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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Fried Sage Leaves

December 1, 2009

Let a fool hold his tongue and he will pass for a sage.
~Publilius Syrus

Fried sage. Rings like that series of ads in the late ’80s that depicted a sizzling fried egg and droned on: “this is your brain on drugs.”

This post seems simple to the point of naive, but the uses for fried sage are manifold and often forgotten: gracing appetizers…adorning pastas, rice, risotto, polenta, gnocchi, pizza, soups, fish, meats, poultry. They possess a fine textural finish. To me, even naked in a bowl as chip-like finger food is heaven enough.

FRIED SAGE

Extra virgin olive oil, for frying
30 or so whole sage leaves, cleaned and patted dry
Sea salt

Heat about 1″ of olive oil in a heavy medium saucepan over medium high heat, and when small drops of water sizzle when sprinkled into the oil, add half the sage leaves (to assure decent spacing) and fry until just crisped, about 10-15 seconds. Gently remove them to paper towels to drain with a spider or slotted spoon. Do not let the leaves turn a deep brown. Fry the remaining sage leaves and sprinkle them all lightly with salt. They will crisp as they cool.

Pourboire: another version of fried sage entails first dipping them in whisked eggs, then lightly coating them in flour, shaking off the excess. Follow the remainder of the recipe.

FETTUCINE WITH MUSHROOMS, SAUSAGE & FRIED SAGE

24-30 fried sage leaves (see above)

2 C crimini mushrooms, roughly cut in thirds
3 T extra virgin olive oil
1 T unsalted butter

4 fine Italian sausages
Water and chicken stock
3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and smashed

1 lb. fettuccine
Water
Sea salt

1 C heavy whipping cream
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Parmigiano-reggiano, grated

In a heavy skillet, sauté the mushrooms in olive oil and butter until just softened. Set aside in a bowl.

In a different pan, simmer the sausages in equal parts of stock and water, covered, for about 10 minutes. Turn the sausages a few times. Remove them from the pan and allow to cool.

Slice the poached sausages into 1″+ chunks and sauté them in the oil until browned, adding the garlic toward the end so that it turns golden but not burned. Discard the garlic, remove the sausage from the pan and set aside.

Meanwhile, in a large pot, bring water to a boil and salt generously. Then, cook the fettucine until al dente. Drain in a colander.

Pour off the fat from the skillet. Add the cream and bring to a boil, scrape up cooking bits, and return the mushrooms and sausage to heat through. Toss in the fettucine to coat, turning gently with tongs and season with salt and pepper to your liking.

Serve in bowls sprinkled with grated parmigiano-reggiano and fried sage leaves.

Far from a final curtain on tomatoes, but a focus on fresh before our cherished season does begin to fade.

TOMATO, GARLIC & BASIL PASTA

1 lb fresh cappellini or linguine
Sea salt

2 T extra virgin olive oil
5 fresh, plump garlic cloves, peeled and finely minced
1 t red pepper flakes

4 C fresh, ripe, local tomatoes (preferably heirloom), cored, seeded and chopped
(or 4 C fresh cherry tomatoes, halved)
3/4 C chicken stock
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1 C fresh basil leaves chiffonade (cut into ribbons)
Parmigiano-reggiano, grated to taste

Prepare fresh pasta. See Basic Pasta Dough post (06.10.09)

In a large pot, bring 6 quarts of water to a rolling boil and then add a few tablespoons of sea salt.

In a large, heavy skillet heat olive oil over medium high until shimmering and add garlic. Sauté garlic until just before golden, about 1-2 minutes. Add red pepper flakes and cook 30 seconds more.

Add chopped tomatoes to skillet and sauté over medium high. Turn the heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, until tomatoes begin to juice up and just begin to soften, about 3 minutes. Add stock and cook down for an additional 4 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, cook pasta until almost al dente, about 1-2 minutes. Drain pasta well and carefully add to skillet with tomatoes, et al., gently tossing to coat well.

Serve in shallow soup bowls with a liberal grating of parmigiano-reggiano and garnished with ribboned basil.

The horror! The horror!
~Kurtz in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, later adapted to the film Apocalypse Now

Spring has sprung, and those intensely surreptitious, almost clandestine, morel hunts are in full season. The image is reminiscent of the geeky bird watcher played by John McGiver in Mr. Hobbs Takes A Vacation with Jimmy Stewart (1962). I recommend both the film and the morel hunt.

Here is the kind of retirement pursuit more befitting to the now suddenly ubiquitous Mr. Cheney than was upland bird gaming—furtive, undercover, with dark caches, and yet thankfully no lethal arms or ordnance at his disposal. He simply rounds up these fungal suspects, detains and then stows them in away in a black hiding place. As to his next step, torture…how he could conceivably torture a defenseless mushroom is beyond my bailiwick. No references to such tactics on these highly valued delicacies can be found in the revised U.S. Army Field Manual or the Geneva Convention that he so shamelessy disregarded with humans—with the penned duplicity of the now Hon. Jay Bybee and Prof. John Yoo. Perhaps he simply delegates away the torment in a feeble effort to display clean hands. Queries: What consideration (quid pro quo) is given in a torture contract? Is this a third party “beneficiary” arrangement? What are the specific terms and provisions of a torture agreement? Is it just a proverbial “wink and a hand shake?”

In my narrow culinary sphere, I do know beyond a reasonable doubt that repeatedly inundating fresh morels with water causes core damage and elicits little valuable information. All this technique causes is changeless damage to being.

Morels, the prized honeycombed and ridged fungi worshipped by amateur mycologists and cooks alike, are nothing short of sublime. The most widely recognized species are the yellow morel or common morel (Morchella esculenta), the white morel (M. deliciosa), and the black morel (M. elata).

Also called morchella, they possess a spongy texture and subtle, earthy flavor which is so delicate that you must exercise care not to dominate morels with stout ingredients in the same dish. Do not overly adorn…rather allow the morel to stand in full glory.

Mirepoix is the classic mélange of onions, carrots, and celery often used as a flavor base for a number of dishes, including stocks, soups, and sauces. Although this is not set in stone, the typical ratio is 2:1:1 of onions, celery, and carrots. As befits French tradition, mirepoix derived its name from the duke patron of a renowned chef.

MORELS & FETTUCINE

3/4 to 1 lb fresh morels, cleaned with a brush or cloth, sliced lengthwise
4 shallots, peeled and finely diced
4 T unsalted butter

4 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves stripped and finely chopped
2 sprigs parsley leaves, finely chopped

1 C onions, peeled and minced
1/2 C carrots, peeled and minced
1/2 C celery, minced
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

1 1/2 C chicken stock
1 C heavy cream

Fresh parsley sprigs, chopped
Parmigiano reggiano, grated

1 lb fresh fettucine (see Basic Pasta Dough)
Sea salt

In a heavy skillet, sauté the mushrooms and shallots in butter for 2-3 minutes over medium high heat, adding the thyme and parsley for the last minute. Add the mirepoix (onions, celery and carrots) and season with salt and pepper. Sauté another 2 minutes and then add both the stock and cream. Gently simmer and let the mixture reduce by about one-third, but do not allow it to thicken to a heavy sauce consistency. Taste for salt and pepper to your liking.

In a heavy stock pot, cook the pasta in boiling water that has a liberal amount of salt added. The water should almost taste like clean seawater, and the pasta should be cooked until just al dente. Drain and toss with the morels and mirepoix mixture in the skillet. Garnish with parsley and a light grating of parmigiano reggiano.