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Chef Thomas Keller
Gourmet Lobster Tails Four (6-ounce)
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La Belle Cuisine
A Chef Invents a Lobster Dish,
and Pots Start Boiling All Over
by Florence Fabricant
New York Times, April 10, 2002
fall of 1999, after five years serving an inventive butter-poached lobster
dish at the French Laundry, his celebrated restaurant in Yountville, Calif.,
chef Thomas Keller published the recipe.
'Butter-poached lobster,' he wrote at the beginning of his instructions in
French Laundry Cookbook,' 'is extraordinarily versatile.' No kidding.
hit bookstores in 1999, and since then butter-poached lobster has
spread from its
original home in the Napa Valley to restaurants across the
country and as far
afield as Vancouver, the Bahamas and London, sometimes in
Mr. Keller would scarcely recognize.
Now, threatening to become as commonplace as a tuna tartare appetizer or a
molten chocolate cake dessert, the dish is achieving status as a main
a culinary Birkin bag. But unlike the tartare and the cake,
whose origins have
been muddied by the currents of memory and evolution, the
source of today's
butter-poached lobster is quite clear: Mr. Keller. 'I
wanted to find a way to cook
lobster gently, so it wouldn't be tough,' Mr.
Keller said. 'I don't remember seeing
it done anywhere else, and this made
perfect sense to me. Who in America hasn't
had lobster with melted butter?'
Most chefs who have put butter-poached lobster on their menus, including
Rick Moonen of Oceana in Manhattan and Michael Kramer of McCrady's in
ton, S.C., readily credit Mr. Keller with creating the dish. 'I saw
in Thomas Keller's book,' said Gerry Hayden, the executive
chef at Aureole in
Manhattan, where he serves what he calls butter-braised
lobster with either truffle
coulis or a coconut curry broth. Mr. Hayden
acknowledges that the technique he
uses is essentially the same one Mr.
Keller described in his book.|
Butter poaching a lobster follows a critically important first step:
which lets the chef remove the lobster from its shell. It is
impossible to extract
raw lobster from its carapace, Mr. Keller explained,
but a very brief blanching,
enough to kill the lobster without actually
cooking it, frees the flesh. 'Most of
the time they tell you to boil a
lobster so many minutes depending on the size,'
he said. 'But it can
toughen, and even if it doesn't, you can forget about trying
to reheat the
meat without it getting rubbery.'
Mr. Keller pours boiling water with a little vinegar over his lobsters.
Other chefs blanch them in boiling water for just a minute or two. Treated
this way, lobster
meat can be kept refrigerated for as long as several
hours, until just before serving
time. The final cooking takes minutes.
The process, Mr. Keller wrote in the cookbook, 'loads the flavor of butter
meat and cooks it so slowly and gently that the flesh remains
exquisitely tender -
so tender some people think it's not completely
The lobster emerges glistening and lush-textured from its butter bath, which
is not simply melted butter but what chefs call a beurre monté. Before the
lobster is put
in its pot, butter is whisked bit by bit into a few
tablespoons of simmering water or
other liquid like wine or stock, so its
milk solids do not separate as they would if
he butter were melted on its
own. The butter can be infused with spices and other
For three one-and-a-half-pound lobsters, Mr. Keller uses nearly a pound of
butter. The lobster meat is allowed to cook slowly in it for five to six
For his dish at the French Laundry, Mr. Keller combines the cooked lobster
with tender leeks, a sheet of contrastingly crisp potato and a tart-sweet
deep-ruby beet glaze.
'I've always liked pairing lobster with leeks and beets, but now think I've
found the perfect interpretation,' he said. But that hasn't stopped him from
coming up with seasonal variations... with carrot emulsion and spring pea
Mr. Moonen of Oceana also changes his version of the dish with the seasons,
is about to introduce butter-poached lobster with asparagus flan,
shoots and black-truffle vinaigrette on his spring menu.
