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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All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside.
~Sec. One of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constituition, ratified in 1868

More delectable fare from south of the border. I drool over Mexican cuisine, my fervor unflagging. It also is a sore reminder about another assault on ethnic minorities in this country’s ever so brief and curiously vainglorious history…following those historical precendents of demonizing Irish, Germans, Italians, Chinese, Japanese, Native Americans, African Americans, Jews, Muslims, Catholics, women and so on. Will we ever learn? Flag pins on every lapel will never cure our bigotry and will only further our chauvinism.

Recent disingenuous threats by GOP leaders to repeal the 14th Amendment as a means of denying citizenship to immigrant children—so called “anchor babies”—are disquieting at best. Trifling with one of the more singularly profound statements this country has ever offered the world about the meaning of equality is shameful even if it is purely political posturing. Some more wretched debris of hubris.

The authors of the Fourteenth Amendment guaranteed citizenship to all people “born or naturalized in the United States” for a reason. They wished to directly repudiate the abominable shackles of the Dred Scott decision, which held that no person of African descent, slave or free, could ever be a citizen of the United States nor could any of their descendants ever become a citizen. In the opinion, U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Taney found that the original framers intended that blacks:

…had no rights which the white man was bound to respect; and that the negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery for his benefit. He was bought and sold and treated as an ordinary article of merchandise and traffic, whenever profit could be made by it. Scott v. Sandford, 60 U.S. 393 (1856)

That racially motivated opinion was issued before the Civil War. Afterwards, Section One of the 14th was adopted which guaranteed citizenship to anyone and everyone born on our soil, including the children of parents here unlawfully. It was intended to make sure that a simple objective fact assured citizenship, and that those rights would not turn upon legislative whim or judicial caprice. This language is a unique part of our national identity and makes certain that each newborn child is not subject to a chain of title like a parcel of land or chattel.

The birthright clause assigned legal status to millions of slaves who had just been freed during the Civil War. Oh, as an aside: the House, the Senate and the Presidency were all in Republican hands at the time of the amendment’s passage.

Senators, please show some restraint and do not overburden your tacos with fillings.

LOBSTER TACOS AL CARBON WITH AVOCADO & CORN SALSA

Avocado & Corn Salsa
2 ripe avocados, diced
3-4 T fresh lime juice
2 ripe red tomatoes, cored, seeded and diced
3 ears sweet corn, shucked, parboiled and cooled
1/2 red onion, peeled and finely chopped
2-3 jalapeño chile peppers, stemmed, seeded and minced
1/2 C chopped fresh cilantro
Sea and freshly ground black pepper

Place the avocado and tomato in a large mixing bowl and gently toss with lime juice. Shear the kernels off the cobs and again gently toss in the bowl. Cover well and refrigerate.

Just before serving, add the jalapeños and cilantro and gently toss to mix. If necessary, add a little more lime juice and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Lobsters
2 – 2 lb pound lobsters, parboiled and split in 1/2 lengthwise
Canola oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Corn tortillas
Canola oil
Añejo cheese

Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil and add sea salt. Carefully lower lobsters into pot, and parboil just until just red, about 2 minutes each. Cooking time varies with lobster weight. Remove lobsters from pot with tongs and plunge into a large bowl of ice water to halt the cooking process. Remove and dry well. Split lobsters in half lengthwise along the back.

Heat charcoal grill to medium high.

Brush the lobster flesh with canola oil and season with salt and pepper. Place on the grill, first flesh side up, turn and grill until just cooked through, about 3 minutes per side. The lobster meat should be firm, slightly charred and opaque when done. Extract the meat from the shells and coarsely chop.

Before filling the tacos, heat ever so briefly over the grill until they just become pliable. (Alternatively, place several wrapped in aluminum foil in an oven preheated to 400 F for about 8-10 minutes.)

Put a few spoons of salsa and lobster down the center of each tortilla with a sprinkling of añejo cheese over the top. Fold the tortillas over, brush with oil and grill, until slightly browned, about 1 minute. Brush with oil again, flip over and continue grilling until slightly browned again. Remove from the grill and serve.

Sandwiches, Anew

April 2, 2010

Too few people understand a really good sandwich.
~James Beard

Stated otherwise, Mom always reminded us that “a sandwich is always much better if someone else makes it for you.” Something about inspired, yet minimal, textural play, fine bread, and a good schmear with no shortcuts. A gift of sorts — a labor of love, knowledge, devotion and that pampered touch, I suppose. Mom always seemed to choose her aphorisms judiciously so they tended to ring true. They have born repetition more than I could count.

