Lobsters & That Not So Forever Fear of Aging

December 10, 2009

Eat, eat, eat, molt, expand, repeat.
~Gilbert & Sullivan, HMS Pinafore

In the recipes offered thus far (save for a single paella ingredient), nary an utterance about luscious lobsters? Shameful. Time to repent, and what a better time than ’tis the season, as lobster bisque is a rich and elegant course for a holiday repast. You know…those holidays you are just trying to survive.

Née of the family Nephropidae or Homaridae, clawed lobsters are marine crustaceans which bear no taxonomic relation to spiny lobsters. Actually, crayfish are closer kin.

Sometimes called the “cockroaches of the sea,” these sophisticated critters possess several claw variants (crushers and cutters) with four spindly antennae and hairs that sense amino acid in its prey—which can entail over 100 animal and plant species. They are even known to bury their quarry for several days only to disinter and snack later. It has always seemed bizarrely incongruous that so many diners revere as so refine such voracious, omnivorous decaying meat scavengers such as lobsters and crabs, yet they are repulsed by simple herbivores. Evidently, the eating habits of my prey do nothing to distract my ardor for their presence on the plate or palate.

In this sad age of plastic surgery, botox, cosmetic creams, personal trainers, speciality diets, and profuse medications, lobsters flat trump humans. It seems lobsters age so gracefully they show no measurable signs of the process: no loss of appetite, no change in metabolism, no loss of reproductive urge or ability, no decline in strength or health. They just alternatively and continuously grow and molt and grow and molt with no need to capture that elusive youth. Unlike their land dwelling hunters, they embrace age.

Although there are no definitive studies, it appears lobsters only seem to die from interrupted causes—such as you guillotining them or dropping them into a pot of boiling water—or an occasional seal or parasite. There have been no reported “natural,” age oriented disease processes, no male sexual dysfunction and older women are more fertile. No estrogen therapy or viagra-cyalis-levitra for these viral seniors. You can only surmise how Hollywood, even the Striped One, could endure such a universal penchant for the elderly. They shudder at a world where old hens are more desirable than young chicks.

Apparently, studies have suggested that lobsters maintain continual telomerase activation throughout their tissues late in life, while during aging human telomerase levels decline in amounts and locales. Telomeres are sheathes that encase the ends of chromosomes, and when cells continually divide, telomeres get shorter. When telomeres get to a certain length, they can no longer protect chromosomes, and those chromosomes begin to suffer damage. Telomerase is an enzyme that adds length to telomeres, extending their life span and thereby that of the species.

For lobsters, old age is simply not the same nemesis that humans so dread and circumvent, spending endless yet finite hours and capital along the way. Peculiarly ironic? Homo sapiens blithely dining on the eternal while pursuing a neverending quest for age avoidance.

BISQUE DE HOMARD (LOBSTER BISQUE)

2 – 1 1/2 lb lobsters

3 T dry white wine
1/2 C flour
3 T unsalted butter, softened to room temperature

2 T extra virgin olive oil
1/4 C cognac or brandy

1 carrot, finely chopped
2 small leeks (white part), cleaned and finely chopped
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 C canned tomatoes, drained and chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 T fresh thyme, stemmed and chopped
1 T fresh tarragon, stemmed and chopped
2 T tomato paste
1 C water
3 C chicken stock
1 t freshly ground black pepper

2 C heavy whipping cream
1 C whole milk
1 T cognac
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Cayenne pepper

Chives, freshly chopped

Roughly chop the lobsters into large chunks with a cleaver or large chef’s knife. Reserve the coral, tomalley and liquid in a bowl. Add the wine and then the flour and butter with a spatula to create a paste which will serve as a thickening agent. Set aside.

In a large heavy pot or Dutch oven add the olive oil over medium high heat, then add the lobster pieces. Cook until they turn bright red, about 5 minutes, but do not scorch. Add cognac and carefully ignite. Once the fire subsides, add the vegetables, herbs, tomato paste, water, stock, and cognac. Stir/whisk well and cover and simmer for about 20 minutes. Next, remove only the lobster pieces to a platter and once cooled some, carefully remove the meat from the shells, and set aside. Chop the shells coarsely and return them to the pan. Sauté unconvered for about 12 minutes, stirring, then strain through a sieve or colander over a bowl, pressing with a spoon to extract as much liquid as possible. Return this extruded broth to the pot and discard the used shells.

If necessary, blend the bisque with an immersion blender, then add the cream and milk and bring to a simmer. If needed to thicken some, whisk in a small dollop of the paste. Add a small pinch of cayenne pepper. Season to taste with salt and liberal amounts of pepper. Return the lobster to the pot, stir in the cognac and allow to simmer until the liquor evaporates, whisking some.

Serve in shallow bowls garnished with chopped chives.

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