It goes without saying that I love lobster. What a treat. It’s exciting just thinking about a lobster dinner!
Growing up in New England, it reminds me of vacations down on the Cape or spending long weekends on the southern Maine coast, where you can’t walk 10 feet without running into a lobster shack. And when it comes to lobster, fresh Maine or Nova Scotia lobsters, simple is always better. Boiled or steamed, served with fresh corn on the cobb, drawn butter and maybe a baked potato is the best way. I don’t think anyone on this earth can argue.
Except the French.
The French can argue about anything, and when it comes to fine food, they’re usually right. Equally good lobsters come from the cold waters off the French coast near Brittany. This region’s cuisine is driven by seafood, and more specifically shellfish. Brittany is also notable for their dairy production, so many of their prized dishes, including many shellfish dishes, include great dairy.
French food is, in general, known as being ornate, rich and complex. In reality, most French food is very simple. They rely on ‘the best of’ seasonal ingredients, prepared simply and correctly. When they do get fancy, usually good things emerge. Stemming from traditional Haute cuisine, we have the foundation for most of the modern food we produce today.
Some of the more well known lobster dishes include lobster bisque, lobster Newburg, lobster omelets, and of course lobster thermidor, which is essentially lobster cooked with cream and cheese. In my opinion, adding a lot of heavy ingredients to lobster can mask the subtle and wonderful natural flavors of the shellfish. But, when it’s a true complimentary flavor, such as cognac, parmesan cheese, or tarragon, it will transpose the lobster into something new and wonderful.
Which is exactly the case with thermidor. It’s a complicated dish, involving many steps, but the final result is wonderful, and is truly a special treat. Lobster folded into a rich parmesan and tarragon bechamel, full of sauteed mushrooms, roasted until golden brown… You won’t get the ‘simple’ lobster flavors of summer in New England, but you will get a new and incredible experience.
On a side note, this recipe calls for the lobster shells to be cleaned and stuffed with the mix. You can easily save yourself the effort and place the thermidor mix into greased ramikens or baking dishes and finish that way. Also, feel free to top each one with a pinch of bread crumbs, for the added texture.
Lobster Thermidor with Parmesan and Mushrooms
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 45 minutes
Yield: 4 portions
1/2 bunch tarragon, fine chop
2 shallots, minced
2 cups dry white wine
2 cups whole milk
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/4 cup all purpose flour
2 tbsp dijon mustard
2 lobsters, about 1 1/2 lbs each
2 cups wild mushrooms (crimini, portabello, shitake, oyster) sliced
3/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 tsp paprika
Fill a large pot 3/4 with water and salt liberally. Bring to a rapid boil. Have a bowl with ice water ready. Submerge the lobsters in the boiling water and cook for 6 minutes. Remove and immediately submerge the lobsters in the ice water. Cool completely. Remove the claws, and with a large chef’s knife, split the lobsters in half. Gently remove the tail meat and rinse out the cavity, washing out any residual waste. Wash the tail meat and remove the vein. Chop the tail meat along with the claws and knuckle meat into medium sized pieces and reserve.
In a medium sized heavy bottom sauce pot, begin melting the better. Add the flour and stir over medium heat for about 3 minutes to create a blonde roux. Slowly add the wine and continue stirring. As the roux loosens, begin whisking instead of stirring. Add the milk slowly, continuing to stir. Gently bring to a simmer (be careful, too much heat will cause the sauce to stick to the bottom of the pot and burn). Continually stir, making sure nothing is sticking to the bottom. When it comes to a simmer, it should be thick- thicker than a normal bechamel, which is perfect. Season with salt and pepper (it will require a good amount of salt). Add the mustard, 1/2 cup of the parmesan and tarragon. Turn off heat and reserve.
In a large heavy bottom saute pan, saute the mushrooms in the vegetable oil until golden brown. Season with salt and pepper. When done, drain the mushrooms on paper towels. Reserve.
In a large mixing bowl, add the lobster, mushrooms, and bechamel sauce. Mix well. Mound the mixture into the reserved lobster cavities. Place them on a sheet pan sprinkle the remaining parmesan over the top along with the paprika.
Heat an over to 400 degrees. Place the sheet pan in the oven and bake until the lobsters are bubbling and golden brown on top. Serve right away.
Best served with classic French sides such as potatoes au gratin, green bean almondine with bacon lardoons, pommes souffle, and so on.