These may not be the precise lobster rolls she so coveted during trips to coastal Maine, but hopefully they assimilate distant cousins. Probably just some no frills freshly trapped boiled or grilled lobster, mayonnaise, simple seasonings and a toasted bun would even suffice.

Mom was an almost unparalleled tomato zealot and egg sandwiches were a house staple, so the BELT (bacon, eggs, lettuce & tomato) is simply a natural. The basics to create an incandescent BELT are: fresh eggs, ripe heirloom tomatoes, slab artisanal bacon preferably from heritage pork (The Berkshire, The Tamworth, The Duroc, et al.).

As for the last sandwich, tins of sardines and kipper snacks commonly adorned our pantry. Maybe they were period pieces—food stashed for that ominous Cold War nuclear armaggedon we ever awaited, cowering under our school desks. Now, beyond their gentle sea flavors, canned sardines are known for their nutritional omnipotence. One nutritionist dubbed sardines “health food in a can.” Health food advocates assert that they do nothing less than:

• Prevent heart attacks and strokes
• Build healthy cell walls
• Improve cholesterol levels and help to lower triglycerides
• Lower blood pressure
• Protect brain development and improve cognition and mood
• Improve memory problems associated with aging
• Alleviate inflammatory conditions such as asthma and arthritis
• Provide essential support for joint and skin health
• Slow the progression of Alzheimer’s Disease
• Maintain blood sugar balance, thus reducing risk of diabetes

Both impressive yet sadly ironic given that the Stinson plant in Maine, the last sardine cannery in the United States, is shutting down this month. For those who may wish to extend life expectancy or slightly slow the aging process, buy a case of these wunderkind. That even goes for those who think enhanced health care coverage is “armaggedon” too. More sardines and less orange skin dye may help you in the long run, Rep. Boehner. A nearly comical faux terror alert carrot facial hue. Is that cream applied head to toe or just above the collar? ~Sincerely, I am Curious Yellow

For the aioli recipes, chose from any of those in the Aïoli, Aïoli, Aïoli (and Rouille), 01.25.09 post.

LOBSTER ROLLS WITH TARRAGON MAYONNAISE

2-1 1/2 lb whole live lobsters
Sea salt

2 T finely chopped red onion
3/4 C tarragon mayonnaise
1 T dijon mustard
2 T coarsely chopped tarragon leaves
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Pinch of cayenne pepper

Hot dog buns (preferably top loading) or petit pain (french roll), sliced open
Extra virgin olive oil or unsalted butter, softened

Prepare a large ice water bath. Immerse lobster in a large pot of boiling salted water, until they turn bright red, about 10 minutes. Using tongs, plunge the lobsters into the ice water for a few minutes, then drain.

Twist off the lobster tails and claws and remove the meat. Cut the lobster meat into 1/2″ pieces and pat dry, then transfer to a strainer set over a bowl and refrigerate until very cold, at least 1 hour.

Gently combine lobster and next seven ingredients in a large bowl.

Split the rolls and brush with olive oil or butter. Grill, open side down, until golden, around 40 seconds. Fill each roll with some of the lobster salad and serve immediately.

Tarragon mayonnaise:
2 large fresh egg yolks, room temperature
1 T dijon mustard
1 T fresh tarragon leaves, finely chopped
1/2 t sea salt
Tiny pinch of cayenne pepper

2/3 C canola or grapeseed oil
1 t white wine vinegar or fresh lemon juice

Separate egg whites from yolks. With a balloon whisk, whip together the egg yolks, mustard, tarragon, salt, cayenne pepper in a medium glass or metal bowl.

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 and creamy enough to hold its shape.

Pourboire:  consider using marscapone and heavy whipping cream in lieu of tarragon mayonnaise…a difficult choice, but such is the kitchen.

BELT (BACON, EGG, LETTUCE & TOMATO)

4 thick slices good quality slab bacon, sliced

2 thick slices of ciabatta or other rustic white bread, toasted
1-2 T aioli
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2-3 fresh heirloom tomato slices
2 butter lettuce leaves

1 T unsalted butter
2 large eggs

In a heavy skillet, cook the bacon over moderate heat, turning, until crisp, about 8 minutes. Transfer to paper towels to drain.

Spread aioli on both slices of bread. Season with salt and pepper on the top piece.

In a heavy, nonstick skillet, melt the butter. Add the eggs and fry over moderate heat, turning once, until slightly crisp around the edges, about 4 minutes. The yolk should still be runny. Assemble the sandwich with lettuce, tomato, bacon, then eggs, and close with second bread slice. Serve promptly.

