We are cooking another French classic this week for our Fosh Food delivery service…the ever-popular Lobster Thermidor.
It’s a dish that probably gained a bad reputation during the Seventies and Eighties because it was often over-cooked so badly and drowned in an overpowering sea of rich, cheesy sauce. But, if you take just a little care and attention, I really believe a Lobster Thermidor has it all.
Not only does it showcase one the most luxurious ingredients, it also comes with a deliciously rich sauce of cream, cheese, eggs and alcohol. To top it all, the delicious meat is piled back into that magnificent lobster shell, making it a feast for the eyes, nose and taste buds, when it finally arrives to your table.
The origins of this famous dish are a little uncertain. Some say the dish was created at Café de Paris by Leopold Mourier, a former assistant to Auguste Escoffier, while others believe that it was introduced on January 24th, 1894 at Chez Marie, a well-known Paris restaurant.
On that evening Victorien Sardou’s play “Thermidor” had its first performance at the theatre called Comedie-Francais.
Marie apparently decided to launch his new dish by giving it the name of the play “Thermidor.” One thing is for certain; the dish has lasted much longer than the play as it was cancelled after just three performances and still today, seeing a Lobster Thermidor on menu is a sign that it’s a special night…a night when anything could happen.
When buying a live lobster for this recipe, choose one that proves especially feisty. Pick the lobster up carefully; holding it safely from behind its claws, to check that it quickly snaps its tail tightly under its body.
Any that are sluggish and apathetic have been in the tank too long. Captured lobsters are not fed, so they do loose flavour and the meat starts to shrink away.
Likewise, when purchasing a whole cooked lobster, make sure that its tail curls, an indication that it was still alive when it was dropped into the cooking pot.
Cooking a live lobster at home will probably frighten the life out of some of you. For those of you who are brave enough to kill your own lobster, you have a choice of methods. If you have a very large pot, drop your lobsters, one at a time, into boiling water.
Fans of this method, and I’m one, insist the lobster dies quickly (what do we know?)
Others suggest putting the lobster into cold water and slowly bringing it to the boil. The idea is that he nods off but it sounds like a lingering death to me.
Some advise putting the lobster into the freezer for an hour where he will apparently go to sleep. He can then be cooked without suffering any pain. If I were a lobster, I think I would prefer a quick death instead of a sleepy torture followed by an early morning wake-up call in a plunge pool of boiling water.
The RSPCA apparently prefers the knife method, which involves splitting the lobster in half while it is still alive, but that is completely beyond most people. The simple truth is there is no pleasant way to get the job done.
To cook your lobster from raw, bring a large saucepan of heavily salted water to the boil (200g of salt for 5 litres of water). Add the lobster and bring back to the boil as quickly as possible.
Cook for 12-14 minutes, depending on size and remove from the water. If you want to save yourself the aggravation, you can buy your lobster ready cooked or better still, order from us and we’ll do all the work for you.
Ingredients Serves 2
1 cooked lobster (about 750g)
3 bay leaves
½ small onion, thickly sliced
6 black peppercorns
15g plain flour
50g shallots, finely chopped
120ml dry white wine
1 tsp English mustard
1 tsp chopped fresh tarragon
1 tsp chopped fresh chives
2 tbsp double cream
Pinch of cayenne pepper
A splash of brandy
40g Gruyère, finely grated
1/2tbsp freshly grated parmesan
1 small egg yolk
Salt and pepper
Put the milk, bay leaves, onion and peppercorns in a small pan. Bring to the boil, then set aside for 10 minutes for the flavours to infuse.
Meanwhile, remove the meat from the cooked lobster and cut it into small, chunky pieces. Put the cleaned out half-shells in a small baking tray.
For the sauce, reheat the milk gently. Melt 20g of the butter in another small pan, stir in the flour and cook for a few seconds.
Strain in a little of the hot milk and whisk until smooth. Gradually whisk in the rest of the milk, bring to the boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring now and then. You should be left with 200ml sauce with the consistency of thick cream.
While the sauce is simmering, melt the remaining butter in another small pan, add the shallots and cook gently until soft but not browned. Add the wine, turn up the heat and simmer rapidly until the liquid has almost disappeared.
Stir in the white sauce, together with the mustard, tarragon, chives, brandy, cayenne pepper and 25g of the grated Gruyère cheese. Whip the cream until it forms soft peaks and fold it into the sauce with the egg yolks. Season to taste with salt and black pepper.
Preheat the grill to high. Stir the lobster meat into the sauce, and then divide the mixture equally between the cleaned half-shells.
Sprinkle with the remaining Gruyère cheese and Parmesan, slide under the grill, then cook for 3-4 minutes until golden and bubbling. Serve with new potatoes and a light, green salad.