/4 inch chunks (about 3 two-pound lobsters)
3-4 tbsp. mayonnaise
2 tbsp. minced onion
2 tbsp. finely chopped peeled celery
2 tsp. finely chopped tarragon
2 tsp. finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
2 tsp. chopped chives
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 hot dog buns
4 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
1 head butter lettuce, leaves separated, rinsed, dried and torn into pieces
Put the cooked lobster meat in a large bowl, add mayonnaise and stir gently to coat. Add the onion, celery, tarragon, parsley, chives, salt and pepper to taste, and stir gently. Squeeze the lime over the salad and fold in the juice. Cover and refrigerate.
After preparing the lobster filling, I realized I totally forgot to purchase hotdog buns! I called my sister, who happened to be with my dad, and had them pick me up some buns. Of course, my dad more than took up the challenge and ended up molesting every hotdog bun in the supermarket in search of the softest hotdog bun. He ended up selecting Dempster’s.
Just before serving, toast the hotdog buns then brush with butter. Line each bun with a couple of small pieces of lettuce, and mound the lobster meat in the buns. Finally, if you’d like, garnish the lobster rolls with pickled red onions.
At one point during my lobster roll preparation, I paused and grew worried. I’d spent a few hours on prep work and around $100 on ingredients. But after watching my parents take their first bite of the lobster roll, my fears were set aside. Keller’s lobster rolls were a hit! The meat was tender and flavorful from steeping in the Court Bouillon, and I liked that the lobster wasn’t drowning in mayonnaise. The herbs -especially the tarragon- really brought out the flavor of the lobster, and the pickled red onions gave the perfect acidic kick. Needless to say, they were obliterated in a minute
Lastly, a quick photo of my grandma rocking her Christmas Lunch Outfit: a bright pink suit!
Next post: Christmas Lunch 2010 Part 2: What Everyone Else Made