I know, lobster is expensive and not everyone is lucky enough to have a friend like Mike Warner of EastCoastAvocet, a self-confessed salty sea dog who has his own boat, a stash of lobster pots and a generous nature.
I woke up the other day to find a message saying ‘there’s a lobster here for you if you want it’. Daft question. I didn’t even stop to gulp a cup of coffee. Clutching a plateful of home-made gravlax, a pot of strawberry jam and an assortment of courgettes and cucumbers (I may have had an ulterior motive there) I headed over to make a swap.
I think I got the better half of the deal because Mike gave me one of the bigger beasties in his latest haul. I use the word haul advisedly, because as anyone who’s tried to pull a lobster pot over the side of a boat will know, it’s hard work. I take my hat off to Mike and to all those who do it for a living.
I wanted to do justice to Mike’s gift and I think, even allowing for the fact that I love lobster with a deep and abiding passion, that this is one of the best things I’ve cooked this year.
If you’re going to splash out on a lobster (perhaps lacking a friend like Mike) it’s worth investing some time and care in the preparation. This is a much simplified version of a recipe by Francesco Mazzei. Where I didn’t skimp was on the making of the shellfish stock. It is a bit of a faff but it gives the finished sauce layers of deep and abiding flavour. When I say I could still taste it hours later it’s not because it repeated on me.
The picture below, owing to my inept photography and styling, doesn’t do it justice. I’d cheerfully eat this every week of the lobster season, given half a chance.
1 cooked lobster
125ml white wine
1 onion, peeled and roughly chopped
1 stick of celery, trimmed and roughly chopped
1 tspn tomato puree
1 star anise
Sprig of thyme
1/2 medium hot red chilli, de-seeded and finely sliced
1 fat clove of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
3-4 spring onions, trimmed and finely sliced
2 tbsp olive oil
175ml good quality tomato passata, home-made if possible
3-4 large plum tomatoes, skinned, de-seed and neatly diced
Large handful of basil leaves
Tagliatelle (or linguine or spaghetti)
Pre-heat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas Mark 6. Prepare the lobster (there are lots of how-to videos and instructions online) and put the flesh in a bowl, covered, in the fridge until later. Don’t overlook the meat in the legs, which you can squeeze out with the gentle action of a rolling pin. Put the pieces of shell in a roasting tin with the chopped celery and onion and roast for 15-20 minutes.
Put the brandy into a large saucepan on a medium-high heat and reduce until you’re left with a tablespoonful. Add the wine and reduce again until you have about two tablespoons of liquid. Stir in the tomato paste and add the star anise.
Scrape the lobster shell and vegetables into the saucepan, breaking up the pieces of shell a bit more if you can, and cover with water. Bring to the boil, lower the temperature and simmer gently for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, skimming off any scum.
Strain through a fine sieve, return the liquid to the cleaned pan and simmer again until reduced to about 100ml of deep-flavoured stock. Set aside. You can prepare ahead up to this point if that fits your schedule better.
Heat the olive oil in another pan and fry the spring onions, garlic, chilli and thyme until the onions have softened.
Add the passata and lobster stock and reduce until you have a sauce thick enough to coat the pasta. Discard the thyme. Add any scrappy bits of lobster to the sauce, slice the larger parts into large bite-sized pieces and reserve for later. Check the seasoning of the sauce, adding salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Set aside while you heat the pasta water.
Bring a large saucepan of salted water to the boil and cook the tagliatelle until al dente. Drain, and stir in a ladleful of the sauce. Add the sliced lobster and diced tomatoes to the remaining sauce. Heat through, but don’t cook it for more than three or four minutes or the lobster could go rubbery. Rip up the basil leaves, saving a few for garnish, and stir them through.
Put a tangle of pasta onto warmed plates and top with the lobster and its sauce. I hope you savour the flavour as much as we did.