reprinted from the TasteFood holiday archives
A gift box labelled “Perishable” arrived at our home earlier this week. I had a heads-up on this, because my mother, who lives on the coast of Maine, mentioned she was sending us something edible for the holidays. When the box arrived I was on my way out the door, running late to go into the city with a friend. When the deliveryman handed me the box, I imagined a fruitcake or chocolate. I set the parcel on my kitchen table and hurriedly put on my shoes by the door. Suddenly, the box shifted. I looked up in surprise, and my dog started growling. I hesitated, but the box didn’t move again, and my friend was outside tooting her car horn ready to go. Figuring the contents of the box were just settling, I picked up the box and placed it on a bench outside the front door in the cold air. After all the box said “Perishable.” I would tend to it when I came home.
An hour later my husband called me on my phone. He had arrived home early and discovered the box. Did I know the contents? I paused, knowing something was coming. He continued to tell me that we were the proud owners of 2 new family members. As he explained further it suddenly came to me: They were lobsters. From Maine. Of course.
So now what? I love lobster, but I don’t like to cook them. I face this contradiction every summer when we visit Maine. My husband is understanding and clearly not as conflicted in the lobster department, so generously offered to stun them and boil them before I came home. And when I did I found a platter of freshly cooked lobster. We enjoyed them for dinner, saving and freezing the shells and extra meat to make a bisque. Several days later I cooked the shells, making a rich stock for the base of the bisque to which I added the remaining lobster meat and cream. Served in demi-tasse cups it was a sublime and elegant addition to a holiday party, an extra treat created from the gift that keeps giving.
an elegant addition to a holiday or celebratory dinner
Makes 4-6 portions
2 cooked lobsters
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/3 cup (80 ml.) brandy
1 fennel bulb, halved lengthwise, sliced thinly
3 shallots, sliced thinly
2 garlic cloves, cut in slivers
8 black peppercorns
3 tablespoons tomato paste
4 cups water
2 cups heavy cream
Working over a large bowl to catch juices, break off lobster tails and claws. Crack tails and claws and remove meat. Chop lobster meat in large chunks. Cover and chill.
Coarsely chop lobster shells and bodies. Place shells in bowl. Reserve lobster juice from the bowl.
Heat oil in a large pot over high heat. Add lobster shells and bodies and sear without stirring for one minute. Stir them and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the shells begin to brown, about 5 minutes.
Add brandy, fennel, shallots, garlic and peppercorns. Reduce heat to medium-low. Cook, stirring, until vegetables soften, about 3 minutes. Add tomato paste and water. Bring to a boil. Boil for 20 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand for 15 minutes.
Strain through a fine-meshed strainer, pressing firmly on solids. (Can be made in advance to this point. Cover and refrigerate for up to 2 days or freeze up to one month.)
Add cream to lobster stock. Simmer 10 minutes. Add lobster meat. Stir to heat through.
Serve in bowls or demi-tasse cups.
Crab and Shrimp Bisque:
If lobster is not readily available, you can substitute the lobster with crab or shrimp. In either case, pre-cook the crab or shrimp. Then remove the shells, saving the meat. Cook the shells and follow the recipe as noted above.
The bisque pictured above has lobster and shrimp meat, since we ate a good deal of the lobster when it was freshly cooked.