When most people think of luxurious dining lobster comes to mind as it’s known as a delicacy and has a reputation for being a “fancy” food. And it’s this crustacean that was the focus of the closing night of my six-week Simply Better Gourmet Institute’s Gourmet Cooking 1 class with Chef Charles Missick. And of course, the classics – lobster bisque and lobster thermidor were on the menu.
In its simplest term, a bisque is a creamy puree that concentrates the essence of a single ingredient in a rich, perfumed soup. Traditionally, the base for bisque is shellfish cooked with mirepoix – roughly cut onion, carrots, a sprig of thyme and a bay leaf. And shellfish bisque follows a classical preparation. It is a complicated process designed to bring out the maximum flavor, but after watching Missick demonstrate the steps, it seems so simple and is something that I want to recreate at home, and am actually looking forward to incorporating in my Christmas dinner meal.
Making lobster bisque takes patience, but it’s so worth the effort and the wait.
Rough chop onion, celery, carrots, Spanish thyme (you also need regular thyme for this as well, so have a few sprigs handy), garlic cloves are added to a pot with a drizzle of olive oil and saute; add regular thyme then lobster shells and cook until they turn orange (this step will take a few minutes) stirring occasionally; at this point the aromas wafting through your kitchen will be amazing and remind you of the beautiful bisque that will await you once complete.
Next, add tomato paste and cook five minutes before adding your choice of rum – Bacardi, whiskey or brandy – tilting the pan to flame, and allowing the alcohol to burn off. Chicken stock is then added to cover the shells and the mixture brought to a boil uncovered, skimming once it boils, then turning the flame down and allowing to cook for approximately half hour.
According to the chefs, discerning chefs and cooks will run their broth through a strainer twice before serving to ensure that all unwanted particles are removed – first through a coarse strainer, the second time through a small strainer.
After the first strain, thicken the bisque a buerre mante (equal quantities of flour and butter made by melting butter in pan, removing it from heat and adding flour until it’s absorbed).
After the first strain, place bisque back on stove to bring to a boil, adding the buerre mante a little at a time and whisking constantly to incorporate until desired thickness is achieved.
The bisque then has to be strained a second time.
In the pan in which bisque is cooked, add cooking cream (heavy cream can be substituted) and bring to a boil, then pour into strainer, straining cream into bisque to give it that characteristic velvety texture which is truly a bisque. In true Missick fashion, a touch (just a touch) of goat pepper and salt is added for that background kick, and your bisque is ready.
The final result was creamy, smooth, velvety, deeply rich and flavorful.
For that extra special touch, blanch lobsters which have been split down the back, loosen the meat from the shell with the tail end still attached, re-stuff meat into shells, close and place into boiling water until just cooked (make sure not to overcook). To plate, rough chop blanched lobster meat, place a few pieces on top of bisque in bowl and sprinkle with parsley.
We enjoyed the lobster bisque with a garlic and rosemary bread. Chop rosemary and garlic in a food processor; slice wheat bread to your desired thickness, spread with butter, spread garlic and rosemary mixture on top of butter, sprinkle with Parmesan cheese, place in oven for a few minutes.
We ended the evening with a stunning and delicious lobster thermidor that was surprisingly simple to make. It is a dish composed of lobster tails from which the cooked meat is removed, chopped and combined with a béchamel flavored with white wine, shallots, tarragon and mustard. The sautéed lobster is spooned back into the shells, sprinkled with Parmesan cheese and broiled until golden. (Crab and shrimp are also sometimes prepared in this manner).
Fine chopped red onion or shallots and add to a pan with a drizzle of olive oil and sauté.
Remove lobster meat from shell and chop into one-inch chunks, add to onion to “seal” meat, approximately one to two minutes; sprinkle with parsley flakes, add white wine to cover bottom of pan, and a few grinds of fresh black pepper, approximately a teaspoon of Dijon mustard or to taste and allow mixture to simmer for wine to evaporate. Add cooking cream (heavy cream can be used as a substitute) to cover bottom of pan, cook until mixture thickens, then spoon meat and sauce into reserved shells. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and place in oven at 350 degrees for five minutes. We served the lobster thermidor with raisin rice – saute a half onion finely chopped in a drizzle of olive oil, add raisins and chopped garlic to onions and stir with a pinch of salt, then add rice and one bay leaf. Add fish stock if using (or whatever liquid), cover with waxed paper, place in a 350-degree oven for approximately a half hour or until all the liquid is absorbed. Fluff and serve.
For the Brussel sprouts, add butter or olive oil to pan, add finely chopped onion and garlic, add blanched Brussel sprouts from which ends have been trimmed and an X cross cut made at the trimmed end, crushed pepper and salt and stir. To plate, place raisin rice in plate, surround with Brussel sprouts and top with lobster thermidor.