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.
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.
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.
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.
I’ve always been intrigued by this heart-shaped dessert molded in its only special ceramic dish with drainage holes. I was glad when coeur à la crème was chosen this month for French Fridays with Dorie. I thought it would make the perfect dessert for our Valentine’s dinner.
I’d never had this dessert before, so had no preconceived notions. This time, I didn’t have the special equipment lurking in my basement, so I went in search of coeur à la crème molds. I found a selection at my new favorite kitchen store, Kitchen Outfitters. They offered both a large one and smaller individual ones. I opted for one large rather than a set of small ones because without knowing whether I would like the recipe, it was more economical (i.e. cheaper).
I’d describe coeur à la crème like a cream cheese mousse. It was sort of like cheesecake, but much airier. You whip some cream cheese in the stand mixer with powdered sugar, vanilla, and liqueur (I used Chambord). Then you whip some cream and fold it into the cream cheese. The concoction gets wrapped in cheesecloth and set in the mold to drain overnight, though my coeur didn’t give off much liquid at all.
I pureed some frozen raspberries with powdered sugar to make a coulis to serve on top of the sliced coeur. I thought this was good, though I probably wouldn’t make it again. Howard, predictably, did not like it. Sigh…
We don’t post the recipes, but you can find it in Dorie Greenspan’s book Around My French Table. To see what other Doristas thought of this recipe and whether their Valentines liked it more than mine, check out their posts here.
On a more positive note, Howard did enjoy the rest of the meal. I made oven-roasted scallops, Israeli couscous and broccoli rabe. And, we drank a lovely bottle of Cava, on a weeknight, so it was decadent.
And, our friend Lauren stopped by with boxes of handmade chocolates! They are gorgeous, and the ones tasted so far, delicious.