Everyone got to class early yesterday for our first lobster practical at Le Cordon Bleu. Considering our 8:30AM start time, this was unusual. We all dealt with our pre-killing jitters differently, one student filled his coffee with cooking cognac and knocked it back, another made nervous chatter, myself and my cooking neighbor got down to business sharpening knives and cutting up vegetables with unparalleled intensity.
When the lobsters were finally brought in, I picked out a fat one that looked asleep. I picked it up to check it’s sex and to get used to the feel of exo-skeleton. Since I had whizzed through my prep, I was the first to lobster dunk. For this recipe, Hommard L’Americaine, the lobster must not be cooked fully in the water because you need it’s ‘mustard’ or roe for the sauce. Instead you hold the lobster’s head in boiling water and drown it – that is if lobsters can drown. Perhpas ‘smother’ would be a better term…
My seemingly asleep lobster certainly woke up when I plunged it’s head down into the water. It started to jerk it’s head back up which I wasn’t expecting. I gave a surprised little scream and let go of the lobster. I had to quickly fish it out of the water so as not to let the body cook. Oh man, I will never forget that feeling of it’s struggle to live, and there is nobody out there that can tell me that lobsters don’t feel pain.
I took my lobster back to my station still reeling a bit from my recent murder. I watched as it’s body twitched. After a few deep breaths I ripped off it’s big pinchers and put them aside for sauté-ing. I then picked up the body of the lobster and twisted the tail from the thorax. After scooping out the greenish lobster mustard, I sautéed all the body parts in oil, butter, and onions.
But the challenges seemed to keep coming! To deglaze the pan and get up all yummy pan brownings it is necessary to flambé cognac over the dish. I heated my cognac up and poured it over my lobster and lit it, but it didn’t catch. I tried again with my cooking partner’s and we still didn’t have any luck. However the guy on my left heated up a lot of cognac, poured it over, and lit it with his face over the pan. The head chef had to push him hard to get him away from the huge flames because he just froze up in fear. He didn’t suffer any major burns, but his eyelashes and eyebrows definately got singed. He was very lucky that his shaggy hair didn’t go up in smoke.
After deglazing the pan, decanting the lobster, and blending the lobster mustard with the drippings– I have to say that it turned out incredibly delicious. Being a San Francisco girl, I’m more of a crab eater than a lobster lover. However the sweetness of the lobster meat paired served with rice & sultanas, and the naturally creamy cognac sauce was divine.
Notes on cooking Lobster: If you just want to make whole lobster you can plunge them into boiling water and cook for ten minutes. Make sure to take them out after ten minutes or the meat will get tough. To serve– either section the body from the tail with a chef’s knife and scoop out the meat, cut off the little legs and reconstitute for plating or cut in half by driving your chef’s knife into the bottom of the thorax and then split up to through the head. Repeat with the tail in the opposite direction. Serve with warm clarified butter or a creative herbed aioli.
Hommard L’Americain:
2 lobsters
1/4 yellow onion chopped
2 shallots
100ml cognac
150ml fish stock
2 tomatoes peeled and seeded
1 Tablespoon tomato paste
50g butter
lobster mustard
50g sultanas or golden raisins
1/4 yellow onion finely diced
boquet garni
30g butter
1. Take onion and chop 1/4 finely for the rice and 1/4 roughly for the lobster.
2. Make boquet garni by placing a bay leaf and dried thyme in the green part of a leek and tying with cooking string.
3. Boil a big pot of water for blanching tomatoes and killing lobsters. Set aside an ice bath. Make an ‘X’ in the skin of the bottom of tomatoes and cut out the top stem. Plunge for 15 seconds in boiling water and submerge in ice bath. Rub off skin, cut in half, seed, and chop. Set aside.
4. Take lobsters and plunge heads in boiling water. Hold firmly until they stop fighting, around one minute. Take out and place on counter. Pull out large pinchers from the body (the whole pincher). Twist body apart from tail. With fingers rip out the flesh in the head away from shell and spoon mustard into a bowl. Leave the tail in tact but remove the intestine from the top section with fingers.
5. Heat peanut oil and some butter in a large skillet. When hot add the pinchers, tail, roughly chopped onion and chopped shallots. Sauté over medium high heat until the shells are uniformly red. Add lobster head shell too (for decoration & flavor). 2 minutes.
6. Heat up cognac to a boil and flambé over lobster by pouring cogac over and lighting quickly. Careful the flames are huge. It works better when you pour and light at the same time, but it is dangerous too. You do not have to flambé cognac for this dish, the alcohol will cook off anyway.
7. Add chopped tomatoes, stir for one minute. Add tomato paste to fishstock and add both to lobster.
8. Cook for 8 minutes. The total cooking time of the lobster in should be around 10 minutes.
9. Decant lobster and keep warm
10. Reduce sauce a little. Strain and press through a sieve. Skim off lobster butter and reserve. In a blender put butter and lobster mustard. Pour hot sauce over while blending. Reserve & keep warm.
For the Rice:
1. Sweat onions in butter in a skillet over medium heat to cook. Don’t brown! Preheat oven to 200˚C/ 400˚F. Once onions are cooked add rice and stir over heat for one minute. Add 1 1/2 times water to rice and cook on stove top until water boils. Add boquet garni, golden raisins. Put a lid on it and cook in oven for 18 minutes. Fluff with a fork before serving.
To plate: remove lobster flesh from shells. Place rice in center of plate and recontitute lobster with shells over. Brush shells with lobster butter for shine. drizzle sauce around plate

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