Lobster Risotto

Dining date: 2/26/12

lobster risotto5

When I first started to cook sous vide at home, one of the things I wanted to make was lobster. Like most seafood, it can be a bit challenging for me to prepare since it’s so easy to overcook. With sous vide, I could ensure it would be cooked perfectly each time. I really like seafood risotto, so I decided to pair the lobster with the rice dish. It would be an ideal way to use the whole lobster too, since the body/shell could be turned into a stock for the basis of the dish.

To start with, I purchased a 3+ pound live lobster. As far as I can remember, I’ve never handled a live lobster. In fact, I think this is the first time I’ve had to dispatch anything live for consumption. I’ve read and seen that the quickest, most humane way to kill a lobster is with a knife through the middle of the head; when contemplating that, I felt it was too…direct. So I decided to go with the boiling water method, blanching the lobster for just a minute or two. In short, it had a slow-ish death; I immediately regretted it and was completely disturbed. I hate to say it, but I like to stay removed from the whole process of killing one’s own food.

live lobster

Once blanched, I regained my composure and took apart the lobster by twisting the tail off and pulling off the claws and legs. I removed all of the still-raw meat and cut up the shells in order to make a lobster stock. The sight of the whole tail was something else – conjuring up some willpower, I abstained from turning the tail into a lobster sashimi on the spot.

lobster

raw lobster tail

The shells were sauteed, adding celery, onions, carrots, tomato paste, white wine, thyme, fennel fronds and a bay leaf. Finally, I added water to cover and simmered for about an hour and a half. I didn’t add any salt, figuring I would salt to taste in the final stages of the actual risotto. While simmering the aroma of the stock was incredible, making my apartment smell something like a seafood shack. I half expected the neighbors to come knocking for some fresh lobster rolls and chowder.

shellfish stock

shellfish stock2

At this point, preparing the lobster meat was probably the easiest part of the entire process. I cut the tail into two portions and combined each portion with one claw’s meat and a generous amount of butter in a vacuum-sealed bag. It would then sit in a 59.5C water bath for about 45 minutes.

Before:

lobster tail

After:

cooked lobster tail

While the lobster was cooking, I prepared the risotto. I followed a recipe from the America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook:

Saffron Risotto

Ingredients:
3 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
3 cups water
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1 onion, minced
Salt
2 cups Arborio rice
1/4 teaspoon lightly crumbled saffron threads
1 cup dry white wine
2 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated (1 cup)
Pepper

1. Bring the broth and water to a simmer in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Cover and keep the broth warm over the lowest possible heat.
2. Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook until lightly browned, about 9 minutes.
3. Stir in the rice and saffron threads and cook until the edges begin to turn translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the wine and cook, stirring frequently, until it is completely absorbed, about 2 minutes. Add 3 cups of the warm broth mixture and bring to a simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the liquid is absorbed, about 11 minutes.
4. Continue to cook, stirring in roughly 1/2 cup of the broth every few minutes, until the rice is cooked through but is still somewhat firm in the center, about 11 minutes.
5. Stir in the Parmesan. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

I followed the steps pretty closely with a few exceptions. First, I used carnaroli rice instead of arborio. Second, I used my homemade lobster stock (duh!) instead of chicken broth, as well as a much higher ratio of stock:water than what’s stated in the recipe. Third, I omitted the cheese.

onions

carnaroli rice

rice

rice and stock

Finally, I plated the risotto, topping it with my lobster, chopped parsley, and some lemon zest. Voila!

risotto

lobster risotto

lobster risotto4

I was pretty happy with how everything turned out. As expected, the lobster was perfectly cooked – delightfully spongy and sweet. I think the risotto could’ve been a touch soupier, but I was still happy about it. Both the saffron and lobster stock brought a ton of flavor that really made the risotto, and I liked the lemon zest for the fresh citrus flavor without the tart acidity.

Looking back, it was a lot of work for one dish but it was pretty damn satisfying and I’d do it again. I would experiment with some shortcuts, including using just lobster tails, as well as playing with store-bought chicken/shellfish stock for a dish that would hopefully be close, but much quicker to prepare.

New England Lobster (San Francisco, CA)

New England Lobster
170 Mitchell Ave
South San Francisco, CA 94080
Dining date: 12/28/11

truck

My dad is a big fan of seafood and will go to great lengths to find the good stuff, particularly if it’s crab or lobster. So, when he proposed driving down to South San Francisco for this ‘truck,’ I was intrigued. I’m pretty food truck fatigued, but figured this had to be something special if we were going to make a drive out here.

The New England Lobster trailer is only a couple months old, an extension of a large retail and wholesale seafood company (the largest lobster wholesaler in California). It’s parked right outside the company’s storefront, where they sell fresh lobster, crab and other seafood year-round. Direct from the source…perfect. It’s actually the place where my dad gets the lobsters for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners and presumably this is how he stumbled upon the trailer.

menu

The menu is fairly brief…focused, I should say. They make only a few things and they make them well. The rolls are $10-$15.50 which is a bit more expensive than typical food truck fare, but hey, it’s fresh crab and lobster. They definitely have a competitive advantage in terms of their seafood pricing and it’s rather no-frills eating; you’re really getting a lot of value out of those dollars.

It was a little chilly out, so I started with a bowl of soup.

Lobster Corn Chowder Soup

lobster chowder2

Rather light and creamy, the soup had a nice sweetness both from the corn and lobster. It was kind of like a lobster bisque; there was definitely a lobster/shellfish stock base. I was a little fearful that the lobster would be overcooked in the hot soup, but my fears were assuaged as I bit into the plump and juicy pieces. Nice!

Lobster Roll

lobster roll

lobster roll2

Now, what we were most looking forward to. The roll was generously sized, about 8 inches long and packed with Maine lobster. The bread was toasted and soft, while the lobster was lightly dressed in what I think was just mayo, salt and pepper. Quite simple. The sweet lobster had the spongy, springy texture I was expecting and was quite tasty, especially with a splash of lemon.

Served with potato chips and coleslaw, but I didn’t think they were even necessary. Though, it’s hard to go wrong with some simple potato chips with a sandwich like this.

Crab Roll

crab roll

crab roll2

Similar to the lobster roll, this one was filled with a good amount of fresh crab. I don’t think it was dressed in anything. I personally prefer lobster over crab so I liked that one better, but this roll was equally well-executed. I think the potato chips were more important with this sandwich to add that crunchy texture, since crab just doesn’t have the springy bite that lobster does.

Given this was just after dinner at Saison the night before, I was ready for some sort of letdown but it wasn’t found here. The food exceeded my expectations and was quite good for any restaurant, let alone a trailer.  The seafood is, expectantly, very fresh and simply prepared; the quality of the seafood really came through. My only regret was not taking any fresh seafood home with me.

Right now, the trailer can only be found parked outside their marketplace. However, once the staff hits its stride, I suspect we may be seeing them soon in other locations on the peninsula and in San Francisco proper. In my opinion this would have to be a marquee option, especially when pitted against other mobile vendors.