A live lobster, boiled to order at a restaurant, is always an expensive proposition. Sometimes, on a coast somewhere, one encounters an informal restaurant where the price per pound is less shocking; these tend to be small lobsters on a roll or as a part of a clam bake, and while delicious, are a fortunate result of time and place. What about those other moments when the desire (or request) for lobster strikes, and there is no such shack in site? Or when the wallet is unwilling to accommodate so rich a caprice?
There is a well-guarded secret of the garde-manger: a lobster, in the singular, can stretch. Familiar examples of this practice abound: lobster bisque, lobster ravioli, lobster mousse, lobster sauces of every description, and, of course, my favorite, lobster spaghetti. The uniting principle here is the same—carefully rationed and well handled, lobster can be an economical ingredient. The key is in learning to isolate and extract flavor from the various components.
The ideal starting point is a live lobster of, say, 3 pounds. This is a large lobster by any standard and will cost real money. To aid in transportation, my monger provides a styrofoam coffin full of ice; morbid, but effective. The idea is to keep the condemned cold, either on ice or in the fridge, and preferably both. A cold lobster is a docile lobster. Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil; I add salt, a squeezed lemon or two, several bay leaves and peppercorns. Some people dispatch the lobster with a paring knife through the back of the head moments before the plunge; classicists just plunge. I don’t really have an opinion here, but if I have come this far, the lobster is going in the pot. Twenty minutes should do it. The cooked lobster can now be chilled for later use, or processed right away.
To transform a lobster from an expensive meal for one to an economy ingredient for many, three crucial components must be separated: the meat, the shells and the tomalley (liver). I’m not a gadget person, so I liberate the meat with a heavy chef’s knife and a rolling pin, but I won’t begrudge those who insist on crackers and picks and whatever other devices exist. Make certain you are retaining only the green tomalley and not the stomach or gills which aren’t edible. Refrigerate the meat and tomalley until needed. Rinse the shells and cover with cold water in a small saucepan. Add a standard mirepoix, bay leaves, peppercorns and a cup of white wine. Bring up to boil, reduce to a simmer and let steep for half an hour. Presto: lobster stock. These three—the meat, tomalley, and stock—can now be stretched into bisques, chowders, fillings, salads and terrines.
Several years ago, I spent a New Year’s Eve at home with my wife. It was our first time doing so; we were accustomed to travel or parties around the holiday, but a newborn had us housebound. To mark the occasion, I bought a hefty lobster to share. I made drawn butter, cut lemon wedges, minced parsley. I chilled Champagne. We wore bibs. But no sooner did we sit, we both learned a valuable lesson: a new baby and a lobster dinner do not work. In the morning, after a largely sleepless night, our lobster sat in the fridge wrapped in foil, untouched. Friends and family descended on New Year’s Day; the following was the fortuitous result.
Boil water for the spaghetti. Fry two cups of tomato concasse with a sliced garlic clove in an ounce of butter. Add two cups of reduced lobster stock and further reduce to desired thickness. Stir through tomalley. Marry sauce and al dente spaghetti along with two ounces of butter and a handful of chopped parsley. Serve immediately.