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Star-Bulletin Features

Wednesday, February 7, 2001

By Ken Sakamoto, Star-Bulletin
A small lobster, carefully removed from its shell, is the
centerpiece of a John Dominis salad, an example of a
contemporary treatment of lobster's richness.

Of love  & lobsters

Lobster is the traditional
dish of romance for
Valentine's Day

By Eleanor Nakama-Mitsunaga
Special to the Star-Bulletin

A bug-like sea creature is crawling onto dinner plates around town. Love is in the air and lobster is on the menu, although the connection seems rather odd.

Like bubbly wine (champagne), the enlarged liver of an over-stuffed goose (foie gras) and the black, salty fish eggs of a Caspian Sea sturgeon (caviar), we look toward a whole arthropod, complete with beady eyes, segmented legs and hairy antennae, to elevate an intimate dinner for two. Go figure.

The so-called "king of crustaceans" may be key to making an impression, says Kyle Kato, manager of John Dominis restaurant. Over the years Kato has noticed that lobster is most fancied by women. "Men will typically order lobster for the ladies and then order steak or something for themselves."

That's how I was coaxed into my first lobster dinner. My boyfriend (now my husband) and I dined at Nick's Fishmarket for our high school prom. This being our first fine-dining experience, my boyfriend insisted I order anything on the menu. Nothing grabbed me until I read "Maine lobster," and wham, it hit me -- I needed a rich, meaty lobster with all the trimmings to match my decked-out duds. The waiter politely asked how big a lobster we wanted. My boyfriend's response: "Give her the biggest one you've got."

By Ken Sakamoto, Star-Bulletin
Howard Bentley holds a 4-pound lobster from the tank
at the harborside John Dominis Restaurant.

I will never forget the look on his face when the monstrous crimson beast arrived, or later, when the equally hefty bill arrived. On top of that, I could only handle four bites of the luscious sweet meat dripping with warm drawn butter. It made for quite a memorable dinner, all in the name of love.

At Nick's, maitre 'd Bill Murphy says lobster goes hand-in-hand with the whole fine-dining experience. "It's not something people would prepare at home," he adds, thus, lobster is seen as a luxury.

Hard to believe this delicacy was once so plentiful that it was used as fertilizer and fish bait. Of course, it has since risen to noble status and is synonymous with New England cuisine -- considered by many as the "ultimate white meat."

For New Englanders, Maine or American lobster is the only "true" lobster. It is available year-round along the Atlantic coastline, from New England to New Brunswick, Canada, the "lobster capital of the world."

Locally, we've grown accustomed to a spiny or rock lobster variety found primarily in warmer waters off Florida, Southern California, Mexico, Australia and New Zealand. It is trapped seasonally in Hawaiian waters as well. Unlike its cold-water cousin, the spiny lobster is devoid of claws, so all the meat is contained in the tail. The meat is thought to be firmer and less sweet than the Maine variety and is often sold in the form of frozen tails.

New England chef Jasper White, in his book "Lobster at Home" (1998, Scribner), attempts to demystify this delicacy, making it more approachable for the home cook. "Too often we reserve it for eating in a restaurant or pass over it in the market in favor of what we think of as more easily prepared food," White says.

In reality, lobster is a versatile ingredient that holds up well to steaming, boiling, broiling, grilling, baking, pan-frying and even microwaving. Probably the biggest mistake lies in overcooking lobster, resulting in a chewy, rubbery texture.

The traditional method of preparing lobster is to steam or boil it -- either whole lobster or the tail only -- and serve with unsalted, warmed or clarified butter.

If your lobster is alive and kicking, kill it by piercing the back of the head with a sharp, heavy knife, where the head meets the tail.

The lobster can then be halved, or the meat from the tail and claws can be removed by cracking the hard outer shell. Clean out the head sac near the eyes and remove the intestine that runs through the tail. Finally, remove and reserve the tomalley and coral if present.

For dishes that call for stir-frying or sautéing, first parboil the lobster, about 3 minutes per pound. Then break it into pieces or remove the meat from the shell. It may be set aside in the refrigerator for later use.

