The scarlet shells of the lobster, when sautéed in olive oil and flamed in brandy, release flavors that enhance the sauce — and the sweet meat of the boiled lobster is one of summer’s great pleasures.
Sometimes a recipe will grow into something more than a set of instructions. Many years ago I orchestrated a surprise birthday party for my wife, Lois. I borrowed the pool house and pool from a friend for the day. It was a beautiful setting overlooking the Sound and I needed a dish that could be prepared ahead but would also be bursting with fresh, local ingredients.
Lobster stew was the answer. Succulent lobster meat in a complex broth surrounded by very fresh corn, sugar snap peas, new potatoes, leeks and tarragon. Is has become a summer tradition in my family and was a signature menu item at my restaurant. The recipe has evolved over the years, but the original inspiration to use only the freshest of local ingredients as they come into their season has not changed.
Here is my most recent version of this dish:
ROSS’ SUMMER LOBSTER STEW
Purchase 4 live lobsters, 1 1/4 pounds each. Bring 6 quarts of water to a boil in a large soup pot and add 1 tablespoon salt. Plunge the lobsters into the boiling water, cover and bring them back to a boil. Remove the lobsters with tongs, letting the boiling water remain.
As soon as you can handle them, break off the claws and pull the tails off of the lobsters and put them back into the water to finish cooking, another 10 minutes. Remove the cooked claws and tails and set aside. Shut the heat off and reserve the cooking water.
Split the lobster bodies in half and discard the head sacs. Scrape out the coral and tomalley into a small bowl and refrigerate. Heat a large sauté pan and add 2 tablespoons olive oil. Place the split lobster bodies shell side down in the hot oil and cook until the shells turn bright red, about 5 minutes.
Warm 1/4 cup brandy in a small pan, ignite with a match and pour over the lobster bodies. When the flame dies out, reduce the heat to low and add 1 cup chopped onion, 1/2 cup chopped celery and 1/2 cup chopped carrot to the pan with the lobster bodies. Continue cooking and add 1 chopped plum tomato, 1/2 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning, 2 bay leaves, 1 teaspoon kosher salt and 6 whole peppercorns.
Ladle the reserved lobster water into the pan to just cover the lobster bodies and simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes.
Strain into a saucepan, pressing as much liquid out of the ingredients as possible.
In a Dutch oven or large, shallow saucepan melt 4 tablespoons butter at low heat. Add 2 chopped leeks (white part only), 1 minced shallot and 2 cloves minced garlic. Cook briefly and stir in 3 thinly sliced young carrots and 2 diced plum tomatoes. Cut 8 small new potatoes in half, leaving the skin on, and add them to the leek mixture. Pour in about 4 cups of the lobster stock and simmer until the potatoes are tender, about 20 minutes.
Shuck 6 ears of very fresh corn and scrape off the kernels with a paring knife. Pull the strings off of 1/2 pound of sugar snap peas. Remove the meat from the cooked lobster claws and tails and cut into bite-sized portions. Chop 1/2 cup parsley and 1/4 cup fresh tarragon.
Add the lobster meat, corn, peas, parsley and tarragon to the simmering stew. Stir in 2 cups heavy cream and bring to a simmer. Grind some fresh pepper into the stew and taste for additional seasoning. Cut 1 fresh baguette into half-inch-thick rounds. Brush them with olive oil and spread them with the reserved tomalley and coral. Place on a foil-lined sheet pan and cook for 10 minutes in a 400-degree oven.
Serve the lobster stew in large pasta bowls with the croutons on the side.
Note: The lobster can be cooked ahead along with the stock. A “mis en place” can be prepared with the lobster removed from the shells, the corn kernels scraped into a dish, the snap peas trimmed and the leeks, shallots and garlic chopped. This will make last-minute preparation easy while retaining the freshness of the ingredients.