When I was in cooking school, I interned at Bix in San Francisco. It was my first exposure to the adrenaline and excitement of a restaurant kitchen – and my first experience in the mass quantities of prep. On my first week, someone handed me a five gallon bucket of steamed lobsters to shell. The sous-chef gave me a quick tutorial on how to break them down efficiently and a kitchen towel to use as protection for my hands. Thinking the towels was for sissies, I declined. After more than a dozen lobsters, my hands were shredded by the little shells and spines of the lobster. And, of course, my next task was to juice a case of lemons.
A few months later, I visited my grandmother in Alabama. We order lobsters from the local “fish-monger” (Thinking back on this memory, it’s hard to believe Montgomery, AL had fish mongers selling fresh lobsters in the mid-90’s. But I digress.) I deftly shelled our lobsters in less than 5 minutes. While eating was far easier, it detracted from the fun of digging and picking at the shells for all the meat.
Now-a-days, I rarely eat steamed lobster. Too often it’s overcooked and rubbery. I prefer to cook it at home when I can steam it to my desire of doneness.
In tribute to Bix, I served the lobster at a recent dinner with a Cioppino-style sauce.
Lobster with Buttery Leeks and Spicy Tomato Sauce
6 - 1 1/2 pound lobsters
2 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup olive oil
2 large onions, chopped
1 cup minced celery
1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons minced garlic
2 cups canned crushed tomatoes with added puree
1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
1 cup dry red wine
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
2 cups chicken or seafood broth
1sprig fresh thyme
1 sprig fresh oregano
1 small bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
Pinch of ground allspice
Pinch of ground cinnamon
1. Bring a lobster pot 1/2 full of water to a boil. Add salt and seaweed, if you have it. Boil the lobsters for 8 minutes. Drain and run under cold water to stop the cooking process. The best video demonstration for cleaning lobsters that I've seen is here.
2. Heat oil in heavy large pot over medium-high heat. Add onions, celery and garlic. Sauté until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add crushed red pepper and cook for 1 minute. Add crushed tomatoes and diced tomatoes with their juices; simmer 10 minutes. Add red wine, red wine vinegar, thyme, oregano, bay leaf, allspice, cinnamon and seafood broth. Simmer 30 minutes. Season to taste with salt, pepper and lemon juice. To give the base more body, puree half of it in a food mill.
3. Heat a medium skillet over medium flame. Melt butter. Add leeks and cook stirring occasionally until leeks are soft. Season with salt and pepper.
4. Before serving, warm lobster in leek butter. Serve with grilled bread or pasta.