In honor of National Lobster Day, I thought it would be appropriate to share a great lobster food story and a fabulous lobster recipe …
A True Tail
Working in a professional kitchen, there are times where your ingredients just may turn on you; especially if they are alive. As a chef, one must remain calm, professional, and never lose their composure; however, this true tail is not one of those incidences.
The Call of Duty
I was working in a luxury hotel as their Chef de Cuisine; a creative role in the culinary arts that entails developing new menu items and recipes. The hotel had three restaurants, fine dining, casual family dining, and a high end food on the go scheme. My main focus was the fine dining restaurant, creating new menus, specials revolving around seasonal ingredients, and wine dinners. We catered to the up and up in the Seattle/Puget Sound area, yes even the computer guy, which is a story all in its own. So the pressure to be the best of the best was on the daily. On this fateful day my superior had informed me that there was a food show downtown and a local magazine requested our presence for the event. We were asked to bring an extravagant main course for their front cover and I was the one they chose.
When I heard this I was ecstatic, amazing exposure in the big city, and front cover of a magazine too! I accepted with silent glee, partly shock, and mostly fear; for this was an opportunity of a lifetime for an aspiring chef.
“You need to be ready in two hours”.
“Whaaat?” Glossy eyed I gazed up at my boss,
“You are serious aren’t you?”
Not really a question for you never question a 7 foot Norwegian. Now you may think creating just one dish in two hours would be no problem; except I was the underdog among the elite, the best of the best in the city, plus I had the curse of being a girl. How ironic that nowadays the kitchen is a man’s world where in the 50’s that the only place a woman should be.
I immediately delegated my daily job tasks to my number two guy in charge, and feverishly went through all my past food photos, recipes, and lavish trends at the time. Then suddenly the idea bounced among my head, the gold medal of all dishes, the flavor to savor in the culinary arts; although there was one problem, my prized ingredient was not a stocked item in the kitchen.
“That’s okay, it’s okay” I thought, I knew some people who could pull some strings. As I dialed my connection, visions began to dance, for I knew if I could pull this off, it would be the beginning of something big. Little did I know that fate had other plans that day. I frantically made the call:
“Hey it’s me, I need a BIG favor. Did you get a shipment today from Maine? No, I just need one, yea just one, and a big one at that. Yea the biggest you got and I want it to be as alive as they come, as soon as possible. Thanks man I owe ya one. Sweet!”
My boss glanced over pretending not to care about the conversation. “What was that about?” Smiling, I replied “oh you just wait” and I skipped into my lab of creation and started on my masterpiece.
To this day I still believe my vendor knew what he had done, he had to of.
As promised, within the hour my prized ingredient had arrived. The buzz in the kitchen had reached an intense hum. What is she up to now? That was always the question in my case. As my faithful delivery man entered the kitchen with a box marked “Live”, everyone began to gather around. I signed off to my doom, shook the devil’s advocate hand, and tore the box open. I looked down at the beast, he had to of been at least 8 pounds all together. Well, perhaps more like 4 ½ lbs., but when you face the thing you fear most it seems to multiply in size. Our eyes locked and I could tell this one wasn’t going down without a fight. Then the real fear began to set in. Truth is, I secretly had always been terrified of the species, but never told a soul. So I played it off and nonchalantly asked my fellow coworkers if they could tend to the deed. They were ecstatic, why guys get a thrill out of playing with live food, I will never understand. All I cared about in that moment was they were doing the dirty work and I wasn’t. I slipped away, mumbling I needed to check on something, doing my very best to hide my fear. I could hear them though; I still hear them to this day.
Day of the Living Dead
“Take of the claws first; see if it will still move” Dude! It’s still moving, Check it out! The claws are moving on their own, Okay now the head, oh my gosh, it’s not dead, and the eyes are still moving!”
I couldn’t take any more, by this time I was shaking, like I am now, I yelled from the other side of the kitchen, cowering,
“Just get it done, stop messing around. All I want is the tail, you can have the rest!”
At this point I was contemplating passing out to avoid any confrontation with them or the beast. But I manned up, walked back to my cutting board, and saw the remains.
“Okay, not so scary just a tail, a delectable one at that,” I silently thought.
Then the crowd began to gather, watching in anticipation of what I was going to do next, and the two culprits with death still dripping from their knives peered from front row. Big breath in, slowly exhaling out, no problem, I thought, the worst was over. I slowly picked up the tail, and then that’s when I knew I was never going to be the same again. Scarred. The beast’s tail arose from the dead, curled around my hand, and held on for dear life. My body began to convulse as if the beast’s spirit was evoking his fellow comrades to join him. All the efforts of trying to be one of the guy’s, the tough chick, destroyed. I screamed bloody murder, just like the dumb blonde in a crappy B rated horror flick, and bolted for the nearest exit I could find, which happened to be in the doors of an occupied banquet room.
Now, I am going to let your imagination run wild with this next scene: a room full of top executives holding a business meeting in one of our banquet rooms, deep in concentration on their business agenda only to look up and find and a pale frightened girl dressed in a chef coat, panting and trembling. Many of the men slowly placed their muffin back down, never taking their eyes off me. When I came to, I curtsied, smiled, and silently exited the board meeting. Hanging on the wall for dear life, I trudged back into the kitchen to face my peers and was pleasantly surprised for the praise I got. The guilty stood before me and bleakly asked,
“You okay man?” That was the craziest thing I have ever seen!”
“Yea I think so” I whispered, “I need some water.”
Clenching my trusty water bottle I stood cowering 3 feet away from the possessed.
“Now you touch it,” I squeaked.
