Europe’s the mayonnaise, but America supplies the good old lobster.
~D.H. Lawrence

The sequence goes something like this.  First, lobsters often live in muddy and murky crevices on the sea floor. Then, clawed lobsters (Homarus americanus + Homarus gammarus) are lured into traps offshore ofttimes on the bottom of the chilly northern Atlantic. They frequently stay in the traps baited with dead fish for a couple of days. Once the rancid cages are brought aboard, they are often placed in chilled holding tanks, so when trapped and pulled onto the deck the lobsters will be cold enough to make the return trip.  They are brought into the bay and distributed to trucks, still alive, for transport to local and distant restaurants and stores.  Once bought, they soon meet their maker in the steamer or boiling water.

At first in this country, lobsters were so copious and abundant they were only fed to slaves, indentured servants, prisoners, paupers, lower caste folks, and poor children — much to their chagrin. In contracts, employers went so far as to bar impoverished employees and laws were even passed, from eating this demeaned crustacean more than twice per week. Other than that, these “bugs” were deemed worthy of only being used as fodder, fertilizer, fish bait and fed to goats and pigs.

No longer.  Now, these omnivorous and sometimes cannibalistic sea scavengers which eat bottom food are the grub of the genteel. Moreover, the leggy lobster population is sorely depleted due in large part to the warming and acidification of the oceans which degrades their hard exoskeleton, giving them a form of osteoporosis.  They, along with other shelled animals, are unable to extract calcium carbonate from the water.

A lobster fishermen’s job is quite demanding and rife with risk, darkness, sea swells, fierce body slamming wet sprays and for those unfortunate enough to find themselves overboard, the frigid drink.  As big pharma loves to tout, sometimes this seemingly serene drug can result in death.

LOBSTER WITH FETTUCINE, TAGLIATELLE, OR PAPPARDELLE, GARLIC & CREAM

2 lobsters, 1 1/2 lbs each

2 T butter
1 small carrot, chopped
1 celery rib, chopped
bay leaves
A few thyme sprigs
3 C water

3 T extra virgin olive oil
1 small onion, finely diced
4-6 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 t hot red pepper flakes
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

1/2 C white wine
1 1/2 T tomato paste

3/4 C heavy whipping cream
1 lb linguini or pappardelle pasta, fresh or dry (if dry, follow the instructions on the box)
3-4 T chopped parsley or cilantro leaves
2-3 t lemon zest

Steam or boil lobsters for 5-6 minutes. Cool to room temperature under somewhat cool water. Separate claws and tails from lobster heads and remove tail meat from shell. Pull away black vein and discard, then cut meat into 1/2″ slices and set aside. Firmly yet gently hit claws with a wooden or metal mallet, without removing meat, and set aside.

With a heavy blade, split lobster heads in half lengthwise. Remove and discard stomach sacks and tomalley, if wanted, and roughly chop tail shell. Heat butter in a heavy saucepan or skillet over medium high. Add heads and shells, with juices, and sauté for about 1 minute. Add carrot, celery, bay leaves and thyme and cook, stirring, for 1 minute more. Add 3 cups water and simmer rapidly for about 10 minutes to reduce by half. Strain, discarding shells, herbs and vegetables. You should yield 1 1/2 cups rich lobster stock.

Wipe pan with a towel or paper towel and return to stove over medium high heat. Warm the extra virgin olive oil in the saucepan or skillet, then add diced onion, garlic and hot pepper flakes. Season generously with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Cook, stirring, until onions are completely soft, about 12-15 minutes.

Add wine and simmer rapidly for 2 minutes, then add tomato paste and lobster broth. Simmer for about 5 minutes, then add cream and simmer until sauce has thickened somewhat, about 5 minutes more. Turn off heat and adjust seasoning.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of amply salted water to a boil. Once roiling add pasta and cook until al dente. Reheat sauce, add cracked lobster claws and simmer for 2 minutes. Add sliced lobster meat and cook for a minute or less, until just heated through. Drain pasta and add to sauce, tossing to coat noodles with lobster, then transfer to serving bowls. Arrange one claw on top of each serving and sprinkle with parsley or cilantro and lemon zest.

