For those of you who follow my blog, you may have already figured out that I work at Harvard University — America’s mecca for the uber-mentally endowed. But we do more here than just hunker down in carrels at Widener library studying esoterica – we also enjoy the pleasures of the flesh, or in this case – the fruits of the sea. The University has been hosting an absolutely *lovely* farmer’s market for the last few years, every Tuesday during the summer months, and it is one of the best in the area. Not for its size, mind you — it’s a fairly small venue, the strip of land in front of the Science Center, at the corner of Oxford and Kirkland Streets — but for its richness and variety. The folks at HUHDS (that’s Harvard University Hospitality and Dining Services, for the uninitiated) do a spectacular job finding vendors to fill the ranks, varying the offerings every week to keep things fresh and exciting. There are usually a couple of bread/pastry vendors, and several local farms represented, but there are often also items like locally made chocolates, fresh-made pastas, community cheese-makers, kombucha (which I can’t stomach, but I hear it’s good for you), meat purveyors (see this earlier recipe, in which I used John Crow Farm’s steaks), and this week, Carolyn Manning, a bona-fide lobsterman’s wife, had just-plucked-from-the-sea ocean bugs for sale at an enticing $5.99/lb. Along with some brandied lobster ravioli purchased two stalls down from Hollis, NH’s pasta-maker Valicenti Organico, I had me the basics for an elegant, but relatively easy to make, meal – all for about $25. With just a few items from my pantry and fridge, as well as some scallions from the backyard garden, I pulled together a mouthwatering saucer of ravioli in alfredo cream sauce, topped with butter-poached lobster meat, and served with a crunchy cheesy garlic bread. Par-boiling and removing the meat from the lobster took the most effort and time, but the plate itself came together in less than 20 minutes – practically a weeknight wondermeal, and one I plan to make again whenever I can!
Farmer’s Market Lobster Two Ways: Brandied in Alfredo Ravioli and Slow Butter-Poached
1 package fresh lobster ravioli
2 live lobsters (about 2.5 lbs)
1 1/2 sticks butter, divided
parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated
sea salt, cracked black pepper
small loaf french bread
These two bugs had a journey before they hit the pot; I purchased them at noon, stuck them in fridge until 3, then carted them on my back all the way downtown and back home again. Luckily, Carolyn loaned me an ice-pack so they’d stay chill and alive the whole way, and when I got home they were still sprightly and kicking. Hello little buggers… are you ready for your hot bath?
Butter-poaching lobsters is a multi-step process. You first need to get the lobster meat out of the shells, but in order to do so your lobster has to be at least partially cooked. To do this, I filled a couple of receptacles (my kettle and a large saucepan) with water and brought them to a boil. My lobsters I stuck in my largest pot, and I spoke soothingly to them as they flailed about and tried to escape.
Quickly, but ruthlessly, I pour the boiling water over my lobsters, and I let them slowly, gently par-boil for about 5 minutes (or, er, until they stop moving around). Some recipes call for adding a few drops of white vinegar to the water, to help the lobster meat congeal so it will come out of the shell more easily; I forgot to do that, but it didn’t seem to matter. Go to sleep, little lobsters… just let your Calgon bath *really* take you away…
After 5 minutes, I quickly take my bugs out of their bath and snap off their claws and arms by putting the tip of my chef’s knife into their “armpits” – the moon-sliver of semi-translucent membrane in the exoskeleton where their arms meet their torsos – and slicing through, while twisting their arms to break them free. The armclaws go back in the hot water for another couple minutes, while I remove the meat from the tails. Sorry – I don’t have any pictures of this; I had to work fast while the lobster was still hot, and my hands got all gunkified. The easiest way to remove the meat is to use kitchen shears and slice down the middle of the entire length of the undertail. You can then pry the meat out carefully. After two more minutes, I remove the still-steeping claws from the water, and use my shears to cut the meat out of all four claws and all four arms (or knuckles, which is what I think they’re technically called on a lobster).
What I end up with is just slightly cooked lobster meat. It’s still practically raw, actually – it will cook the rest of the way in it’s second bath, the BUTTER bath. (Cue angel song!) But I set it aside for right now…
Lolita approves of the lovely packaging Valicenti has here. It took me a few glances to see, but the open-mouthed graphic is tres awesome. I get a large pot of salted water set on my back burner to high and bring it to a boil. The ravioli will take only 5 minutes to cook, so everything will come together quickly right before plating.
In my smallest saucepan – which will be large enough for all my lobster meat to lay in a single layer – I get two tablespoons of water set to boiling.
To butter-poach, one needs, well – butter. I think I might should have used unsalted butter, but this was what I had on hand, so salted it was. I kept it in the fridge until the last moment; it should be cold before adding it to the water.
Which I do, with the pan set on medium low heat, one tablespoon at a time, whisking well after each addition, until the butter is fully incorporated.
This simple action – whisking cold butter into a small amount of hot water a little bit at a time – results in a thick, viscous, but aerated butter sauce; it has the consistency of a milk-shake, or melted ice-cream.
When all the butter has been added, I gently lay my lobster meat – the tails of which I’ve split up the middle, removing all tomalley (the green innards) – in a single layer on the bottom of the pan. It only takes about 5 minutes for this to cook through (flipping a few times with tongs), so I add my pasta to the boiling water at this time, too.
Oh, I made some quick garlic bread too. I had a nice mini French loaf, which I split lengthwise and drizzled with melted butter (yes – more butter).
I then sprinkled some garlic powder (I was out of fresh garlic, dammit!), over the loaf halves before covering them both with shredded sharp cheddar cheese. These go into my hot oven for about 8 minutes, until the cheese has melted and the bread is toasted.
Finally, starting with a few tablespoons of the butter-poaching liquid, I make my alfredo sauce. Using a large skillet set over medium-high heat, I take the lobster-infused butter…
… whisk in about 3/4 cup of heavy cream, which I bring to a simmer…
… then I add in about 1/2 a cup of grated parm/reg cheese, sea salt, and a nice amount of cracked black pepper…
…continuing to whisk to incorporate and thicken.
I’ve chopped my scallions, yielding about 1 cup, and 1/2 of them go into my sauce.
When my ravioli is floating, it’s ready. Using a slotted or mesh spoon, I carefully lift each ravioli out of the water, drain it well, and lay them…
… into my alfredo sauce. I let them simmer for just a few moments before plating.
Using tongs, I gently place my tenderrific, yummylicious, super-sweet, and perfectly poached chunks of lobster meat over my bed of heavenly stuffed raviolis and my blanket of rich thick wonderful cheese and cream sauce. A final sprinkling of chopped scallions and a tower of garlic bread power rounds out the plate. The sauce is simple and dignified, the pasta just al dente and filled with savory (barely brandied) lobster meat, and the butter-poached tidbits practically melt in my mouth, making this meal something truly special.