From the Farm: Lobsters and chefs share decades of a love-hate relationship
Chef Jay Richardson at Chop House at Majestic Star Casino and Hotel in Gary serves a velvety lobster bisque soup on his menu.
Chef Jay Richardson at Chop House at Majestic Star Casino and Hotel in Gary serves a velvety lobster bisque soup on his menu. (Phil Potempa / Post-Tribune)
Several months ago I wrote a column mentioning my 5-year-old farm-raised great nephew Owen and his infatuation with lobster.
Aspiring to someday be a zoologist, his love of lobsters isnt about a dining delicacy, but reading and learning about them. In that same column, I mentioned my own love of velvety lobster bisque, which ranks as a favorite for my mom and sister Pam. However, the recipe I opted to feature for that particular column was for an easy imitation lobster salad ideal for sandwiches, prompting readers to write and email asking: But what about a good lobster bisque recipe?
Ive waited out the months to answer readers request until now, because June 15 is National Lobster Day.
In the 16 years Ive written this From the Farm weekly feature, Ive never shared a soup recipe for lobster bisque in my columns or published cookbooks, since it is quite involved.
The closest Ive come to something similar is a recipe for Lucky Lobster and Corn Chowder I published in December 2005 at the request of reader Danella Soeka of Munster, who wanted the recipe, as created by Chef Mark McGill when served at what was then the Egyptian themed Argosy Empress Casino in Joliet.
Chefs have always been deferential to the pluses and minuses of featuring lobster on menus. Its usually a staple for most fine dining restaurants and steakhouses. When done right, lobster is tender, succulent and rich in taste. But any misstep or miscalculation during the preparation process results in something rubbery, bland and unmemorable. Lobster meat is also a pricey ingredient investment and best when secured as fresh as possible, ideally live.
Locally, I sought out Chef Jay Richardson, food production manager and head chef at Chop House at Majestic Star Casino and Hotel in Gary, to guide me through his version of Lobster 101, since he features lobster as a menu highlight, including his lobster bisque, which is the recipe answer showcased today to fulfill readers request.
Lobster has become much more manageable and affordable as an ingredient, said Richardson, 39, a 1997 graduate of Merrillville High School and 2000 graduate from Chicagos Cooking and Hospitality School.
If you look back 20 years ago, if you were lucky, you might find frozen lobster tails in the freezer section of a supermarket. Today, most fresh fish case counters in stores have lobsters and lobster tails which are far fresher. Now, theres even ordering services to have fresh, live lobsters delivered overnight right to your home.
In addition to lobster bisque, his menu also includes a market price lobster tail as well as a 12-ounce North Australian lobster tail served butterflied and baked with drawn butter and lemon.
Lobster is also something which is very easy to do on a grill, Richardson said.
Theres no need to soak it. You just want to keep the grill temperature to medium and keep the cooking time minimal. Lobster works great as a summer ingredient. I have something new on the appetizer menu that is a fresh guacamole with chucks of fresh lobster served on toasted flat bread and its on the lighter side, but very flavorful and satisfying.
Richardson said fewer seafood restaurants opt to keep live lobsters on display in the lobby in gurgling tanks for dining patrons to gander as a way to whet appetites.
Chef Richardson said the last time I interviewed him in 2012, I published his recipe for sweet potato casserole as served on his menu. After reading it, he said his uncle insisted the chef revealed his grandmothers secret recipe. Smiling, he guarantees todays bisque recipe is his own original creation.
1 live lobster, at least 1.25-1.5 pounds
5 ribs of celery, rinsed and chopped
1 quart lobster stock (lobster base may also be used with regular water)
Directions:Heat olive oil in a large heavy bottom pot over medium heat. Add chopped onions and diced carrots and saut, stirring frequently, until onions begin to turn translucent and carrots soften, about 5-6 minutes. Add celery and tomatoes and continue cooking until tomatoes dissolve. Remove pot from the heat and add the cognac. Return pot to medium heat and simmer for a few minutes until alcohol cooks off.
Add stock and bay leaf then bring to a boil. Add the whole lobster to the boiling mixture, return to a boil and cook for approximately 8 minutes. Remove lobster, and reduce mixture to a light simmer. When lobster is cool enough to handle, remove claws, then split body down the middle lengthwise. Remove the green innards (the tomalley), if there is also red visible inside, the lobster was female and this can be left in for flavor and color. Remove the vein from the tail meat, and with your fingers remove the meat from the shell, set meat aside. Wrap claws in a towel and using a kitchen mallet (or the back of a heavy knife) pound claws until just cracked, remove the meat and set aside.
Place all shells, body and claws into the same towel, and pound again until broken into smaller pieces. Place shell pieces into stock and veg mixture and bring back to a simmer. Cook at a simmer another 20-25 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool 10 minutes. While cooling the stock mixture, in small separate saucepan or saut pan, add flour to melted butter stir mixture over low heat for a few minutes, set aside.
Once mixture is cooled, ideally, shells and all stock ingredients are pureed with a high-powered blender in small batches and then liquid is strained through a fine strainer, pushing all liquid out of shell pieces with wooden spoon. However, if preferred strain out all shells first, then purree and strain. Return strained mixture back to a clean pot and heat again to a simmer. Using a wire whisk, mix flour and butter blend into the simmering liquid a little at a time, continuing to whisk until there are no lumps and liquid is smooth. Simmer for another 15 minutes as mixture begins to thicken.
Next, whisk in heavy cream over low heat to ensure bisque is hot. Remove from heat and serve, garnished with chopped lobster meat and a splash of dry sherry if desired. Makes 12 servings.
Philip Potempa has published three cookbooks and is the director of marketing at Theatre at the Center. Mail questions to: From the Farm, P.O. Box 68, San Pierre, IN 46374.
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