This dish started life as one of those lingering ideas that I jotted down in my long list of "ideas to flesh out". It's a running list with everything from random ingredients to fully developed dishes. As I go through my day I look at it periodically adding and subtracting line items and ingredients, perfecting the dishes on paper before I actually go out and make it. Then, when I'm looking for something to cook, I go trolling through the list, hunting for my next meal.
This concept went through through a couple of revisions in my head before I actually made it. It all started with the idea of combining lobster with one of my favourite condiments, yuzu kosho. Yuzu kosho literally means yuzu pepper and is a condiment that's made from the zest of the fragrant yuzu citrus mashed into a paste with salt and green chili peppers. My initial idea was to poach a whole lobster at a very low temperature, but after reading about some of the problems of cooking lobster whole, I decided it should be shucked first.
The next week was spent looking for a place that carried raw shucked lobster meat. There's a company up in Maine that produces vacuum packed bags of raw shucked lobster, but I couldn't find anyplace in Manhattan that carries it. I ended up heading to Chinatown where I found a place on Centre near Hester, through a door that made the place look closed, I entered a large cavernous space with enormous pools filled with all sorts of aquatic critters. I'm guessing most of their business comes from restaurants, but they also sell to to the public, and I bagged a two pound lobster for $19.
Whole live lobster in hand, the next challenge was to figure out how to get the shell off of it, since uncooked lobster meat tends to stick to the shell. I ended up using Thomas Keller's par-poach technique, which is the first time my French Laundry cookbook has ever been used in the kitchen. Once out of the shell, I sealed it in a bag, extracted the air and cooked it in a 160 degree waterbath. This technique known as sous vide literally means "under pressure" and is known for producing super tender meat by slowly raising the internal temperature of food to the desired level. In this case it worked a little too well (or I did something wrong), and the lobster literally fell apart as I took it out of the bag.
It didn't look great, and I was a little disappointed given the time I spent extracting each morsel from its shell in one piece, but it tasted amazing. I served this along with a sea urchin and yukon gold potato puree. Then it was all doused with yuzu hollandaise sauce. For some people, "Hollandaise sauce" conjures up images of a rich cloying sauce from yesteryear, but the butter/egg yolk emulsion makes for a versatile sauce that's great paired with anything from eggs to seafood to dessert (salt replaced with sugar of course). In this case I replaced the lemon juice with yuzu juice and added a bit of yuzu kosho for some extra kick.
For uni mashed potatoes
- Put the lobster in a pot deep enough to cover it with water. Fill the pot up with water then pour the water into another pot, leaving the lobster in the first pot. Boil the water, then add about 1 Tbs of vinegar for each quart of water (you can eyeball this based on the capacity of the pot you used). Once the water boils, carefully pour it into the pot with the lobster. Let this poach for 3 minutes. Remove the lobster with tongs. Twist off the tail then twist off the claws and return the claws to the hot water for another 5 minutes.
- To get the tail meat out, use kitchen shears to cut the underside of the shell, right down the middle between the legs. For the knuckles, use a pair of clean channel lock pliers and apply enough force to crack the shell in several places. Then use your sheers to cut through some of the remaining joint material to get the meat out. For the claws, grab the top claw with one hand and grab the bottom claw with the other. Pull them apart until they separate, carefully pulling the lower clawl off along with the cartilage that runs through the middle of the claw. Then use your channel lock pliers to break the very tip of the top claw off and then crack the rest of the claw to get the meat out.
- For my lobster I put the meat in a vacuum sealed bag them submerged it in a 160 degree water bath for 10 minutes. This yielded meat that was almost too tender, so I'd recommend increasing the temperature and decreasing the time, or trying a different method of cooking such as butter poaching or pan searing.
- For the mashed potatoes, wash and scrub the potatoes but do not peel. If they are large, cut them in half so they are all roughly the same size. Put them in a large pot and cover with water bringing it to a boil. The reason you cook them with the skin on is to prevent them from absorbing too much water. Turn down the heat to maintain a simmer and cook until a fork is easily inserted into the center of a potato. Drain, then peel the potatoes with a paring knife being careful not to burn yourself. Load a potato ricer with the uni then press into a bowl. Then press the butter into the same bowl. Add the cream and salt and whisk to combine. Press the peeled potatoes into the bowl then gently stir until just combined.
- For the hollandaise, find a small bowl (preferably ceramic) that can rest on top of a similarly sized sauce pan. Add enough water to the sauce pan so the bottom of the bowl will be submerged and bring to a boil. Lower the heat all the way to the low setting. With the bowl off the heat, add the water and yolk and whisk until smooth and creamy. Put the bowl on the saucepan and continue whisking until the egg yolk increases in volume, looks pale and is thick. Add the butter one piece at a time, whisking after each addition to combine. Finish by whisking in the yuzu kosho, yuzu juice, sugar and salt to taste.