Reconstructed Deconstructed Seafood Paella

DSCN4546Last week wasn’t a great one for Lolita.  While Nemo buried us in two feet of snow, the tumultuous passage of a delightful kidney stone began its painful descent through my bowels, knocking me out for almost 4 days.  Needless to say, I missed Valentine’s Day; it passed me by in a Percocet fueled haze.  I had promised the husband-man to make him whatever he wanted for V-Day, and he requested paella – something very difficult to make in the traditional way with the crappy electric stove I’ve got. But never one to back down from a challenge, I did – in my more lucid moments – ponder how I could create a paella -type meal for the ol’ man given my kitchen’s limitations.  By Saturday, I’d both birthed that stone and had figured out this dish: a deconstructed paella construct, replete with all the flavors we’d tasted that glorious spring in Barcelona when we ate panfuls of the stuff along the sparkling Mediterranean coast.  My creation contains all the seafood I could pack into the dish — scallops, shrimp, cod, clams, and lobster – along with deep roasted peppers, a chicken chorizo risotto, and a saffron butter-cream.  With a some toasted baguette served ala pa’ amb tomaquet, each bite transported us back to our Iberian adventures in a way only good food can do.

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Reconstructed Deconstructed Seafood Paella

1 red pepper
1 green pepper
1 cup arborio rice
3-4 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup minced onion
1/2 cup dry sherry
1 tbs tomato paste
1 quart seafood stock
1 large chicken chorizo sausage
chili powder, hungarian paprika, black pepper, sea salt, EVOO
2 tbs butter
1 cup heavy cream
4-5 threads of saffron
4 littleneck clams
2 lobster claws
1/3lb cod
2 large scallops
4 large shrimp

DSCN4532aBecause it takes a little while, I start by roasting my peppers.  It’s easy: roll them around in EVOO, lay them on a baking sheet, and sprinkle them with salt and pepper before throwing them in a 400° oven.  Roast for about 10 minutes, rolling them over every few minutes so the skins blacken.  Remove them from the heat, toss them and all the juices from the pan into a bowl, and cover with plastic wrap until cooled.  Then you can remove the skins very easily.  Set this aside for now.

DSCN4529I make risotto all the time — just search for it here on my blog and you’ll see several different preparations.  This one was different for me, though, since I usually aim for a white risotto and not a red one, but it still started the same: I sauté my minced garlic and onion in EVOO in a small saucepan until just translucent, then I add my rice.  I stir everything to coat well with the oil, and to toast the grains of rice a bit to make them more receptive to the liquids I’ll be adding.

DSCN4530First addition is wine: a nice glug or two of dry sherry, which I stir in well, cooking over low heat, until all the liquid is absorbed.

DSCN4531Then I start adding my seafood stock, which is simmering in another pot on the stove.  You want to use warm stock, which will keep the rice cooking instead of cooling it down with each addition.  I add about 4 ounces at a time, stirring well continually, until each batch of liquid has been absorbed by the rice.  It takes about 30 minutes to stir a good pot of risotto.

DSCN4532At about the halfway point, I decide to add a tablespoon of tomato puree.  Traditional paella always has a bit of tomato in it, and this concentrated condiment gives just the right of sweetness and acidic kick to the dish.  Oh, and I keep adding stock and stirring.

DSCN4533My risotto is almost done.  It has increased in volume significantly, and when I test a grain with my tongue and teeth it is just tender all the way through, with a slightly al dente center.  At this point, I add all the juices from my roasted peppers, which have been sweating all their delicious goodness into the bowl all this time.

DSCN4536I’ve cooked my chicken chorizo and chopped it up real good like.

DSCN4537Along with my chopped roasted peppers, the chorizo adds the unctuousness needed for a good paella – where chicken and sausage definitely belong.  I keep this warm on the back burner until I’m ready for it.

DSCN4538To prepare my seafood, I create a poaching liquid, starting with butter and saffron and the last 4 ounces of my seafood stock.

DSCN4539I whisk the contents of the pan vigorously, emulsifying the butter and stock into a rich base.

