There are certain sacred dishes in New England, and many of them revolve around Maine lobsters.
We try to make several trips to the shore each year, and often vacation in Maine. We find that the holiday is punctuated with various lobsters along the way, always at our favorite stands and restaurants. Planning the meals is as important as planning any other aspect of the trip!
The first on our list is a lobster roll. This has to be traditional, white bun split on the top and toasted, stuffed tightly with lots of fresh lobster meat and an absolute minimum of other ingredients: a little celery, a little onion, a little mayonnaise or, my favorite, melted butter. Salt and pepper and you can call it a day!
One lobster, straight up, butter on the side
The second must is a whole lobster for dinner, complete with bib, drawn butter, and all the mess it makes. I don’t need the corn, the potatoes, or anything else. I want the lobster straight up, and it needs to be a fat one. The process of cracking open the lobster and extracting every morsel of meat, even from the legs, is an integral part of the enjoyment of the feast. My only sadness is that I look at all the lobster shells we have to abandon and all I can think of is the flavor that would give a stock! I can’t help myself.
My third guilty pleasure involving lobster is a lobster stew that I absolutely love from Fox’s, a lobster house we go to every year that is located near the beautiful Nubble lighthouse on York Beach. It is the most decadent, flavorful, creamy, delicious expensive bowl of soup one could ever hope for, and once a year, it is a special treat I plan into my diet. It is a traditional New England style chowder with shellfish enhanced heavy cream base, and a whisper of sherry, simple in presentation and adornment. Each bowl must have an entire lobster’s worth of meat and is a meal, not a starter! A large meal, in fact.
The home version
If I have a great hankering for a lobster stew the rest of the year (such as last weekend), I make it myself for much less the price, way less fat, and a flavor that still evokes the Maine coast. While the stock is simmering, I’m swept away to the beach.
You can cook the lobsters and make the stock the day before and let the stock sit overnight in the refrigerator to extract as much flavor as possible from the lobster shells, in fact, this is best. If you are planning a dinner party, this will save you lots of time and mess the day of the meal, plus give you a more flavorful base to your dish.
A rosy glow
To my recipe, I’ve added a little tomato paste and paprika which add acid and subtle flavor and give it a lovely orange glow, no pale white broth for me! The subtle acid of the tomato relieves some of the richness of the broth, which is quite heavy if using cream or even cream and milk. Some cooks actually make their stock by simmering the shells directly in the cream or combination of cream and whole milk, which is why it is so incredibly rich, and how I believe they make the stew at Fox’s.
A shortcut or two
If you want a slightly quicker version, you can get shellfish stock from your fish monger along with cooked lobster meat. I won’t tell. Follow the rest of the recipe, and you should be good. You will need about a pound of cooked lobster meat.
If you make this from scratch, use the little chick lobsters, which are much less expensive; you will pay less for the three whole lobsters than the pound of lobster meat would cost, and have enough shells to make quarts of stock for the freezer.
Herbs of choice
The fennel and tarragon are great companions to the lobster, but these are optional if you don’t care for them. Italian parsley would be lovely here as well. Always use a light hand with the herbs so as not to overwhelm the flavor of the seafood.
I have strong feelings about thickening fish chowders and stews with a roux. So many times I’ve been served chowders that are so pasty and thick from the flour that you can stand a spoon up in them! My mother never thickened any chowder with a roux, she said it detracted from the other flavors and I agree with her. The thicker the roux, the less you will taste the seafood. So I follow her lead and leave any thickening to the addition of the actual cream or alternative.
‘However you make it, there is no bad way to enjoy this’
I made this with half-and-half (which is half cream and half milk) added at the last, but I’ve also made it with light cream and even evaporated skim milk, which is much more delicious than you would guess. My favorite non-dairy swap for cream in soups is light coconut milk. I’ve used it in this dish and it was pretty delicious. Don’t use the full-fat coconut milk or you’ll have a decided coconut flavor to the broth which you don’t want, the light milk is just right and adds plenty of creaminess, just remember to add it at the end and don’t boil it.
You can leave out the cream element altogether and just feast on this with the flavorful clear broth. It is absolutely delicious that way too!
Whatever the “cream” you use, or not, however you make it, there is no bad way to enjoy this!
Of course, if it was my last meal on earth, I’d probably go ahead and use a little heavy cream, and eat the potatoes as well!
New England Lobster Stew
First, steam your lobsters. Bring an inch of water to boil in a large stock pot. Place a rack in the bottom and add the lobsters. Cover, and steam for about 8 to 10 minutes depending on size. The lobsters will be bright red. Some fish markets will do this for you. If they do, let them by all means!
Let them cool, then remove the flesh from the shells, trying not to eat too much while doing so. Chop up the meat into bite-sized pieces.
Place the lobster in the refrigerator while you finish the rest of the recipe.
For the stock:
Entire bodies and shell remains of the three lobsters
2 sweet onions, skin and all, chopped
Greens and stalks of 1 large fennel bulb (reserve bulb)
2 ribs celery, chopped, leaves and all
1 carrot, chopped, greens and all if attached
4 or 5 bay leaves
1 tsp. fennel seeds
1 tsp. sweet paprika
1 tbsp. salt
2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
2 1/2 to 3 quarts water to cover the other ingredients
½ cup dry sherry or pernod
Make the stock: in a large stockpot, combine all the ingredients. Bring to a boil, cover, and simmer for one hour. Remove from heat and let sit for another hour or overnight. Strain.
For the stew:
Meat from three 1-to 1 ½-lb. steamed lobsters
2 tbsp. olive oil
2 tbsp. unsalted butter
1 large Vidalia or other sweet onion, small dice
1 stalk celery, fine dice
1 bulb fennel, small dice
1 tbsp. tomato paste
¼ cup dry sherry or pernod
1 tsp. minced fresh tarragon
1 quart lobster stock
1 ½ cups cream of choice or 1 can light coconut milk
Make the stew: Prep your vegetables, and in a large soup pot, heat the oil and butter until the butter stops sizzling. Add the onions, celery, and fennel. Sauté until soft and cooked through, but do not let them color. Add 1 tbsp. tomato paste and cook for a minute or two, and then add the tarragon and 2 tbsp. or so of the sherry. Stir until the alcohol has cooked off, two or three minutes. Add the lobster stock and heat through.
Add the cream and the lobster meat, over low heat, stirring everything together gently. Add a bit more butter and another tablespoon of the sherry or pernod.
Serve in a shallow bowl, and garnish with a few select pieces of lobster and some fronds of the fennel. Serves 6.
Stash the rest of the stock in the freezer for a really quick soup another time.
© Copyright 2019 – or current year, Dorothy Grover-Read, The New Vintage Kitchen.