I’m not going to lie. This recipe will take a while. From start to finish, probably three hours. Not including shopping, because this is not one of those “fly by the seat of your pantry” recipes about which I brag that you “probably have everything you need for this already!” It’s JULIA. With JACQUES. It’s lobster. PBS.org is doing a summer long tribute to this doyen of home cooking, this translator of the time-honored French technique for the American audience, in honor of her 100th birthday on August 15th. This recipe and post is my slice of that pie, or should I say soufflé.
When I got the request to do a post on Julia, I had to search my culinary soul for a connection to her. Yes, she’d been on PBS since the early 60s, when I was more focused on cartoons and situation comedies than cooking, and through the 70s and 80s when working in restaurants or doing private catering was what I did to pay the rent while pursuing other more glamourous dreams. Julia was always there, an American icon of TV cooking, a tireless promoter of a wider, more global palate. Even if you never watched her show, you knew her. You recognized the voice from the other room, if you had the TV tuned into the morning shows as background while you got ready for work. She’d done dozens of such appearances. You could appreciate the sincerest flattery when impressionists took on her modulating mad vocals, and belly laugh at the Saturday Night Live version of her antics with a chicken. Like a lot of the country, I have the best seller and subsequent film, Julia and Julia to thank for pulling my attention to her as a real person, a fearless and focused pioneer of what we take for granted now: culinary instruction as entertainment. She ushered in the era of the serious home cook. It was her worship at the alter of fine food, her awe-struck admiration of great restaurant chefs that helped create the era celebrity chefs as well. From Jacques Pepin to Tom Collichio, and all the TV chefs in between, each have Julia Child to thank in some way for their very public good fortune.
Yet, as I dug into Julia, I realized that it was more personal than that. She was not just the world’s cooking pioneer. What she’d done mirrored some of what I had the opportunity to do nearly 60 years later, though on a much more modest scale. She went to culinary school as a late bloomer, an oddball 36-year-old attending Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. I went to the French Culinary Institute in NYC at age 51 in 2009, where I was in a class of 20 students, most of whom were half my age. After Cordon Bleu, Julia teamed up with two like-minded classmates and started a cooking school. By the time I graduated from FCI, I had my logo, business cards and a plan to start my own “mobile” cooking school, FoodFix. Now, I’m booked months in advance for in-home culinary instruction, cooking parties, corporate cooking demos and team building through cooking. Julia slogged away at writing, a vision for a book that would hand the home cook, on a silver platter, the inspiration and technique they need to enter the glorious world of French cooking. It was nearly 800 pages long and took a total of 10 years to complete and then find a home with a publisher. For 2 years I’ve been writing this blog, dozens of freelance articles and guest posts, chipping away at my own idea for a cookbook, all while hoping that my voice and POV will make a dent in the culinary world, and inspire people to get in the kitchen and eat well, cook well, live well. Nearly 50, Julia broke into TV cooking, hell, she basically invented the genre that made it possible for me, at nearly 55 to appear on a morning show, and a cooking competition show on a network dedicated 24/7 to Food. My private and public dreams of gaining CHEF CRED and some modest place in the public radar are possible in part because of the path she brûléed so many years ago.
Which brings me to another point of intersection between my life and Julia’s, and the reason why I chose a recipe from her book, Cooking With Masters, a companion to her TV series Master Chefs. In this 1993 book, Child showcases 15 established chefs, each offering 3-4 signature recipes that she sort of adapts for the home cook. (I say “sort of” because, 3 hours is hardly what most home cooks would tolerate in 2012 for any recipe…but maybe in 1993 people had more time? They probably did because there was no internet.) At FCI I got to see Chef Pepin occasionally in the kitchens, and in the halls, and whenever he was doing a demo for students in the school’s amphitheater I would volunteer to assist him. I was lucky enough to get to do this several times, as well as with the other Deans of the school, Chef Alain Sailhac (Le Cirque, 21) and Chef Andre Soltner (Lutece), who is also feature in the book. I too was awe-struck by these master chefs. I loved being around them, listening to their lyrical French accents which brought me back to my childhood with family gathered around food-laden tables, bantering in French, Enrico Macias or Edith Piaf playing on the stereo.
