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Cooking Garbage

Lobster Scraps

I love cooking garbage. That isn’t what it sounds like, but it’s my favorite way to put it. What I really mean is that I love making the most of my ingredients. It means I’m a saver of bones and peels and miscellaneous scraps that others might discard. Chicken bones, lamb bones, squash seeds and pulp… My freezer is full of them.

All of this detritus has a second life as soup, most often as a stock to use as the base for a pot of soup. (Or does that pot of soup count as its third life?) When we eat lobster, as we did for Valentine’s Day, if I’m feeling enthusiastic, I save the shells and innards to transform into a pot of lobster bisque.

The tail, claw, and knuckle meat has already been eaten, but the walking legs and the body can be picked for little chunks of meat to garnish the bowl. The only other preparation I do is to remove and discard the spongy gills inside the lobster body. Then, all the shells, any coral or roe (from the females), and the tomalley (that green gunk) are ready to do its magic.

You sauté some vegetables and herbs in butter, add the shells, tomatoes, wine, and water, and simmer. Once the shells are removed from the pot, the remainder is passed through a food mill for a smooth puree. Cream and sherry turn the soup into a lovely bisque.

I can’t think of a better way to extract every last bit of flavor from a lobster. After enjoying the prized meat, this soup makes the lobster last a little bit longer.


The lobster base keeps in the freezer. Just wait to add the cream and sherry until you are reheating to serve.

Lobster Bisque
Makes about 2 quarts

2 Tbsp butter
1 medium onion, chopped
1 tsp minced garlic
1 medium carrot, peeled and diced
1 bay leaf
3 sprigs fresh thyme (or ½ tsp dried)
Shells from 2-4 cooked lobsters (or more)
1 cup dry white wine
1 cup chopped canned tomatoes
6 cups water (could use strained lobster cooking liquid if available)
1 cup heavy cream
¼ to ½ cup dry sherry (start with the smaller amount and increase if you want more sherry flavor)
Salt and pepper to taste

Sort through the shells, picking out any extra meat (especially from the bodies and legs, especially if you only ate the claws and tail). Include the tomalley and, if female, the coral). Discard the gills attached to the body. Reserve any meat picked to finish the soup.

Melt butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add onions, garlic, carrot, bay leaf, and thyme, and cook until onions are soft, 5 to 10 minutes. Add the lobster bodies and cook, stirring, about 5 minutes. Add the wine and tomatoes and turn heat to medium-high. Bring to a boil, then reduce temperature to low, cover, and cook for 10 more minutes. Add the water, turn the heat back to high, and bring back to a boil. Reduce to low and cook, covered, for 20 minutes. Remove bay leaf, thyme sprigs, and lobster shells and discard. Puree what remains in the pot through the food mill using the disk with smallest holes.

(You could cool and then freeze it at this point.)

When ready to serve, bring to a boil, then add the cream, sherry, and any lobster meat and heat through.


vanilla butter-braised lobster {ffwd}

Lobster Braising

Greetings from the frozen white tundra!

For years, we’ve used Valentine’s Day as an excuse for a special homemade dinner. The menu varies from year to year, but it’s a nice tradition. Vanilla Butter-Braised Lobster, this week’s recipe for French Fridays with Dorie turned out to be the star of a perfect romantic meal.

I live in New England which is “Lobster Country”, so finding a lobster without breaking the bank was not an issue. The plan was to spend the long weekend in Maine where the lobster would be even cheaper, but yet another snowstorm kept us off the road and safely nestled at home.

Local lore tells that, once upon a time, lobsters were so plentiful that they were cheap and eaten mainly by the poor. In fact, I’ve heard one story where inmates in a prison revolted because they were so tired of a daily menu of lobster. Lobsters have come a long way to become the luxury food it’s now considered to be. Because they are still caught locally, we enjoy lobsters all year long, especially summer weekends in Maine where we eat it at home on a picnic table on the porch.

Lobster is so good steamed or boiled in its shell that I’m not sure I’ve ever had it as a fancier preparation. Sure, we’ll cook an extra one or two to make next-day lobster salad with the meat. Or I’ll often save the shells and bodies to make a simple lobster bisque (more on that this weekend). Beyond that, steamed lobster is my favorite way to go. It’s so rich, we don’t even bother dipping it in melted butter.

Big Lobster

Big Lobster

The French Friday recipe, though very simple to prepare, was much more elegant than our usual “lobster in the rough”. First, you clarify some butter. Once clarified, the pulp and pod of a vanilla bean infuses in the butter while the lobster is cooking. Finally, after shelling the lobster to extract the claws and tail, the lobster meat finishes cooking in the vanilla butter bath. The lobster is plated (without all the butter) and sprinkled with fleur de sel and fresh pepper. Simple yet fancy at the same time.

Vanilla Butter

I made a few minor adjustments, but all in the same spirit of the recipe.

First, it turns out that lobster must be popular Valentine’s Day fare because when I went to the grocery store on Saturday morning, all the smaller lobsters were sold out. The fish guy had a 3½ pounder, which was big enough to share, so I brought her home instead. At $8 a pound, it was still a good deal. Because of the size of the lobster, we changed up the cooking method a bit. Instead of partially cooking it then ripping it apart, we just steamed it whole for 25 minutes, until it was nearly cooked, then took out the claw, knuckle and tail meal.

Steamed and Ready

Also, the recipe calls for a pound and a half of butter. We were making about the half the lobster, but even so, I used only 1½ sticks which was plenty to cover all the meat and impart its vanilla flavor. I saved the leftover vanilla butter, and I’m thinking of bathing some cooked shrimp in it to serve over rice for dinner tonight.

To round out the Valentine’s Day meal, we started with a bottle of Veuve Cliquot, served the lobster with potato rösti, and finished with molten chocolate cakes. As the snow fell outside, staying nestled inside our (not so) warm house was just the thing for the evening.

Lobster Dinner

To see how the other Doristas enjoyed their lobster, check out their links here. You can find the recipe in Dorie Greenspan’s book Around My French Table.