NorthFork Chef: For a seasonal stew, start with lobster

“A lobster from the water came,
And saw another, just the same
In form and size, but gaily clad
In scarlet clothing, while she had
No other raiment to her back,
Than her old suit of greenish black.

“Will you be boiled,” the owner said,
“To be arrayed in glowing red?
Come here, my discontented Miss,
And hear the scalding kettle hiss!
Will you go in, and there be boiled
To have your dress so old and soiled,
Exchanged for one of scarlet hue?”

“Yes!” cried the lobster, “that I’ll do,
And thrice as much, if needs must be
To be as gaily clad as she!”
Then, in she made a fatal dive
And never more was seen alive.
excerpt from ‘The Envious Lobster,” a Fable by Miss Gould,
Parley’s Magazine, 1834

Many years ago I organized a surprise birthday party for my wife, at which I prepared a big pot of lobster stew based on a newspaper recipe for corn chowder that she had given me. As it was in early June, I wanted to include as many fresh North Fork ingredients as I could and I wanted something to easily serve a crowd. That version of lobster stew, containing leeks, fresh thyme, red and green peppers, corn off the cob (not quite local yet), new potatoes and sugar snap peas (or green beans) became a signature dish during the summer at Ross’ restaurant in Southold for many years.

As my wife’s birthday approaches again, I would like to do an updated version of this delicious way to serve lobster and spring vegetables. This version requires making a rich lobster broth, which takes some extra time, but you will find your efforts well rewarded in a rich, complex sauce that brings all the ingredients together. I have also included a recipe for lobster risotto that uses the same broth and most of the same vegetables.

Lobster Stew, 2012 version
Purchase four 1.25-pound live lobsters. Bring about 4 quarts of water to a boil in a large stock pot and plunge the lobsters into the pot. Cover and let them cook at high heat for only 5 minutes from start to finish. (They will not be fully cooked.) Remove the lobsters, reserving the simmering water.

Break off the claws and tails and place them back in the lobster water. Simmer until just cooked, about 10 minutes. Remove and set aside to cool. Pour off all but 2 quarts of the water and keep it simmering on the stove.
Meanwhile, split the bodies down the middle with a large chef’s knife and remove the head sac under the eyes. Scrape out the tomalley (liver) into a small bowl and refrigerate. Heat a large sauté pan and add 1 tablespoon canola oil. Add the split lobster bodies shell side down and cook at high heat until the shells turn bright red, about 5 minutes. Pour 1/4 cup brandy over the lobster bodies and ignite with a match (don’t stand too close).

Add 1 chopped onion, 1 chopped carrot and 1 chopped stalk of celery to the lobster bodies. Pour enough lobster water into the sauté pan to cover the bodies and vegetables. Season with 2 bay leaves, 1 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning and 1 chopped tomato. Simmer at low heat for 30 minutes and strain.

Remove the meat from the cooled tails and claws, cut into bite-sized portions and refrigerate.

In a clean saucepan melt 4 tablespoons butter and add 2 chopped leeks and 4 thinly sliced carrots. Cook at low heat until leeks are soft and add 2 chopped fresh tomatoes and 6 sliced new potatoes (leave skin on). Add 1 quart of the strained broth to the leek mixture. Bring to a boil and simmer gently until potatoes are cooked, about 15 minutes. Add 1/2 pound of sugar snap peas and the lobster meat along with 1 cup heavy cream and 1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon. Simmer for 5 minutes and season with 1 teaspoon sea salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.

Cut rounds of bread from a baguette and brush them with olive oil. Chop the reserved tomalley and spread it over the bread rounds and place them on a sheet pan in a 400-degree oven for 10 minutes. Serve on the side as croutons.

For extra flavor and eye appeal, add 12 littleneck clams to the stew when you add the broth. As they open, remove them to a warm place before placing them around the bowl at serving time.

Serves 4-6.

Lobster Risotto
Prepare four 1.25-pound live lobsters exactly as in the above recipe for lobster stew. You will end up with about 2 quarts of rich broth and the cut-up lobster meat.

In a saucepan, add 2 tablespoons olive oil and 1/2 cup finely chopped shallots. Cook for 3 minutes and add 1 1/2 cups of arborio rice. Stir the rice to coat it with oil, turn up the heat and add 1 cup dry rosé wine. When most of the wine evaporates, leave the heat at medium high and begin adding ladles of the lobster broth, stirring it in and letting most of it evaporate before adding another. Keep this up until the rice becomes tender, about 25 minutes. (It will use most or all of the broth.)

Chop one red bell pepper and steam until blanched, about 3 minutes. Blanch 1/2 pound of sugar snap peas and 1 bunch of asparagus in the same manner. Stir these vegetables into the risotto along with 1/2 cup pitted Kalamata olives. Now stir in the reserved chunks of lobster meat, leaving the heat very low. Season with 2 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon and coarse salt and pepper to taste. (As the season progresses, substitute green beans and corn for the peas and asparagus.)

Serves 4-6.

John Ross, a chef and author, has been an active part of the North Fork food and wine community for more than 35 years. Email: [email protected].