LOBSTER SALAD

2 lobsters, 1 1/2 pound each

1/2 C homemade mayonnaise (see below)
Fresh lemon juice, to taste
2 t thinly sliced chives
1/2 C basil leaves, chiffonaded
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Bring amply salted water to a boil in a large, heavy pot and cook the lobsters for around 6-7 minutes. Remove the lobsters from the water and allow them to reach room temperature by running them under water. Once cooled, remove the claws and knuckles from the lobster, cut the lobsters in half lengthwise and trim off the smaller legs. Remove the lobster meat from the shells, reserving the bodies and cut the meat into 1/2″ pieces.

Accoutre the lobster meat with mayonnaise, lemon juice, chives, basil and season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve on small salad plates.

Mayonnaise

4 large local egg yolks, room temperature
2 T Dijon mustard
2 t white wine vinegar or fresh lemon juice
1 t sea salt
Tiny pinch of cayenne pepper

1 1/3 C canola or grapeseed oil

Separate egg whites from yolks. Egg yolks contain a natural emulsifier, lecithin, which helps thicken sauces and bind ingredients.

With a balloon whisk, whip together the egg yolks, mustard, wine vinegar or lemon juice, salt, cayenne pepper in a medium glass or metal bowl. Do not use plastic.

Add a few drops of oil while whisking; then pour in the oil slowly, in a very thin stream, while whisking vigorously with the bowl tilted at an angle on a folded towel. The emulsion should become thick enough to hold its shape and appear voluptuously creamy. Be patient because if you add the oil too rapidly the mayonnaise will break and turn soupy.

If the mayonnaise is too thick, it can be thinned by whisking in a little water.

Stored in the refrigerator, the mayonnaise should last 4-5 days.

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Love children especially, for they too are sinless like the angels; they live to soften and purify our hearts and, as it were, to guide us.
~Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

I must be fleeing from this distasteful inanity. With reason.

Over time, many have taken and considered various pragmatic stances, were accoutred with reasonable negotiating skills, took pride in remaining well-informed, displayed patience and equanimity, and stood by with a congenial, usually optimistic bend even in dark times. They sought resolution via compromise. This does not ever imply that they were blameless or free of criticism. Lamentably though, that species is becoming extinct in today’s political world now peopled by fanatical demagogues who care little for civility or progress — their extreme positions are so entrenched and illogically dogmatic that compromise is inconceivable. Those zealots, mired down by delusion and arrogance, hope and pray only to garner enough financial and electoral strength to claim that lowly office once more (and avoid being “primaried”). Government servants who avowedly detest government weary me.

Anyone in any trade, craft or business who had such dismal approval ratings would feel soulless and would be on the streets. Is that not metaphorical because are not some politicians really soulless beggars in a sense?

So, time for a recess from this dysfunctional, almost dismembered, institution called congressional politics and a return to the more rational worlds of food, culture, music, art, literature, history, and science. I may return some day, but your misguided mania has caused me and so many others to lose faith.

Before taking leave of you, I humbly beseech that each day when you are preening for your next feckless Congressional hearing, absurd appearance on the floor, perplexing press interview, or lunch with those sycophants called lobbyists (who profit from your dysfunction), ask yourself this simple question: “what am I doing for this country’s youth?”

We are talking basic issues which deeply affect our young citizenry and our nation’s future. So, just try to avoid political obfuscation, encourage political and intellectual honesty, help to avert mass shoootings, address the rampant spread of guns, confront and curtail the dreadful impacts of global warming, assuage broad environmental concerns, reduce the costs of higher education, encourage an expansion of college grants, address our overall primary and secondary educational needs, assure that our precious ones have universal health care, feed hungry households, devote fervent efforts to the food system debacle, undertake to reduce income disparity, cease homelessness in our youth, withdraw from needless wars, and drastically lessen influence peddling and money in politics. These are some of the concerns which do plague, and will soon jeopardize, the next generation.

