“I used to work in this lobster place…”
Actually, it wasn’t a lobster place, even though I have worked in lobster places. This place was a big casino in Vegas, and we went through at least as many lobsters and lobster tails as just about any actual lobster place. I worked in an outlet that had a whole battery of gigantic steam kettles for making stock and soup and sauces and whatever was thin enough to be stirred with an 6 foot oar. The French chef upstairs would send a commis down with 50 pounds of lobster shells, and 10 gallons of cream.
He/she would load the shells into the kettle and pour the cream over the jagged pile, turn the giant urn on high and disappear for a half an hour or so. The whole thing would boil like laundry, almost over the top but not quite, and then simmer down to a thick slurry, which the commis would then drain. I mean, this stuff was thick, and a lot of it stuck to the shells, which were unceremoniously discarded.
The commis would walk away with a hopeful 2 gallons of the pure porridge, which was then turned into lobster bisque and served to customers in a half full espresso cup, as a wickedly sinful Amuse-bouche . The accountants didn’t care. That was the way the chef wanted it, and the cost would be recouped from the Baccarat department. Most of the sales were covered by high roller services, comps from the hotel to players that had either lost $8 million that day, or won it, whatever. Just a revolving door of excess and exorbitant culinary debauchery. All the money stayed in the hotel, one way or another.
There aren’t really very many kinds of bisque, but there could be. Usually, lobster is associated with the word bisque, even though the rich, thick, creaminess of a bisque is not really a characteristic of many other dishes. You shouldn’t find any lobster in your bisque, because it’s assumed that the flavor comes not from the meat itself, but from the shells or some other mysterious component of the crustacean. You’d have to be crazy to make a soup with lobster meat, and then discard the meat, wouldn’t you? I’ve seen crazier things, but let’s assume that we’re on the right track here. You could make clam bisque, shrimp bisque, or even chicken bisque. Bisque is a texture, and a dominance, a velvety, clingy, sticky consistency, as much as it is a thing.
So, you make bisque out of lobster, right? That’s the basic idea, but that’s not what we’re going to do today. We’re going to turn the whole bisque idea on it’s head, and then back upright again. We can’t make lobster out of bisque, but we CAN cook lobster in lobster bisque, and then separate the two. Now we’re on to something. Lobster shells have a lot of flavor in them, and actually, quite a lot of meat, you just can’t really get at it. There just aren’t tweezers small enough to get pieces big enough to be worthy of bother.
If it wasn’t for the fact that most people expect their lobster to be served in the shell, which the server then deftly (?) REMOVES from that shell, we would see a lot more bisque, and lobster flavored liquids. That being said, once that lobster shell has left the kitchen, it is unlikely that it will ever find its way back into a stock pot. In fact, the law prohibits it.
Lobster Poaching actually has two meanings.
Lobster poaching is a crime. Huh? No, not boiling it in a pot, not that kind of poaching. Lobster poaching is when someone raids lobster traps that are not their own. Very undignified, it’s like stealing someone’s horse or their cattle. But we are not gonna go into that.
Poaching, as in cooking in liquid, is a commonly understood process. Most people know what a poached egg is, even though they seem to prefer to have their eggs poached FOR them, like at a nice brunch in a fancy hotel overlooking the harbor. Poached fish is familiar, again, rarely done at home; it’s perceived as being a little tricky. With the exception of the eggs, poaching is done in a flavored broth, and that’s what stops most people. Why make a broth, when you can just fire up the Traeger or Yoder? Our plan is to use a specially flavored bisque as a poaching liquid. Since boiling cream in a pot creates its own problems (scorching is practically inevitable), we are going to let Sous Vide do the worrying for us.
- Cream, 1 quart.
- Fresh Ginger, 2″ or even more.
- Lemon zest ONLY, of one lemon or even more.
- There is acid in the lemon juice that will curdle the cream.
- There is acid in lemon zest, but not enough to curdle the cream.
- Peeling ginger is a snap.
- All you do is scrape a little with a dull teaspoon, and that peel comes right off.
- And, you know what? We don’t even have to do that, because the ginger will be strained out later.
- The flavor of the ginger peel is neutral so we’re gonna leave it on there.
- We are, however, going to smash it up a bit.
- Ginger is fibro-cellular, which means it won’t really release much flavor, even if it’s chopped up fine.
- It has to be smashed.
- They say that a carpenter is never happy unless he has a hammer in hand, and cooks really aren’t that different. We love having something to smash.
- And it’s not just a man thing, either. Female cooks take great relish in power swinging a big cleaver or meat tenderizer.
- If you cover it with a towel, it won’t splatter liquid around the area, it all depends on what you like.
- Put the zest, the ginger, and the quart of cream in a Ziploc Gallon bag.
- The bag does not need to be sealed, you can hang it on the side of your tank, or use something like the Lipavi system.
- Their racks are designed specifically for this purpose.
- If you have lobster shells, put them in.
- Usually, I start the bisque before I start the lobsters, and build it as I go.
- This process can continue for several days, until you get to the Thermidor/glacage phase.
- I will explain, you will understand.
- After processing, make sure the bag is sealed, and shock the liquid down to 70F in cold water.
- Store refrigerated up to one week.
- The tails can be bisque poached either in the shell or out of the shell.
- I put in about 2 oz. of cream for each tail, but it’s not necessary to actually measure it.
- The cream is going to be incorporated into the reserved bisque later–after it has been properly cooled.
- NEVER combine hot liquids with cold liquids, unless they are water only. Not stock, not soup, not bisque, don’t do it.
- Here, I use the medium Lipavi rack to assemble everything.
- Then I can just lower the whole thing into the preheated tank.
- Process tails…
Shock, shock, shock.
- This is so important.
- If sensitive foods are handled properly to avoid temperature damage, you will be amazed at how long they remain fresh tasting and wholesome.
- If you process the tails IN the shells, shock them down as described, remove from the liquid, which you reserve.
- Since it’s cold, you can safely combine it with the reserved bisque base, so you don’t have a bunch of different containers of creamy goodness migrating around the refrigerator.
- Spread the shell-on tails out on a cookie sheet, sprinkle with a little S+P and chopped parsley, and heat in a 350F oven, it only takes about five minutes. Melt some butter, hack up a lemon, tomato to color associate with the shells, get some other stuff to put on the plate, and you get…(wait for it)…
- Something like that.
- Little bit of grilled Butternut squash, some fried potatoes that really didn’t come out that great, some green beans cooked Sans Vide (183Fx30 minutes), and THEN buttered.
- Some people insist that the flavors can penetrate the lobster, but they don’t need to.
- There’s no scientific evidence to support infusion, and there is scientific evidence that says it’s impossible.
- That poaching liquid is very clingy, so, you get that awesome ginger/lemon flavor jumping into your mouth, and the amazing lobster texture right after that, mixing with the creaminess.
- Who needs penetration?
- Crowded, but appealing. Like the club when Rahsaan would drive into town (thass a joke, Roland Kirk was blind).
- Rahsaan had a terrific sense of humor, otherwise I wouldn’t make that joke.
- Wait ’til you see the bisque poached lobster served cold.
Here’s a little teaser…