I had so much fun with this recipe. I dedicated most of a day to it, starting with choosing the lobsters from the tank at my local fish monger, to the final flourish of the tomalley-infused butter on the plate. Those three hours (ok maybe four) going from task to task, building the flavors from the ground up, paying attention to the classic technique, taking time with the small details that make a big difference, I was in focus and in the present each step of the way. I was in my life in the vivid and hands-on-the-wheel way that only cooking gives me. With a knife in one hand and a sweet lobster in the other, there is no dwelling on the past or longing for some imagined future. As for the time it all took, well I’ll quote Julia here and leave it at that: “…nothing is too much trouble if it turns out the way it should.” ― Julia Child, My Life in France
Lobster Soufflé a l’Americaine
Adapted From Cooking With Masters, Julia Childs
From the introduction to the recipe:
Here is another recipe from the glorious past, first made famous by the Hotel Plaza-Athénée in Paris but based on a great Parisian lobster dish of the 1800s, Homard a l’Americaine—lobster sautéed with tomatoes and cognac. In the Plaza-Athénée version, the sautéed and sauced lobster is arranged in the bottom of a soufflé dish and the soufflé is baked on top of it. Chef Jacques feels the lobster becomes over-cooked this way; he therefore steams the lobster briefly, makes his sauce out of the shells, and cooks a cheese soufflé separately to accompany them…joining them together for the final presentation.
For cooking the lobster: (Can be done ahead, several hours, or even a day.)
4 live lobsters, 1 ½ lbs. each
4 small or 2 large leeks
2 meium yellow onion rough cut
4 carrots, cleaned and rough cut
2 cups white wine
1 cup white wine vinegar
2 lemons, halved
1 Sachet ( These should be tied up together in some cheesecloth, if possible, or if not, then just added to the pot: 1 bay leaf, 1 garlic clove, smashed)
4 quarts water
For the lobster stock:
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, peeled and rough cut
1 large celery stalk, rough cut
1 medium carrot, scrubbed, unpeeled, rough cut
6 cloves garlic, unpeeled and crushed
2 tablespoons cognac
1 cup dry white wine
1 large tomato or 1 dozen grape tomatoes, cut into 1-inch dice
1 large (14 oz) can crushed tomatoes, simmered and reduced to about 1 cup volume
2 teaspoons Herbs de Provence
3 bay leaves
2 teaspoons paprika
2 tablespoons fresh tarragon, chopped (leaves and stems)
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper (or to taste)
½ teaspoon fennel seeds
To finish lobster sauce:
½ cup heavy cream or half and half
1 ½ teaspoons potato or corn starch, dissolved in 2 tablespoons of room temp water
1 teaspoon cognac (for the tomalley)
The Cheese Soufflé (recipe follows)
A large stockpot that can hold 5 quarts of liquid and 4 lobsters.
A colander, set over a large bowl
A fine-mesh sieve set over a small saucepan
A 4-Qt heavy bottomed saucepan
My Notes on Cooking the Lobster
I personally recommend killing lobsters humanely before cooking. It takes more fortitude on your part, but lobsters feel pain and will “scream” and jump if you put them in boiling water or steam them while alive, and I don’t like that experience either. Learning to kill them humanely is not difficult…just requires a sharp knife and quick application of that knife in the right place to sever the central nervous system, and render the experience painless. Another motivation is that the meat will be more tender, as the lobster tends to seize up and contract if thrown into boiling water live. Watch this informative short video of Eric Ripert teaching recreational students (non-professionals) at my alma mater (French Culinary Institute, New York Culinary Experience) how to humanely and instantly kill a lobster. http://youtu.be/Nz4etAin564
If you absolutely feel like you can’t do it this way, then you can drop them into the boiling liquid while live, but do your best to drop them head first, keeping the rubber bands on the claws in place until after cooking.