You will be gone by the time these woes really come to roost, but since most children cannot vote, apparently you seem not to care enough to help ameliorate their present and future problems. A form of exploitation. Yet, I still implore you to each day, while you draw that comb through whatever gray or dyed hair remains, again ask yourself this simple question: “what am I doing for this country’s youth?” Until something is done in a concerted way on that surreal Hill, I fear you will sentence them to lives of doom.

For now, let’s return to the lambs — a kinder place with gentler pastures.

GRILLED LEG OF LAMB

1 C extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 C red wine or sherry vinegar
4 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and minced
2 T fresh oregano leaves, finely chopped
1 T fresh thyme leaves, finely chopped
1 T fresh rosemary leaves, finely chopped
2 lemons, halved and juiced
2 T Dijon mustard
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 (4-5 lb) boneless leg of lamb, butterflied open

In a medium bowl, whisk together the olive oil, vinegar, garlic, oregano, thyme, rosemary, lemon juice, mustard, salt and pepper. Pat the lamb dry and lay in a large baking dish or on a platter, then season with salt and pepper. Pour the marinade over the lamb, turning the meat to coat well. Cover the dish with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for 4 hours or even overnight. Remove the marinated meat from the refrigerator about an hour before grilling so that it reaches room temperature.

Prepare coals for barbecuing. Roll 2-3 full newspaper sheets into tubes, then bend the tubes to form rings. Turn the chimney starter upside down. A grate splits the hollow inter­ior of the tub into two compartments. Fit the tubs into the base of the starter so that they are pressed against the grate. Be careful to leave a hole in the middle (the hole allows for airflow once the newspaper is lit).

Turn the chimney over so that it is right side up. Load the chimney to the top with charcoal. Using a long match or butane lighter, light the newspaper in several places through the holes at the bottom of the chimney starter. Wait 10–20 minutes for all the coals to light. The charcoal is ready when you see flames licking at the coals in the top of the chimney and gray ash just starting to form. Wearing an oven mitt, lift the chimney starter by the handle and slowly dump the hot coals in a pile onto the bottom coal grate in the middle of the grill, and put the starter in a safe place.

Once the briquets turn very hot, spread and place the top rack over them. The fire is medium-high when you can hold your hand about 3-4″ above the rack for 3 seconds or so before you must retract. Grill lamb, fat side down first, covered, for about 15 minutes. Turn meat and grill, covered, about 10 minutes more on the other side or until it reaches medium rare.

Before carving, let the lamb rest on a welled cutting board for at least 15-20 minutes to allow the juices to migrate throughout. If you carve too soon, the juices will simply exit the lamb leaving behind a much drier piece of meat. Slice the lamb across the grain and on the bias.

STUFFED LAMB SHOULDER

1 bunch Swiss chard, leaves and stems separated
2-3 shallots, peeled and finely sliced

1 carrot, peeled and finely chopped
1/2 turnip, peeled and finely chopped
1/4 C thyme leaves, finely chopped
1/4 C fresh parsley leaves, finely chopped
2 T fresh chives, finely chopped

1 (4 lb) boneless lamb shoulder
4 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and halved
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Extra virgin olive oil, for rubbing

1 (4 lb) boneless lamb shoulder
Extra virgin olive oil, for searing

4 C chicken stock
1 head garlic, cut in half transversely

2 T unsalted butter
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Prepare an ice water bath. Add chard leaves to the boiling water and cook for 1 minute. Using a slotted spoon, immediately transfer to the ice water. Cool, drain, squeeze out excess water and coarsely chop.