The two boys crept toward the twitching tail, desperately attempting to save face. The seconds passed like hours,
“Just do it already!” I yelped.
“Okay! Alright! Give us a minute!”
At this point all the kitchen staff was present, silent, watching, and waiting. Finally one of my coworkers who had done the deed gathered the courage to approach the eerie lifeless tail. Now by this time we had concluded that the spirit was gone and the remains had progressed into the zombie phase, so the situation was on high red alert. And then it happened, much worse than before, not only did the living dead cling to my brave coworker’s hand but all of the spiny legs were waving in the air tickling him at the same time. So imagine a scream crossed with a girly giggly squeal. Needless to say this was not his best moment in the masculine kitchen. It took two other bystanders to pry off the evil; the infected ran, leaving behind any masculinity he owned. And guess where he ran too, same door as I had with the business men, now really pondering what kind of place they were in.
Limping back, he stood among us wiping the “sweat” from his eyes. Then we all gathered for a moment of silence, staring at this bewitched cursed soul. I sighed, blaming my crazy ideas, my selfish needs; I was solely responsible for the irreversible psychological damage I had caused.
This is ludicrous, I thought; I out weight Him by at least 110 pounds, plus it was at least half dead. Full of adrenaline, I grabbed my trusty blade, stormed through the crowd, and ended it; reminding myself of the bigger picture. For I swore I would let nothing stand in my way of reaching the top, not now and not this. I felt compelled to finish my task, not just for me, but for my fellow peers. They needed the closure as much as I; they needed a leader who was a fighter. With the clock still ticking, I had to act now.
I chose the best sauté pan we had, cranked the heat to high, and gazed down at the butter sizzling. Then with all the strength I had left, I grabbed the morsel of meat and threw it into the pan, still trembling at its devilish site. In my early days as a chef we were taught to respect our kill, never wasting any part of the carcass. Well, I broke that rule on this marked day. Rejoicing in triumph, I cursed at the lifeless, yet delectable remains.
“You, my bittersweet, have no power over me any longer, for the power of unsalted butter compels you!” Now the secret was out, I had officially lost my mind over an eight pound crustacean. At this point I didn’t care, I needed to be done with this evil ghost, and complete my call of duty.
I was wrapping up all the components for the show, as the entire crew walked past the remains. “Go get em’ boss” all replied. About this time, the big boss reappeared, sensing obscurity among the kitchen. We had already resumed the daily grind as if nothing happened, knowing if word got to the 7 foot Norwegian, none would be able to live it down. Though no words were said, our hearts sang to each other. “I got your back, please watch mine.” And to this day we still do.
Now I would have liked to end this true encounter with my valiant victory at the food show, and in a way I did. My dish made the cover; it just had no face to pair it with. The photographer kept his distance from me, most likely due to the fact I was still trembling and was white as the plate I brought. He was kind and asked if I was okay. I looked him square in the eye and coldly replied,
“No man, I am not okay, not okay at all. I have seen some things today that no one should have to see in a lifetime.”
He could only nod at me, while trying not to stare at my stained jacket and disarrayed hair.
“That’s cool, that’s cool.”
When I returned to the hotel, the two boys that had initialized evoking the spirit earlier that day ran to my side and inquired how the show went.
I sighed heavily, “what’s done is done man, we can never go back. Let us learn from this day, let us heal from this day.” We hugged, gave the ol’ guy pat on the back, and never spoke of it again.
- 4 Lobster tails, about 2lbs.
- 1 pound linguini
- 6 ounces unsalted butter
- 4 large tomatoes
- 3 Tbsp white vinegar
- 3 Tbsp granulated sugar
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 -2 Serrano chilies
- Juice of 1 large lemon
- 10 mint leaves, thinly sliced
- Salt and fresh ground pepper
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Bring about 4 quarts of water to a boil. While the water is coming to a boil, make an x on the bottom of each tomato and set aside.
- Remove the meat from the lobster tail and roughly chop; set aside.
- Thinly slice the Serrano chilies, and have the garlic, mint, and lemon juice ready.
- Once the water is boiling, add the tomatoes and cook for 2 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat, cover with a lid, and allow the tomatoes to rest for 2 minutes. Remove the skins from the tomato, cut in half, and remove the seeds. Place the tomatoes in a blender, add the vinegar and sugar, and blend until smooth. This will give you roughly 2 cups.
- In a clean 4 quart sauce pot, add fresh water and a generous amount of salt for the pasta. Place over medium heat and once the water begins to boil, add the pasta and start the sauce.
- In a large sauce pan, add 4 ounces of the butter and a few swirls of extra virgin olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic, sauté for 1 minute, and add the chilies. Cook the mixture for another minute and add the tomato sauce. Bring the sauce to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes.
- Add the chopped lobster tail and lemon juice. Continue to simmer the sauce until the lobster is just opaque in color. Check the sauce for salt and pepper.
- Once the pasta is a la dente, strain the water reserving ¼ cup. Return the pasta and reserved water to the sauce pot, add the remaining butter, and allow the butter to melt.
- Pour the sauce over the pasta and toss to combine. Divide among 4 to 6 plates. Sprinkle the mint over each plate, drizzle with a little extra virgin olive oil, and serve.
This recipe combines the sweet flavor of fresh lobster, with the pungency of garlic, and the subtle heat of Serrano chilies. The pasta pairs wonderfully with scallops, shrimp, and crab if lobster is not available; just sub the amount out for the lobster and add the substitution at the same time you would when adding the lobster tail. Serves 4 as a main course or 6 as a starter.
Food Story, Recipe & Recipe Images by Jennifer Boukather