Last week, I felt like Bradbury’s Margot, weighed down by perpetual rain, locked away from a sun which surely had to be shining somewhere – as it hadn’t been seen in Boston in almost 10 days. But this weekend … this weekend it is BEAUTIFUL (and I don’t use my capslock lightly); and today… today it was warm and sunny and breezy and the weather and warmth simply begged me to take a long, leisurely, athletic bike ride. I’d been seeing, lately, all sorts of buzz on one of our usual destinations — Boston’s Seaport — to which we used to ride to visit the Barking Crab, previously the only real fun lunch place and bar to be enjoyed down there. But this winter, at least 4 new restaurants have opened overlooking the water — a Legal Seafoods, an upscale Mexican joint which offers roast suckling pig (which I *will* have, oh yes I will), a sports bar with every seat simultaneously facing the sea and huge TVs, and a fancy shmancy steakhouse — all on one pier. But more on that later. The last, best place Clayton and I discovered down there before the winter set in last October was the Yankee Lobster Company, a seafood counter (where the fish was good but where both soups floury and disappointing) and a fish market — where the prices are at least $1 less per pound/item then their more urban uptown neighbors, James Hook and Co. So after we indulged in our lunch, we rode over to Yankee’s unassuming and almost unwelcoming retail door, hidden somewhat behind their only slightly less unassuming restaurant facade (Clayton thought I was breaking in, misremembering our last visit), walked past the surprising swimming pool sized lobster pens, to order our 2# bug (@ $7.99/lb) and our two stuffed quahogs (@ $2.50/each) from the friendly but barely conversant and seemingly bewildered fisherman behind the floating counter, and to pay our money to the official looking, but congenial, man behind the glass door. It’s all very DMV, but it’s worth the experience – given the fresh product and reduced price.
I realize this is a very lengthy introduction, and I’ve not yet even touched upon the plat du jour. My apologies, dear reader — I am deep into Byatt again, and she is one of very the few writers who truly fertilizes my (perhaps misguided) literary loquaciousness. (See what I mean?) So to dinner: our Stan’s sweet inner meat was drowned in fennel scented butter, and served over a fluffy bed of baked polenta that had been stuffed with a nutty Comté and studded with a spicy seared salami. This riff on my Boss Grits (see here, here, and here) is an incredibly simple, thoroughly elegant interpretation of one of our favorite meals. It’s shrimp and grits, people — only much, much better.
Butter Poached Lobster and Seared Salami over Gruyère Polenta
1 2# fresh, kicking lobster
1 cup polenta
1 1/2 sticks butter
1/4 lb comte de forte gruyere cheese
1/4 lb rosette de lyon salami
sea salt and black pepper
2 stuffed quahogs (optional)
fresh snipped chives
There’s out little guy: I called him Stan. He’s glaring at me from within his cold bag, knowing his number is up. But we will love you, Stan — we will eat every bit of you with worship and thanks, because you are not only beautiful, you are delicious.
Stan goes into my deepest pot. I don’t want to fully cook him yet, but I do need to loosen his meat from his shell, and I got some great advice about how to do that from a marvelous blog named French Laundry at Home. Stan sits waiting while…
Right before I douse my lobster, I spill about a tablespoon of distilled white vinegar into the scalding water. This is the same principle as adding vinegar to egg poaching water – it helps solidify all the foamy bits, and encourages the meat to shrink away from the shell.
Then, I pour all the hot, vinegar’d water over Stan, covering him completely. He wiggles around a bit, I’m sorry to say, but I am merciless when it comes to my meals, and so I hold him under his jacuzzi bath, whispering soothing words about how with butter and spice I will treat him, and oh so how lovingly I eat will him. He blanches for about 3 minutes.
After my 3 minutes, I remove Stan from his bath, and break off his claws (using the point of my chef’s knife right at the flimsy joint where his arms meet his torso — to define him in human physiological terms — where’s a professor of organismic and evolutionary biology when you need one?) …
… and I set his body aside, re-submerging his arms for an additional 5 minutes or so (they require more cooking to separate from their shell).
Using my kitchen shears, I cut the semi-cooked tail meat out of Stan’s back-end, and rinse it quickly (in the hot water that is still cooking the claws) to remove the green tomalley. After 5 minutes of steeping, I remove the claws from said water, and snip out their meat, too (including the knuckles. Mmmmm, knuckles…) I set Stan’s marvelous meat into a bowl, and set it into the fridge to hold until I need it later.
One of Central Square’s newest coolest corners is at Mass Ave and Albany Street – where the Paradise has always been, and where the new bakery Flour, and – more pertinent to tonight’s meal, – Central Bottle has recently opened. Central Bottle is this great wine boutique and salumeria, with excellent charcuterie and cheeses. As two key components in any Boss Grits is cheese and smoked meat, I stopped there to buy some tidbits that would more perfectly compliment the luscious lobster we carried in our bike panniers.
… and I also purchased a healthy hunk of Rosette de Lyon, a hard, French dry sausage sweaty with its own oils, flecked with pepper and paprika.
I dump my cup of corn into 3 cups boiling salted water, and whisk well to break up all the chunks. It takes about 30 minutes for my polenta to cook to the right consistency over very low heat; I stir it constantly to keep it from clumping.
During that time, I’ve lined a baking sheet with foil and have placed my stuffed quahogs on it into a 350 degree oven. They need to cook for at least 20 – 25 minutes, and I want my polenta to bake for at least 15, so the stuffed clams need a 10 minute head start.
Perhaps I missed a link somewhere in French Laundry at Home’s post, but I seemed to need to go elsewhere – namely, the always reliable Jaden Hair’s The Steamy Kitchen – to find out exactly the process for “poaching in butter”. I surmised it would be more than just butter, but was surprised that it was no more than simply a tablespoon of water added to butter which constituted the poaching liquid, and, ultimately, the final sauce. I dump my wee bit of water into my small saucepan, which is just large enough to hold my lobster meat in a single layer. I bring this to a simmer over medium heat.
Whisking constantly, I add my cold butter slices, one at a time, waiting ’til the previous tablespoon is fully incorporated, to my sizzling 120 drops of water. Constant whisking over low heat will emulsify the water/butter blend, making a thick cream that will coat and soak up my lobster.
Clayton bought me this marvelous fennel salt some time ago, and I add about a teaspoon to my butter blend. My Boss Grits usually calls for an ouzo cream sauce, but I don’t want to go that route entirely – so I add a smidgen of the anise flavor ouzo imparts by substituting my fennel salt instead.
I’ve but Stan’s tail into smallish bites, and have now layered all his lovely meat into my smooth, silky, butter emulsion. My heat is set to medium low, and I stir this around periodically, over the next 8 minutes, to cook my lobster thoroughly through. My meat turns opaque, and my sauce turns lobster pink.
Right before service, I take my polenta ramekins out of the oven – where they have delightfully risen in the heat – and turn them out onto my large plates. They are steaming hot, slightly softer in the center, and firmly set at the edges.
Puffy pillows of polenta are stacked with sweet lobster meat, salty peppery bits of French pork sausage, semi-melted tidbits of stringy, savory cheese, all swimming in a supple butter sauce, scented with fresh snipped chives and served alongside a steaming hot stuffed quahog. Summertime means seafood in Lolita’s casa, and this light, sublime, spectacular supper is just the first sunshine meal of the season. Oh hai, Sun God – bathe me in your glory, and set the world in fire with your warming summer rays. I salute you with this offering of gastronomic delight! Do you dig it? ‘Cuz we sure did.