Starting the New Year right
January 5, 2013
In a momentary lapse of reason last week, I asked Bernie Castle for a few lobsters to take up to Caribou for Steve’s family Christmas. I had forgotten that my sister- and brother-in-law won’t touch the things in any form–a fact that returned to my brain after Bernie left them for me in a fish crate down at the town dock. My heart was in the right place–I had wanted to bring up the best thing I could offer from our tiny corner of paradise–but my brain was slightly addled with overwork and the stress of holiday chocolate production.
So when we returned just before the New Year, the lobsters were still waiting in the submerged crate on the dock. I steamed them for our New Year’s Day dinner, and we ate them with macaroni salad and a fresh-baked baguette (a la Dindy). Washed down with a lot of water (in an ongoing effort to dilute the overindulgences of the night before), it was the perfect meal for the first day of 2013; simple, fresh, local and delicious.
I put the leftovers in the refrigerator, and began to muse about what to do with them the next day.
My husband often accuses me of not liking leftovers. It’s not entirely false. I don’t like leftovers when the original meal wasn’t all that inspired to begin with. The truth is, I like creating–cooking–more than I like just heating something up. But what I really really like, is creating something new and fabulous from leftovers. It’s challenging and fun and it’s something that demands originality, some risk taking, a bit of go-with-your-gut.
I know. I really live on the edge.
I had saved our shells for my usual lobster stock, but as the temperature outside plummeted below zero, the thought of something hot and full of fat and flavor seemed just the thing. So I got to work on a bisque. And, when the next day, I found that we had leftovers of that, I threw together a lobster mac and cheese to beat all lobster mac & cheeses. Below are the recipes for both the bisque and the pasta. Bear in mind that because I was working with leftovers (and whatever else I had on hand), my measurements of some key ingredients (such as lobster and bisque and cooked pasta) are rough estimates. Use your best judgement. Or hell, just throw caution to the wind and set a trend for a brand new year.
Serves 2, plus enough leftover to make the Lobster Mac & Cheese, below
Shells, bodies and meat from two cooked 1-1/2 pound lobsters
Any reserved cooking liquid from steaming, or up to 2 cups reserved cooking liquid if you boiled the lobsters
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large yellow onion, sliced
2 stalks celery, roughly chopped
1 head garlic, cut in half crosswise
1 fresh ripe tomato, sliced
a couple pinches dried tarragon (unless you have fresh, then use a complimentary amount of that)
a couple pinches of dried thyme
2 bay leaves
1 cup dry sherry
4 cups fish stock, lobster stock or bottled clam juice
1/4 cup tomato paste
1/2 cup-1 cup heavy cream
2 teaspoons cornstarch
Break up the shells and bodies as best you can. Heat the olive oil in a large pot. Add the shells and bodies and saute until the shells begin to brown. Add the onion, celery, garlic, tomato, tarragon, thyme, bay leaves and peppercorns. Cook and stir until the vegetables begin to soften, then add the sherry. Bring to a boil and cook until almost all the liquid is reduced at least by half. Add the stock and reserved cooking liquid and simmer for about an hour.
Strain the soup through a chinois or sieve into a saucepan, pressing down on solids. Discard the solids. Simmer the strained soup until it’s reduced to about 3 cups, then whisk in the tomato paste.
Put the cornstarch into a small heatproof measuring cup and stir in a couple of tablespoons of the hot soup to create a slurry. Stir the slurry into the soup and boil until slightly thickened. Reduce heat, and add cream until the soup is the consistency you want. Stir the chopped lobster meat into the soup and serve.
Lobster Mac & Cheese
Leftover bisque–1 or 2 cups
3-4 tablespoons butter
1 yellow onion, chopped
3-4 tablespoons flour
1-1/2 cups grated Cheddar cheese
About 4 cups cooked macaroni (or other pasta, such as penne, chiciocciole, farfalle, you get the picture)
cream, half-and-half, or whole milk
2 tablespoons bread crumbs from a slightly stale baguette
sea salt and black pepper
Heat the butter in a wide cast-iron skillet until it is very hot. Add the onion and saute until it softens and begins to brown. Add the flour and stir for a few minutes, then add the bisque. Whisk until the roux is completely incorporated into the bisque and the mixture is hot. Add the cooked pasta and assess how much more cream/half-and-half/milk to add. I like my pasta swimming slightly. Stir in the cheese, level the mixture in the skillet, top with the breadcrumbs and then pop into a hot oven. Bake until the dish is bubbling and the breadcrumbs are just beginning to brown.
Serve with a fresh, green salad, and a super crispy Sauvignon Blanc.