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Maine Lobster Potpie

This image courtesy of Joseph DeLeo

My wife and I love to entertain at home on Sundays, my day off. This is when I try out ideas that inevitably become items on my menu. The first time I made this dish was when I had friends coming over for a pool party. Originally, I prepared a giant lobster potpie to feed a crowd and simply replaced the traditional chicken with succulent lobster, and everybody just devoured it. We went through some growing pains with the evolution of the dish to refine it enough for the restaurants. I fine-tuned the recipe by cooking the lobster in the shell to protect the delicate meat from toughening. I now serve it in individual copper pots for a dramatic tableside presentation. When the server gracefully removes the flaky pastry cap, steam from the potpie rises into the air and the heavenly scent fills the dining room. Curious onlookers often take notice and order some for themselves! Without question, this is our most sought-after recipe, you will need four 1-quart soufflé dishes to complete this recipe. A good tip is to soak the pearl onions in water for 15 minutes to soften the skins so they are easier to peel. If you are pressed for time, frozen puff pastry sheets may be substituted for the homemade dough. The vegetables can also be adjusted to your personal preferences as well as seasonal availability.

NotesWine Suggestion

Au Bon Climat Chardonnay ’Sanford & Benedict,’ Santa Ynez Valley 1998

This rich dish screams for a viscous and buttery wine, so a classic California Chardonnay is perfect. I selected an older Chardonnay from one of the greatest winemakers in America, Jim Clendenen. Another great pairing would be a ripe white Burgundy from a soft vintage.

Serves4 (makes 3½ cups lobster cream sauce)

Cooking Methodbaking, sauteeing

CostSplurge

Total Timehalf-day

Make Ahead RecipeYes

OccasionCasual Dinner Party, Formal Dinner Party

Recipe Coursemain course

Dietary Considerationpeanut free, soy free, tree nut free

Mealdinner

Moodadventurous

Taste and Texturebuttery, creamy, savory

Type of Dishsavory/pot pie

Ingredients

  • 1 recipe pâte brisée/pie dough (recipe follows)
  • 4 live maine lobsters (1½ pounds each)
  • 1 tablespoon sea salt
  • Ice bath
  • 4 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 cup brandy
  • 2 stalks celery, coarsely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, smashed
  • 1 yellow onion, coarsely chopped
  • 1 carrot, coarsely chopped
  • ½ bulb fennel, coarsely chopped
  • ¼ cup tomato paste
  • 1 cup dry white wine, such as sauvignon blanc
  • 1 quart heavy cream
  • 3 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1 bay leaf, preferably fresh
  • 1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
  • 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • ½ pound assorted wild mushrooms, such as chanterelles and oyster, wiped of grit and halved if large
  • 2 large eggs beaten with 2 tablespoons water to make an egg wash
  • 12 white pearl onions, peeled and halved lengthwise
  • 8 baby carrots, green tops trimmed, halved lengthwise
  • 3 fingerling potatoes, sliced
  • ½ small green zucchini, sliced in half moons
  • ½ small yellow squash, sliced in half moons
  • ¼ cup assorted chopped fresh herbs, such as chives, parsley, thyme, and chervil
  • 4 teaspoons white truffle oil (optional)
  • 1 fresh truffle, sliced paper-thin (optional)
  • 2½ cups all-purpose flour, sifted, plus more for dusting
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into chunks
  • 4 to 6 tablespoons ice water

Instructions

  1. Prepare and chill the pie dough as directed in the recipe.

  2. To cook the lobsters: place the lobsters in the freezer for 20 to 30 minutes to numb them.

  3. Fill a large srockpot three-quarters full with cold water and add the sea salt. Bring to a rapid boil over medium-high heat.

  4. Transfer the immobile lobsters to a cutting board. Working with 1 lobster at a time, and holding the lobster securely with a kitchen towel to protect your hands, insert the tip of a chef’s knife at the base of the head, parallel to the body, and swiftly cut completely through the head between the antennas.

  5. Use a sideways twist to break the claws, knuckles, and tails off of the lobsters. Reserve the bodies for making the sauce.

  6. Place the claws and knuckles in the boiling water and boil for 1 minute. Add the lobster tails and continue to boil for an additional 4 minutes (the tails will be only cooked about halfway). Using a slotted spoon, transfer all the lobster pieces to the ice bath; let sit for at least 5 minutes to ensure the cooking process has stopped.

  7. To remove the meat from the claws, pull the “thumb” of the claws off and remove the inner cartilage. Lay the claws flat on a cutting board and carefully tap with the blade of a chef’s knife to crack. Gently wiggle the meat out from the shell and place it in a large bowl.