DSCN4541I then add my cream, and layer my seafood into the pan to gently poach.  My cream/butter has been tinted a thrilling yellow from the saffron threads, and the scent emanating through the kitchen is divine.  I cover the pan, shaking it from time to time to encourage the fishy stuff to swim around, before using tongs to flip each piece so it can cook through thoroughly.

DSCN4543When the clams are open, and the shrimp and scallops are opaque, everything is ready to serve.

DSCN4542Here’s where the “reconstruction” bit comes in.  I’ve been obsessing about forms these days, ‘cuz I love the idea of stacked meals.  I’m too cheap to spend the $20 or so on real cooking forms, so I have a tendency to cannibalize all sorts of stuff in my kitchen to make shapes I can work with.  This is a tea canister from some swanky over-priced tea shack, but with the bottom removed it makes a decent, entree-sized form for my purposes.  I start by laying my strips of pepper out on the plate, before spooning a layer of rice into the form, followed by bits of the cooked cod, another layer of rice, then a layer with my shrimp and scallops, before topping it off with more risotto.

DSCN4547Crowning my tower of delight is my succulent lobster claw, which is flanked by eat-me clams and standing in a rich, sweet pool of saffron butter-milk.  I’ve toasted some slices of baguette, rubbed them with garlic, and served them with a tomato half doused with EVOO, garlic, and sea salt – which is scraped across the crusty bread, leaving a swathe of tasty red yumminess to compliment the dish.  All the component parts of a paella are here: fresh, tender seafood, rich, creamy rice, roasted peppers and spicy sausage, chicken, and of course, saffron.  An elegant meal in honor of a long love affair: with both my husband, and food glorious food.

Ravioli and Lobster with Garlic Roe Cream

Lobster roe is under-appreciated in our philistine American culture.  Along with the greenish black tomalley, it’s what’s found inside the lobster meat – either under the carapace (tomalley) or running down the seam of the tail (roe).  It is not lobster shit, as many people erroneously think – instead, it is the liver and eggs of the seabug, and it’s all edible – and in some cases quite delicious.  For tonight’s simple pasta dinner, I decided to use the roe in the sauce to amp up the lobster flavor, and to add to the beauty of the dish, since I think all those little orange dots are super pretty.  And since lobster season is almost over, I need to get me as much of it as I can…

Star Market, of all places, had a good sale on lobsters the other day ($5.99/lb with free steaming), so I picked up a couple bugs and…

… harvested all the meat out of them using my kitchen shears.  Only one was female, so I only pulled out about a tablespoon of roe – which was just enough.

Ravioli and Lobster with Garlic Roe Cream

10-12 oz fresh steamed lobster meat (harvested from 2 lobsters)
1 package fresh cheese ravioli
1 tsp tomato paste
4 tbs butter
3 cloves garlic
1 cup half & half
1 tbs lobster roe
parmigiano reggiano cheese (as needed, but about 1/2 cup will do)
chopped scallions for garnish

I’ve made several recipes quite similar to this one – which illustrates quite clearly how I like to eat my lobster: in cream sauce.  (You can check those out here, and here, and here for starters.)  To make this garlic cream, I start by melting my butter.  (Meanwhile, I bring a pot of water to a boil so that it will be ready for my pasta.)

I’ve minced my garlic…

… which I add to my melted butter to gently saute for a few moments…

…. before straining out the solids (both garlic and butterfats), to make a garlic scented clarified butter.

To this I add my broken up roe…

… and my cream, which I whisk together over medium heat.

I add my tomato paste to give it a little acidic balance…

… and my cheese (about 1/2 cup), since – well, it’s cheese, and I never need an excuse to add cheese to anything!  I add my lobster meat to the sauce for a few moments to heat it back through.

And that’s it!  After whipping up a quick salad and cooking off my pasta for a few minutes (until they just float), I plate up this simple, elegant meal and dive into it face first.  The pink sauce is studded with flavor-intensifying roe, and is gently scented by garlic and cheese.  The raviolis soak up the cream, and the tender lobster meat is buttery and rich and sweet.  My salad compliments all this richness with tangy feta and briny olives, making a perfectly light seafood supper.

