I do a lot of shopping. I go to farmers markets, Japanese markets, Persian markets, Vietnamese supermarkets, Indian spice stores, Mexican carnicerias, Chinese poultry shops… And on the way home, I usually stop at the regular old grocery store. It’s where I get staples — sugar, cheese for the kids, bananas, hamburger buns, etc. Our local one has reasonably good produce, an excellent wine department and a nice view of the Pacific Ocean across the street.
On Valentine’s Day afternoon, I dropped by the local overpriced seafood market to see if anything caught my eye to serve with the bottle of Perrier Jouet I had chilling in the fridge. And everything was, well, overpriced. Which would’ve been fine had anything inspired me, but nothing did. So figuring I’d have to make due with the sea urchin I purchased the day before, I continued on my way — stopping at the grocery store for a few necessities. I always check the meat and seafood cases to see if they’ve got anything good on sale. And to my surprise, this day, I discovered exactly what I realized I hadn’t even been looking for — small Australian lobster tails for $5 each!
They eat some strange things in Oz. I once saw an American morning news anchor who was reporting from Sydney bite — apparently in the name of cultural immersion — into a large larva. Morning news anchors do some strange things too. There must be an array of unusual creatures crawling through Australia’s coastal shallows that are destined for the table. But the Australian lobster is fairly similar to our own, albeit quite a bit smaller. At the grocery store, in a Valentine promotion in the seafood case, the tails line up like tiny tanks prepared for battle, hundreds deep. I imagine similar displays in grocery stores all over Los Angeles, perhaps across America. There must be a lot of lobsters in those waters Down Under.
It’s become something of a culinary cliché to butter poach lobster. But like most clichés, their overuse is due to their inherent value. And there is no better way to prepare lobster than to cook it very slowly at a very low temperature in butter. I’ve done similar dishes with big lusty Maine lobster, with smaller Caribbean lobster, and even with their diminutive cousin, the langoustine. The key is to have enough butter that it mostly covers the meat, but not too much that you’ve got butter soup. And to have an extremely low temperature. For the meat from my two 5 oz. lobsters, I used about 3 tablespoons butter in a very small saucepan. And defaulting to my oft-repeated refrain about resourcefulness, the lobster shells will be the second most important ingredient. Read on and you’ll see…
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Butter-poached Australian lobster with saffron risotto and lobster sauce
Two 5-oz Australian lobster tails (any lobster tail will work)
3 tbsp. butter
1 small tomato
3 large cloves garlic (with skin on)
1 cup chicken broth
1 cup white wine
1 small celery stalk
1/2 cup cream
1 tbsp. tomato paste
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 cup arborio rice (or other small-grain rice)
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 tsp. saffron threads
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 tbsp. chopped Italian parsley
flaky sea salt & freshly ground pepper to taste
With kitchen shears, cut the lobster tails down the back. Remove tail meat from shells and wash out vein. Cut meat from each tail into 3 or 4 chunks. Place in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap.
Place your reserved shells in a saucepan with chicken stock, white wine, tomato, garlic cloves and celery stock. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce heat to a simmer, and cook uncovered for about an hour until reduced by 3/4 (you want about half a cup left). Strain into a small bowl and set aside to cool. Squeeze garlic cloves from skins into the sauce.
Make your risotto. Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat, and cook onion until translucent and beginning to brown. Add rice and cook, tossing frequently, for 1 minute. Add 1 cup warm water and a pinch of salt. Cook for 3 or 4 minutes, stirring frequently, until water has cooked away. Add more water. Continue in this manner for 15-18 minutes, until rice is tender but still slightly al dente. The last time you add water, also stir in the saffron. When risotto is done, remove from heat and stir in parmesan cheese.
While the risotto is cooking, finish your sauce. In a small saucepan, bring the sauce to a boil over high heat. Stir in tomato paste, then add cream. Reduce heat to medium high and cook until reduced by 2/3, about 4-5 minutes. Remove from heat.
When you’ve removed the risotto from the heat, cook your lobster. Place cold butter in a very small saucepan over the lowest flame possible, and add your lobster on top. As the butter melts, toss your lobster to cover in butter. Cook for 5-10 minutes over very low heat, tossing lobster meat frequently, until it has all just cooked and is pearly white and very soft. Remove from heat.
Pour half of the leftover butter into your risotto and stir to incorporate. Scoop half of risotto onto each of two plates. Drizzle a tablespoon of sauce around the base of the risotto. Arrange lobster chunks on top of risotto, and drizzle with remaining sauce. Top with a sprinkle of chopped parsley and salt and pepper to taste.
Serve with — what else? — Perrier Jouet!