Summer Specials

When planning my birthday dinner, I wanted to make a special menu to mark the day.

As you saw from the Torta Ricotta e Pere several weeks ago, the dessert fit the bill, but the main course had to rock too.

Lobster Thermidor. I had never made it and, in fact, I don't think I'd ever had the real thing... nothing more than some gelatinous mess on a steam table at a supposed high-end brunch buffet.

For many years, when living on the Maine Coast, lobster was a given for my natal day, because late August is the best season for the firm-fleshed North Atlantic critters. But, here in the desert, 3,000 miles from the source of those tasty crustaceans, it takes a very special occasion to indulge in lobster.

Special and expensive! But, I am worth it, right?

Lobster Thermidor consists of buttery, sherry-laced chunks of lobster, sautéed with mushrooms, in an egg-cream sauce, nicely browned under the broiler. Oh, happy birthday to me!

It is really a fairly straightforward and simple dish, especially if your fishmonger will cook the lobster for you in advance.

Notes for lobster novices:
• Don't try to remove the rubber bands prior to cooking, or there will be blood, and it wont be the lobsters. 
• When steaming or boiling a live lobster, it takes 9 minutes per pound, so it is important to know how much your "bugs" weigh.
• Keep live lobsters very cold until it is time to plunge them, head first, into the water. 
• If using the lobster meat to make a dish, such as Thermidor, undercook the whole lobsters by 2 minutes per pound, as they will finish cooking in the sauté pan.

Lobster Thermidor was invented at Maries Restaurant in Paris in 1894 and named for a play at a neighboring theater. The play took its name from its setting amidst the Thermidorian Reaction during the French Revolution a century earlier. Thermidor had been one of the newly-given names of the months in that chaotic era.

Prior to something as rich as the Thermidor, I wanted a light and summery soup. A no butter/no cream soup, as there would be plenty of each coming our way in the successive course. I opted for my chilled and minted melon-lime soup.

I had gone to the farmers market a couple of days before, and snagged a perfectly ripe Ambrosia melon. Ambrosia melons are sweet and juicy, with very tender flesh. With this melon, I used our homegrown limes and mint with a dash of dessert wine to make a beautiful, light, and healthy soup to open the meal.

For wine pairings, I had a lovely Provençal Viognier Vaudois that I assumed would pair well with the lobster. Jennifer and Pat brought a lovely choice of buttery Chardonnays to add to the table (in addition to the gift of the beautiful gratin dishes!).

In Maine, Viognier was known as the perfect wine pairing for lobster. While that might normally be the case, I think you should read the pairing notes I wrote for the Provence WineZine.

Short and sweet: the Viognier was not good with the lobster, but went perfectly with the melon soup. The Frank Family Chardonnay was perfect with the lobster. In the end, we were all happy.

And I was a year older.

~ David

Melon-Lime Soup with Mint

1 large, orange-fleshed melon
1 lime
1/4 cup dessert or sweet wine
2-4 tablespoons agave syrup
1 bunch fresh mint

Halve the melon, and scoop out all the seeds and string part. Slice into wedges and remove the rind. Cut into chunks and place them in a blender. Add the juice of the lime, the wine, and 2 tablespoons agave syrup. Purée until very smooth, and taste for sweetness. Add a little more agave syrup and blend again, until the proper sweetness has been achieved.

Tie the mint with butcher's string, and roll the bundle between your hands to bruise the leaves. Dunk the mint into the blender with the puréed melon, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours and up to 24 hours.

To serve, remove the mint and discard. Purée the soup again to make it creamy/foamy. (The soup will have separated in the fridge.)

Divide among chilled soup plates, and garnish with either a slice of lime, or a sprig of mint.

Serves 4.

Lobster Thermidor

a 2-pound lobster, cooked 
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus extra for gratin dishes
1 large shallot, peeled and minced
4 white button mushrooms, thinly sliced
salt and freshly ground white pepper
pinch of paprika
1/4 cup dry Sherry, divided
1/2 cup heavy cream, scalded and divided
1 egg yolk
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard

Cut the cooked lobster in half lengthwise. Remove the claws; crack them and remove the meat. Remove the tail from each half; cut the tail and claw meat into a half-inch dice. Wash the shells and reserve for serving, or butter two gratin dishes (my choice).

Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over moderate heat, then cook shallot and mushrooms, stirring, for about 5 minutes. Add lobster meat, salt, and pepper and reduce heat to low. Cook, shaking pan gently, 1 minute. Add 2 tablespoons Sherry and 1/4 cup hot cream and simmer 5 minutes, till slightly thick.

Whisk together yolk, mustard, and remaining Sherry in a small bowl. Slowly pour remaining 1/4 cup hot cream into yolks, whisking constantly, and transfer to a small heavy saucepan. Cook custard over very low heat, whisking, until it has thickened. Add custard to lobster mixture, stirring gently.

Preheat broiler. Arrange lobster shells, cut sides up (or two buttered gratin dishes) in a shallow baking pan and spoon lobster with some of sauce into shells/dishes. Broil 6 inches from element until golden brown.

Serves 2.

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