  8. Using kitchen shears, cut open the knuckles and discard the shells. Add the lobster meat to the bowl.

  9. Lay the lobster tails on a cutting board, shell side up, and hold with a kitchen towel to steady. Using a serrated knife, make 3 cuts crosswise between the joints so that you have 4 sections, including the tail fan. Add the lobster pieces to the bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and transfer to the refrigerator to chill until ready to use. The lobster may be prepared a day in advance.

  10. When cleaning the lobster bodies, it is best to wear kitchen gloves to protect your hands. Firmly pull the bodies and shells apart. When all of the bodies have been separated, use a tablespoon to scrape off the feathery gills and clean out the roe and innards from the underside of the shell. Coarsely chop the lobster shells and bodies.

  11. To make the sauce: Place a large stockpot over medium-high heat and coat with 2 tablespoons of the oil. When the oil gets hazy, add the cleaned lobster shells and bodies. Cook, stirring often, until the shells are well seared and bright red, about 3 to 5 minutes. Shells equal flavor.

  12. To keep the alcohol from flaming, remove the pot from the heat and pour in the brandy. Carefully return the pot to the stove and cook until the brandy is almost totally evaporated. Push the shells to the sides of the pot and add the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil and the celery, garlic, onion, carrot, and fennel. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are tender and begin to caramelize, 10 to 15 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste and cook for about 2 minutes until the color deepens. Add the wine and stir to deglaze the pot, scraping up the bits from the bottom with a wooden spoon. Continue cooking until all of the liquid is evaporated, about 1 minute.

  13. Add the cream, thyme, bay leaf, peppercorns, and coriander. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until the sauce turns light orange and tastes like lobster, 15 to 20 minutes. Pass the sauce through a fine-mesh strainer into a clean saucepan to remove the solids, using a spoon or spatula to press out all the juice. Place over medium heat and bring the lobster cream to a simmer. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Remove from the heat and set aside.

  14. In a small saucepan, slowly melt 1 tablespoon of the butter over low heat. Just as the foam subsides, sprinkle in the flour, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon to cook the starchy taste out of the flour. Cook for 1 minute, without allowing the flour to color.

  15. Slowly whisk the roux into the lobster cream. Cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly to prevent lumps. The lobster cream should be thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Remove from the heat. Cover to keep warm.

  16. To prepare the filling: Place a sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the butter and once it gets foamy, add the mushrooms. Season with salt and pepper and sauté until the mushrooms release their moisture and begin to brown, about 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from the heat.

  17. Place an equal portion of the sautéed mushrooms, onions, carrots, potatoes, zucchini, and yellow squash evenly into each soufflé dish. Remove the lobster meat from the refrigerator and place the equivalent of 1 whole lobster into each dish. Ladle ½ cup of the warm lobster cream sauce into each dish, sprinkle with the chopped herbs, a drizzle of truffle oil, and a few slices of black truffle.

  18. Preheat the oven to 425°F.

  19. To assemble: remove the dough from the refrigerator and set it on the counter for 5 minutes to warm up and to make it easier to roll out. Sprinkle the counter and a rolling pin lightly with flour. Roll the dough out to a ¼-inch thickness. Cut the dough into 4 circles, 1 inch larger than the diameter of the soufflé dishes (you need four 1-quart dishes). Using a pastry brush, lightly coat the outer edges of the pastry circles with the egg wash.

  20. Carefully cap each dish with a pastry circle, egg wash side down, pressing the dough around the rim to form a tight seal. Brush the tops very lightly with egg wash and sprinkle with a little salt (preferably sea salt). Set the dishes on a baking sheet and transfer to the oven. Bake for 30 minutes, rotating halfway through cooking, until the potpie is puffed and golden.

  21. To serve: run a knife around the inside rims of the soufflé dishes. Using a fork and spoon, carefully remove the dome cap and place it in the center of a serving plate. For a great presentation, arrange the pieces of lobster on top of the pastry, scatter the vegetables decoratively all around, and drizzle the lobster cream sauce over everything.

  22. Place the flour and salt in the food processor and pulse to combine. Add the butter cubes, a few at a time, pulsing until the mixture looks like small peas. Slowly add the ice water, a little at a time, until the dough starts to come together without being too wet or sticky (you may not need all the water). Pinch a small amount together; if it is crumbly, add more ice water, 1 teaspoon at a time. Form the dough into a disk and wrap in plastic wrap. Transfer to the refrigerator and chill for at least 1 hour. The dough can be made 1 day in advance.

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