To broil or grill a lobster, split it in half to allow for faster cooking and allow the smoky flavor to permeate the meat. Do this even if all you have is the tail.

Broil or grill for 8 to 10 minutes, or just until the meat turns white. Serve with melted butter and lemon wedges.

These recipes take you from basic preparation through a classic and on to a contemporary preparation.

Steamed Lobster

"Joy of Cooking," by Irma Rombauer, Marion Rombauer Becker and Ethan Becker (Scribner, 1997)

4 lobsters (at least 1-1/4 pounds each)
1 tablespoon salt

Fill large pot with water. Add salt. Cover and bring to a boil. Add lobsters and cover. Cook until bright red (about 15 minutes for 1-1/2 pound lobsters, adding 2-3 minutes for every 1/4 pound increase in weight). Water should remain at a boil as you add lobsters; if the lid remains off for more than 30 seconds, add a couple of minutes to cooking time.)

Serve with melted butter and/or lemon wedges. Serves 4.

Approximate nutritional analysis, per serving (without butter): 110 calories, 1 g total fat, no saturated fat, 80 mg cholesterol, about 500 mg sodium, 23 g protein, 1.5 g carbohydrate.*

Lobster Thermidor

"The Fannie Farmer Cookbook" by Marion Cunningham (Knopf, 1996)

8 tablespoons butter
1/2 pound mushrooms, sliced
3 tablespoons flour
2 cups heavy cream or milk
1/4 cup dry sherry
4 cups cooked lobster meat
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Butter a shallow baking dish. Melt 5 tablespoons of the butter in a saucepan. Add mushrooms and cook until softened. Remove and set aside.

Melt remaining butter, stir in flour; cook until smooth and blended. Slowly stir in the cream or milk and cook over low heat, stirring until the sauce is smooth and thickened. Add sherry and cook 1 minute more. Remove from heat; add lobster and salt to taste.

Spoon into a baking dish, sprinkle with cheese, and bake about 10 minutes, until cheese is melted and lightly browned. Serve with steamed rice. Serves 8.

Approximate nutritional analysis, per serving (without added salt): 420 calories, 35 g total fat, 22 g saturated fat, 170 mg cholesterol, about 500 mg sodium, 19 g protein, 6 g carbohydrate.*

Poached Maine Lobster Salad

Chef Robert Reash, John Dominis

2 ounces fresh shiitake mushrooms
3 ounces prepared shabu-shabu dipping sauce
1-pound poached lobster
6 ounces spicy mesclun greens
1/2 avocado, sliced
2 slices papaya
2 ounces prepared pesto
Miscellaneous sprouts, sliced cucumber or tomato for garnish

Sauté mushrooms in half the dipping sauce. Let sit 1/2 hour.

Remove lobster from shell and cut into bit-sized pieces.

Toss greens in remaining sauce and add mushrooms.

Divide between two plates. Arrange lobster on top of avocado and papaya slices and drizzle with pesto. Garnish. Serves 2.

Approximate nutritional analysis, per serving: 770 calories, 66 g total fat, 27 g saturated fat, 150 mg cholesterol, greater than 1,400 mg sodium, 24 g protein, 23 g carbohydrate.*

Lobster lingo

Bullet The basics: It takes 5 to 7 years for a lobster to mature, growing to an average weight of 1-1/2 to 2 -1/2 pounds. Female lobsters are said to possess sweeter meat than males, although the difference is very subtle.
Bullet Selecting a live lobster: The tail should flap and curl under when picked up. Watch out for limpness or drooping claws.
Bullet Work quickly: Lobsters will die in fresh water, so cook them right away. If they must be stored overnight, refrigerate on a bed of moist paper.
Bullet Those mushy insides: The tomalley or liver of the lobster is a delicacy, but can contain toxins and should be avoided by pregnant and nursing women. Female lobsters may contain the prized reddish-black coral, or roe, found on the underbelly.
Bullet Health food? Although rich in taste, a 1-pound lobster has only 98 calories and 13 milligrams of cholesterol. It is also high in Omega-3 acids, which are known to reduce cholesterol levels.
Bullet Price tag: Live Maine lobster is selling locally for $10 to $15 a pound. Frozen tails are running $19 to $25 a pound.

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