Hand-cut Pappardelle with Garlic Cream and Lobster

This marks my second lobster recipe in a row, although I was surprised it wasn’t more, considering that it’s lobster-season and I’ve been practically swallowing them whole for a few weeks now.  I could Benjamin Buford Blue you (lobster salad, lobster tacos, lobster lasagna, lobster risotto, lobster fritters, lobster cerviche, etc….), but suffice to say I’ve been experimenting with these sea-bugs and have loved every bite.  Today’s offering is a delicious pasta dish, made with hand-crafted and cut spinach noodles, a garlic and parmigiano infused cream, and succulent, tender, juicy, sweet lobster meat.

Hand-cut Pappardelle with Garlic Cream and Lobster

2 1lb fresh, live lobsters
1/4 cup white vinegar
2 cloves crushed garlic
4 tbs butter
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup freshly grated parmigiano cheese
3 sheets hand-rolled, fresh spinach pasta
sea salt, cracked black pepper, snipped chives for garnish

Tough lobster is shameful, and adding lobster meat to a pasta can over-cook it lickety split, so one must par-cook fresh lobsters to get properly prepared meat for any dish that requires further cooking it in a sauce or something.  I’ve par-cooked lobsters a few times before, but here’s the skinny: throw your alive and kicking lobsters in a large, empty pot, and bring a gallon or so of water with some vinegar to a heady boil.  Pour the boiled water over the lobsters, comfort them with words of sympathy until they stop moving (read: die), and let them soak for about 5 minutes. (For another, more detailed description, check out one of my past postings.) Remove the lobsters from the water, then cut the meat out of the tail, claws, and knuckles while they’re still hot.

Viola!  Perfectly par-boiled lobster meat.  I leave the knuckle meat and claws whole, and I split the tail right up the middle (removing the vein). I put this in the fridge to chill down and stop cooking.

Living in Boston means shopping for fine groceries in the North End, and I ain’t one to fly in the face of that sort of foodie imperative.  The sheer multitude of fine Italian restaurants and shops is dizzying, although until relatively recently there were no real fresh pasta makers selling to the retail market.  Enter DePasquale’s Handmade Pasta, a perfect little shop right on Congress Street – facing the Haymarket through the Rose Kennedy Parkway – that sells fine cheeses, charcuterie, some imported grocery items and, of course, their own pasta.  I was in the mood for a lasagna the other day, and although the pictures didn’t turn out as good as the meal did (which is why I didn’t post it), I had several sheets of their absolutely delicious spinach pasta left, which I decided to cut into thick strips, called pappardelle – AKA wide fettucini noodles.

This is a pretty simple recipe: what keeps it from being a Weeknight Wondermeal is that most people can’t get their hands on lobster and fresh pasta as easily as we city-dwellers can.  But, as you can see from the list of ingredients, it’s not too complicated.  The sauce starts easily: 2 or 3 tablespoons of freshly minced garlic (do *not* use that crap suspended in oil purchased at the grocery store – it’s horrible!) and lotsa butter.

I melt the butter and, when it’s frothy, I add the minced garlic and simmer gently on low heat until fragrant but NOT browned.

I strain the garlic and butter solids from the pan, leaving only lovely clarified garlic-infused deliciousness.

Into this I whisk my heavy cream, which I bring to a roiling boil over medium heat.

Finally, I add my lobster meat and most of my fresh grated cheese (which I forgot to take a picture of), stirring everything together well until the sauce thickens and the lobster is fully cooked and heated through.

Earlier, I brought my pasta to a boil for 3 minutes in a large pot of salted water.  After the lobster is heated through, I pick it out of the sauce and set it aside, keeping it warm, so I can toss my cooked and drained pappardelle in the cream sauce.  (If I leave the lobster in, it will all sink to the bottom when I try to plate my dish…)

Succulent, buttery, delicate and sweet lobster meat atop a steaming platter of perfectly al dente spinach pasta doused in a rich, flavorful, creamy cheese sauce.  A sprinkle of parmigiano, chives, salt and pepper round out the dish, and a glass of crisp white wine completes the meal.  O, if only lobster season was year ’round!  Thank God it’s not, or else my perpetually-6-months-pregnant profile would probably make it to full term.