Friday, 14 May 2021

World’s your lobster when it comes to seafood

A lobster walks into a bar... the bartender says: “Why the beady eyes?”

A lobster walks into a bar... the bartender says: “Why the beady eyes?”

I started the Crooked Billet in 1989 â?? the same year naively entering the Salon Homard competition, Chateau Roux, Loire Valley. Aged 24 and the only English chef.

Astonishingly, to the disgruntlement of wise and wisened older French chefs, my lighter twist on Escoffier’s classic thermidor won bronze.

Gently sweat shallot, mushroom, parsley and tarragon. A glug of Noilly Prat, burn off the harsh alcohol, add a fleck of Colman’s English mustard, crème fraîche and Keen’s Cheddar.

Fold juicy chunks of lobster meat, spoon the mixture into a lobster shell. Brush with hollandaise, a final shave of Keen’s then seven minutes at 180C until the lobster has the appearance of an afternoon on St Tropez beach. Hot, sexy and golden.

In August, Henley migrates to the coast. With a fat wallet you might pick up a lobster â?? although it’s hardly the lobster’s fault it’s four times the price of crab, but worth it for that delicious sweet-tasting meat.

Buy lobster locally from Barry at Gabriel Machin’s â?? give him a few days’ notice to order. I don’t rate supermarket frozen lobster. Aldi and Lidl occasionally advertise them at £5 â?? sorry little things, fit for a pixie’s lunch box.

Lobsters keep growing forever. Lobster pots aren’t designed to catch the largest lobsters â?? occasionally something big gets its claw caught in the entrance of the trap and appears at market.

Buy them alive and clicking, hard shell, feeling heavy from a proper old school fishmonger. Or Barry.

Unless you fancy yourself in a Michelin pinny, they’re most delicious treated simply. Just cooked, still warm, cracked open, herb butter, green salad, bottle of Chablis. The whiff of charcoal on lobster flesh is something to behold.

You’ve got your lobsters home. Leave the rubber claw bands on otherwise they’ll eat everything in the fridge. The bands prevent them eating each other in the vivarium (lobster tank to the uninitiated). Unless they fancy one another, then they’ll mate. Then girl eats the boy, then she eats the babies. Jeremy Kyle would love it.

To do the deed, comatose Larry in the deep freeze for half an hour before introducing him to your largest pot of rapidly boiling salted water. Fish him out after 10 minutes and leave him five minutes until he’s not too hot to handle.

Whilst preparation is simple, it makes for a boring read. The Crooked Billet offers an £18 lobster luncheon throughout August. I’ll happily give you a free preparation demo â?? just call me on (01491) 681048.

Don’t bin the bones. Excellent flavour can be extracted from lobster shell â?? it makes the crowning glory of soups, lobster bisque.

Sweat without colouring carrot, celery, shallots. Add chopped lobster bones, garlic, parsley and a glug of Noilly Prat.

At this juncture you could make a scented oil by adding olive oil, after a slow three-hour simmer and passing through muslin cloth you’ll have a very fine dressing.

Otherwise: add tomato, tomato paste and fish stock. Slowly simmer for 45 minutes. Blitz bones, vegetables and stock in a blender and sieve through muslin for a delicious bisque â?? silky as a gigolo’s compliment; fishy as a chancellor’s promise.

Paul Clerehugh

Paul Clerehugh is chef patron of the Crooked Billet, Stoke Row, and the London St Brasserie, Reading. Catch him every week on Food on Friday 2pm on BBC Radio Berkshire.

The Crooked Billet offers an £18 lobster luncheon, Monday to Friday throughout August.

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