Heat olive oil in a large, heavvy skillet over medium heat. Add shallots and cook, stirring, and continue cooking about 2-3 minutes. Transfer chard-shallot mixture to a medium bowl and set aside.

In a medium bowl, mix together the carrots, turnips, parsley, chives, and chard-shallot mixture. Season with salt and pepper.

Preheat oven to 350 F

Spread the lamb open on work surface. Score the inside of the meat with a paring knife, making shallow incisions every 3/4″ while taking care not to cut all the way through the meat. Rub the opened shoulder on both sides with the halved garlic and season inside with salt and pepper. Then, spread the herb mixture over the surface, leaving a 1″ border. Carefully roll the lamb, tie with 5 or 6 pre-cut kitchen trussing strings at fairly close intervals. Brush with olive oil and season outside with salt and pepper.

In a large, heavy sauté or roasting pan, heat the olive oil on high. Add the lamb shoulder to the pan and briefly sear until browned on all faces, about 2 minutes per side. Remove from heat and then add the stock and garlic. Place in the oven for about 2 hours for medium rare to medium, or using an internal meat thermometer until it reads 155-160 F after resting. (Remember the meat’s internal temperature typically rises 5-10 degrees as it rests. So, remove lamb from cooking heat when the thermometer reads 5-10 degrees less than the ultimate desired temperature.)

Remove the lamb shoulder from the pan, place on a welled cutting board and tent with foil. Meanwhile, strain juices over a medium, heavy saucepan and cook on medium high until reduced by half, at least almost a silky sauce consistency. Remove from heat, whisk in the butter and season with salt and pepper. Remove strings, making sure you have allowed the lamb to stand 15-20 minutes before carving into larger slices for serving. Ladle sauce over sliced lamb shoulder on plates.

Paradise Lost, Again

December 14, 2012

Accept the children the way we accept trees — with gratitude, because they are a blessing — but do not have expectations or desires. You don’t expect trees to change, you love them as they are.
~Isabel Allende

Unspeakable. The darkest of horrors that will never leave. Today, so many beautiful and innocent young bright-eyed children, their glowing futures ahead of them, were massacred in their schoolrooms by a crazed gunman armed like a special ops soldier. Saplings horrifically felled much too early. Profound and recurring, relentlessly nightmarish. Enough reruns of ruined young lives.

So, please just cease the hollow refrains of “how could this happen, why could this happen?” Or the inanity of arguing that “the bad guys will have more potent weapons and so for minimal self-defense, semiautomatic weapons and enhanced clips are needed.” Or the classic misogynistic one that “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” We have heard those same asinine lines over and over before. Anyone with even a whit of sense has better solutions, except for maniacal gun supporters and profiteers who seem unwilling to grasp these self-evident truths, sheepishly and illogically hiding behind obsolete Second Amendment claims and adhering to that unpatriotic paper tiger called the NRA. Callous gun lobbyists and gutless politicians continue to aid and abet the rampant gun violence which is nothing less than domestic terrorism, carried out with inherently dangerous assault weapons that are freely owned and carried by our own citizens. The raw data alone speaks volumes.

Do you not know how you shamelessly hastened their tragic ends by blatantly allowing the barter of weapons of mass destruction?

Please, so many senators and representatives, do not offer us your usual weak, self-indulgent condolonences, or that feigned shock and grief only to eschew politics out of hand with devious motives. How you bogusly glad hand with false smiles and kiss babies as if you care, yet freely gird others to kill more each year. Under the guise of delusional constitutional interpretations, you have effectively allied gun fanatics with the deranged and criminals making this country the homicide capital of the developed world.

Soon it will be time to candidly face these angelic, slaughtered children and ask their families how you so readily arm a crazed man and so many others like him. Ask the innocents and their families about the effects of flagrant weapons trade, and how they will remain forever blighted by today’s carnage. Then, look really hard in the nearest mirror, only to see the looks of blatant lies. Those falsehoods you uttered to so many others, young and old, most often to yourself, merely to preserve your lowly caste. Surely you recognize that is it not just a question of complacency and greed, but rather cowardice. How you sell your soul, timid ones — so brazenly, with our youth in the balance.