For cooking the lobster (15 minutes):
The Child/Pepin recipe calls for steaming the lobster for 12 minutes, which I tried, and decided I prefer Thomas Keller’s method of gently cooking shellfish in a Court Boullion, for added flavor and tenderness.
1. Combine all the vegetables and the sachet in a large stockpot, along with the 4 quarts of water. Bring to a rolling boil. Reduce to a simmer and add white wine and vinegar. Squeeze in the lemon juice, then add lemons to the pot. Return to a boil.
2. Add the lobsters, head first, then cover the pot to return the liquid to a gentle boil. Remove lid from pot and then boil for only 1 minute. Remove pot from heat, cover, then let the lobsters steep in the liquid for 9 minutes. Remove lobsters from liquid, reserving two cups of the cooking liquid aside, and transfer lobsters to a baking sheet or tray to cool down enough to handle. About 15 minutes.
3. Working over a bowl, or the tray to capture any juices, one by one, twist off the big claws, joints, and tails. Crack the shells with a nutcracker or mallet, then work to remove meat from all the shells, including knuckle and claw meat. For the tails, hold each tail flat, back shell facing up, and using a sharp knife cut lengthwise in half. With a pair of tweezers, pull out and discard the intestinal vein that runs the length of the tail.
4. Remove the loose tomalley (green matter) from the chest cavities, add the softened butter (2 tablespoons), then using a silicone spatula, press this mixture through a fine sieve into a small saucepan, scraping off the bottom of the sieve to get it all. Reserve.
5. You should have a yield of 2 ½ -3 cups of lobster meat, with some juices. Strain the juices through a fine sieve and pour this liquid back in with the lobster. Cover lobster meat, so it’s airtight (plastic wrap or tight lid) and refrigerate until ready to use. May be done ahead a few hours or 1 day ahead.
6. Chop up the lobster bodies and the shells and reserve for making the stock.
For the Lobster Stock (40 minutes):
1. Set a large saucepan over moderately high heat, add the oil, and when hot stir in the chopped vegetables. Sauté to soften and brown lightly, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon, 4-5 minutes. Add the chopped lobster shells/body, and sauté 3-4 minutes. Pour in 2 tablespoons of the cognac, and tilting the pan slightly toward the flame, the cognac should ignite. If working with electric or induction burners, you may have to use a long match to get the cognac in the pan to ignite. (In culinary school we were shown how to put a bit of the spirits on the wooden spoon, bring the spoon to the flame or match, then “carry” the flame over to the pan to ignite the spirits in the pan…try this if all else fails!).
2. Douse the flames with the wine. Add the reserved lobster liquid. Stir in the diced tomato, tomato reduction, and seasonings. Bring to a simmer, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes.
3. This is a good time to make the Souffle, (see recipe.)
4. After simmering the sauce for 30 minutes, place a colander or large sieve over or in a large bowl. Pour contents of the pan into the strainer or colander. Allow all the juices to drain out of the solid matter, using a ladle or large spoon to press down on them and release as much of the cooking liquid as possible.
5. Strain this liquid through a fine sieve (if you didn’t use a sieve in the first place) into a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil and reduce down to 1 ½ cups liquid.
For finishing the sauce:
Just before you are ready to serve, (your soufflé is done) Add the cream to the reduced liquid, and stir in the dissolved starch (slurry). Continue to simmer, stirring constantly for 1 minute or so, until the sauce has thickened. Stir in the tablespoon of cognac, and remove from heat. Heat up the tomalley.
For preparing the tomalley:
Set the saucepan with the tomalley over low heat, stirring until it warms through but does not come to a boil. Remove from heat and add a teaspoon of cognac. Serve to pass around with the lobster, or dot over the sauce, when serving.