SARDINE ‘WICH

2 tins boneless, skinless sardines packed in olive oil
3 T aioli
1/4 C cornichons, drained and finely chopped
2 T capers, rinsed and drained

Ciabatta, sliced and toasted or grilled
Aioli
1 avocado, seeded, peeled and sliced
2 ripe tomatoes, thinly sliced
2 C fresh arugula
4 hard boiled eggs, sliced

Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Remove sardines from tin, draining oil. Transfer to a small bowl, and combine with aioli, cornichons, and capers.

Lay out ciabatta slices and lightly paint each with aioli. Then top with sardine mixture, avocado, tomato, arugula, and egg. Salt and pepper to taste, and then finish each with an aioli painted slice of bread.

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.

Sustainable Seafood

January 31, 2009

Sorry, another screed from the bully pulpit…

Fish is a high-protein, low fat food that provides a range of health benefits. In particular, white-flesh fish is lower in fat than any other source of animal protein, and oilier fish contain substantial quantities of omega-3, or the “good” fat in the human diet. A growing body of evidence indicates that omega-3 fatty acids help maintain cardiovascular health by playing a role in the regulation of blood clotting and vessel constriction.

In addition, fish does not contain those “naughty” omega-6 fatty acids lurking in red meat.

Despite their nutritional value, fish can pose considerable health risks when contaminated with substances such as metals—the most commonly discussed being mercury. Once mercury enters a waterway, naturally occurring bacteria absorb it and convert it to a form called methyl mercury. Unfortunately, humans absorb methyl mercury readily and are especially vulnerable to its effects. Because the poison is odorless, colorless and accumulates in the meat of the fish, it is not easy to detect and cannot be avoided by trimming off specific parts. Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are a group of manufactured organic chemicals that contain 209 individual chlorinated chemicals, known as congeners. Eating fish contaminated with mercury or PCBs, can adversely affect the brain and nervous system, causing serious health problems, especially for young children and pregnant women.

How do you select a fish?

Rule: Know thy local fishmonger or butcher. There is no excuse for timidity—his job (the one he is paid to do) is to serve you fresh fish, fowl and meat. Probing inquiry about his product is completely de rigeur, if not mandated; and a fishmonger or butcher who does not openly share his intimate knowledge with you is one to avoid. (I knew one.)

(1) “Flat” fish:
The shorter the “boat to plate time” the better; firm, shiny, bright colored flesh; fresh, mild, open ocean-sea breeze scent, not “fishy” or ammoniac; scales intact & even; clear, not cloudy eyes (except for deeper fish, e.g., grouper); bright pink or red gills, not slimy, dry or mucous covered; fillets & steaks should be moist and without discoloration.

(2) Shell fish (crustaceans & mollusks):
“Boat to plate time” again rules; mild, open ocean-sea breeze scent; Lobsters and crabs should be purchased live and as close to the time of cooking as possible. Both should actively move their claws; lobsters should flap their tails tightly against their chests or, when picked up, curl their tails under their shells. Shrimp should have uniform color and feel firm to the touch. Hard-shell clams, mussels, and oysters, purchased live in their shells, should have tightly closed shells or snap tightly closed when tapped. If they do not close when tapped, they are dead and should be discarded. Soft-shell clams are unable to close their shells completely. To determine if they are alive, gently touch the protruding neck of each clam to see if it will retract. If the neck does not retract slightly, discard the clam. Discard any clams, mussels, or oysters that have cracked or broken shells. Freshly shucked clams, sold in their liquor, should be plump, moist, and shiny. Freshly shucked oysters should be surrounded by a clear, slightly milky, white or light gray liquid. Freshly shucked scallops vary in color from creamy white to tan to a light pink color. Squid should have cream-colored skin with pinkish patches.

Rule: Keep in mind how the fish in our precious oceans are preciptiously vanishing…the numbers from studies are staggering. For instance, since 1950, the harvests from about one third of the world’s fisheries have collapsed to less than 10% of their historical highs. Among the culprits are overfishing, habitat damage, climate change, oxygen depletion and bycatch. So, solemnly chose a species which is relatively abundant, and whose fishing/farming methods are friendly to the seas and rivers. The fish should also be one which is commonly free of known toxins or contaminants…that is, not found in troubled waters.

Because of the number of fish involved and the ever changing populations, a well researched, almost indispensable, site which rates current seafood choices is the Monterey Aquarium Seafood Watch . Another equally informative site is Blue Ocean Institute, offering assessments and suggested better alternatives to fish in significant environmental danger. Both sources also offer seafood and sushi pocket guides to assure your restaurant choices include sustainable fish.

Finally, a new book entitled Sustainable Sushi: A Guide to Saving The Oceans One Bite At A Time was released for publication last month which provides a comprehensive guide for conscientious sushi diners.