Beyond sad.

The soul is healed by being with children.
~Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Idiot

A time to celebrate, venerate! No, not by those archetypal yuletide jingles or hallelujahs. Rather, a new luminous face will grace us in the not too distant future…a precious one from my oldest and his winsome partner. Another beloved generation begins rife with bliss and trial, and we rejoice. Félicitations à vous deux.

A festive North African dish which derives from the Arabic word šawa (“roasted on a fire”), méchoui is a whole spit roasted lamb. The lamb is sometimes buried in a pit or nestled in a specially designed subterranean oven. While there are regional variations, traditional méchoui is a nose-to-tail lamb cooked with the organs still inside the cavity, each lending their own distinct flavors. The term can even be applied to grilled vegetables and other meats prepared in a similar fashion.

I am not accoutred to roast an entire beast, but a shoulder will more than suffice. Lamb shoulder is such an amiable soul—blessed by succulent, abundant gelatin with savory bone, connective tissue, collagen and more than a little intramuscular fat. Best yet, it is less expensive than its ovine cousins, the leg and loin chops. The soulful, yet too often forsaken, shoulder need not suffer envy.

MECHOUI ROAST LAMB SHOULDER

One whole bone-in lamb shoulder, about 5-6 lbs
2 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and halved

2 T whole coriander seeds
1 1/2 T whole cumin seeds
2 t sweet paprika
1 t raw sugar
6 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
Sea salt
Extra virgin olive oil
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened

1-2 T ras al hanout

2 T honey

Carefully trim any leathery, silverskin membrane and some of the excess fat from the exterior of the lamb, but leave a thin layer of fat to protect the meat from becoming dry. Rub the shoulder with the cut garlic cloves.

In a small, dry skillet set over medium low, toast the coriander and cumin and toast, while shaking the pan occasionally, until just fragrant and beginning to turn golden, about 2-3 minutes. Do not brown or burn. Let the spices cool slightly, then grind them to a coarse powder in a mortar or spice grinder. Transfer the powder to a small bowl and stir in the paprika and sugar. Crush the garlic cloves with the flat of a chef’s knife, sprinkle on some sea salt, and mince well. Pour about a tablespoon of olive oil on the garlic and mash continuously with the knife, rubbing and pressing to make a soft purée. Add the garlic paste to the spices and then work in the butter until evenly mixed.

Make a dozen 1″ deep punctures in the meaty parts of the lamb. Rub the lamb all over with ras al hanout, then the seasoned butter, smearing some into the incisions. Set the lamb in a large glass baking dish and refrigerate overnight, loosely covered. Let the lamb sit at room temperature for at least 1 hour before roasting.

Preheat the oven to 450 F

Place the lamb in a large roasting pan or dish, skin side up. Roast for 25 minutes, then lower the oven temperature to 325 F and continue roasting, basting throughout with any pan drippings, until the meat is tender and beginning to fall off the bone, about another 2 1/2 to 3 hours. During the last hour drizzle the top with honey. The meat thermometer should register 145 F when the lamb is done to medium rare, but the shoulder should be cooked longer so that it can be shredded with forks.

Place the lamb on a carving board with a trough, tent loosely with foil, and allow to rest for about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, pour off any excess fat from the roasting pan. Place the pan over medium high heat on the stove, add about 1/2 cup of wine or water, scrape up the bits and stir with a wooden spatula to reduce. Drizzle the reduced pan drippings over the meat and serve.

Accompany with dried apricot and currant couscous a dollop of Greek whole milk yogurt and a small bowl of harissa, a classic hot pepper paste.

Pourboire: recipes for ras al hanout, couscous and harissa can be found within by using the search box.