Assembling the dish:
In the Childs/Pepin recipe it says to: “remove the lobster meat from the refrigerator. About 12 minutes before the soufflé is finished, place the lobster meat in a baking dish, alongside the soufflé to warm the meat through.” I have to say that this did not sound like a good idea to me. To my mind, why bother going to the trouble of gently cooking the lobster in a court boullion to make it tender and flavorful, if you are going to blast it to rubber in the oven? Also, opening the oven door, allowing the temperature to drop and placing something cold in the oven next to my lofty soufflé, kind of horrified me too.
So…what I did: When your soufflé is done, and your sauce and tomalley are heated and ready to go, place your lobster meat in a microwave safe bowl, along with the juices. Cover the bowl with a microwave safe plate or cover. Microwave on high heat for 1 ½ – 2 minutes to just warm through the meat.)
Family Style Presentation: Place the soufflé (still on the bottom of the springform or if you can slide the soufflé off the pan without breaking it, without the pan) in the middle of a large platter and arrange the lobster meat around the soufflé, pour half the sauce around the meat, and dot with tomalley (or serve tomalley separately, for those who don’t like it.) Serve.
Individual plating: Place an equal portion of lobster meat in the bottom of 4 soup plates or shallow bowls, spoon on hot sauce, dot with tomalley. Lay a portion of the soufflé on top of the lobster, or to the side. Serve.
Cheese Souffle for Lobster Americaine
For coating the soufflé dish:
1 tablespoon softened unsalted butter
3 tablespoons panko breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, grated
1 teaspoon paprika
For the soufflé:
3 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup milk, warmed but not boiling
3 egg yolks
5 egg whites
1 cup Gruyere cheese, shredded
2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, grated
Hand mixer or stand mixer
Coating the springform pan: Smear the softened butter all over the pan bottom and sides. In a small bowl, combine the panko, Parmesan and paprika. Pour this mixture into the buttered springform pan. Roll the pan around in your hands, distributing the crumb mixture all around, until the pan is evenly coated with it. Hold in the refrigerator until ready for use.
For the Soufflé:
1. Preheat the oven to 375° F. Warm up the milk. Separate eggs and have 3 yolks in a large bowl, and the 5 whites in another large bowl suitable for beating them in (the bowl of a stand mixer or one you can use a hand mixer with.)
2. Melt the chilled butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Sprinkle the flour in with the butter and whisk until well blended. Cook the roux for 2-3 minutes, whisking constantly so that the mixture begins to have a “nutty” aroma, reminiscent of a pie crust baking. It will bubble and get frothy. You don’t want to brown it too much or burn it, but you also want to cook it enough so your beschamel does not have a raw flour taste to it. Remove the pan from the heat and pour in all the warmed milk at once, whisking vigorously to blend it and the roux. Return to heat and continue whisking. The mixture will thicken quickly and will be quite thick. Remove from heat. While continuing to whisk the beschamel, add one egg yolk or a portion of egg yolk at a time, until all three are incorporated. Hold aside.
3. Beat the egg whites at medium-high speed until stiff, shiny peaks hold their shape. Gently fold 1/3 of the whites into the beschamel to lighten it. Then scrape the beschamel mixture back into the remaining whites and continue to fold and combine the two, while sprinkling in the Gruyere as you do so.
4. Turn the mixture into the prepared springform pan. Evenly distribute the parmesan cheese over the top, and set the soufflé on a rack set in the lower third of the oven. Bake for 30-35 minutes, undisturbed, for 30-35 minutes, until the soufflé has risen and browned nicely. It has to be firm enough to stand alone, but not too firm. A narrow straw plunged down through the center should come out almost clean.
5. When done, the soufflé should pull away from the sides of the springform and allow you to easily remove the sides. Or you may need to run a knife around the edges to help release it.