Mr. Kramer, of McCrady's in Charleston, features butter-poached lobster with
gras, poached pear and a black truffle-Riesling sauce. The dish is
sweet white corn and leek ragout, petits lardons and a
lobster bisque at La Folie
in San Francisco.
Brandon Wolff, the executive chef at Dream Dance, a casino restaurant in
Milwaukee, combines his herb-butter-poached lobster with saffron risotto and
In Reno, Nev. high rollers dining at the White Orchid in the
Casino can indulge in sweet butter-poached lobster with truffled potato, spring
vegetable medley and chive butter.
If you start with butter-poached lobster, as Mr. Keller noted, almost
goes. Still, he probably never imagined butter-poached lobster with
foie gras and maitake mushroom egg foo yong, all in a
reduction, which is what the dish has morphed into at the
and Inn in Summerville, S.C.
Not every chef attributes the inspiration for butter poaching lobster to Mr.
Indeed, William Morris, the executive chef at the new Lure in
Manhattan, said he
stole the idea from Mr. Moonen, giving the recipe a
since Mr. Moonen readily acknowledges Mr. Keller
as his muse.
David Walzog, who serves butter-poached Maine lobster with parsley couscous
a brandy lobster sauce at the Monkey Bar in Manhattan, said the idea
his mentor, Alfred Portale of Gotham Bar and Grill, who he said
him to use
a butter bath for cooking vegetables.
At Le Papillon in San Jose, Calif., the executive chef, Scott Cooper, said
dreamed up butter-poached lobster served atop roasted veal loin in a
because he wanted a dish to pair with red wine. He said that the
was his variation on olive oil poaching, which he learned
before he went to Le
Brent Pollock, the executive chef at Azie in San Francisco, said he got the
from Donnie Masterton, the previous chef there, who he said learned it
on the Green in New York when Patrick Clark, who died in 1998, was
tive chef. Instead of being poached, the shelled lobster is
drenched with butter and
a slow oven for about five minutes.
Roland Passot, the executive chef at La Folie in San Francisco, said he
he remembered chefs butter poaching lobster in France, and he noted
technique is similar to the one used to make confit: slow poaching
in fat. 'It's a
much better technique than the old way of doing lobster,' he
Gordon Ramsay, the Michelin three-star chef in London, who also serves
butter-poached lobster at Claridge's, offered the same confit comparison. He
source was Michel Bras, in France. But a certain amount of Kellerization still
applies to his version, Mr. Ramsay acknowledged, because
he exchanged chefs
with Mr. Keller's restaurant a few years ago.
Taking credit for originating a recipe or a dish is risky. Save for a few
exceptions - the invention of lobster Newburg in the late 1800's at
Delmonico's restaurant in
New York, for example - it is rare to find
something truly new under the heat lamp.
People have concocted, cooked and
combined ingredients without recording the
results ever since the first
takeout menu for haunch of saber-toothed tiger was
slipped into the cave.
No one should assume, for example, that the fennel sorbet or truffle ice
a cutting-edge tasting menu is a chef's brilliant new creation.
As Elizabeth David, the English food writer, wrote in her book 'Harvest of
Cold Months: The Social History of Ice and Ices' (Viking, 1994), both
were made in 18th-century France.
Indeed, while Mr. Keller may have come up with his butter poaching technique
independently, his preparatory step has been around for years. A number of
lobster recipes in the 1984 edition of Larousse Gastronomique, for example,
for preliminary blanching. It's also the way Jean-Georges Vongerichten
always started the lobster that is prepared with Thai herbs at Vong.
None of that should bother Mr. Keller. After all, the potatoes he serves
with his butter-poached lobster at the French Laundry have a pedigree, too.
created at Maxim's in Paris, which opened in 1893.”
Butter-Poached Lobster With Leeks,
Pommes Maxim and Red Beet Essence
The French Laundry Cookbook
by Thomas Keller with Susie Heller
and Michael Ruhlman,
Thomas Keller, 1999, Artisan)
Time: 2 hours
1 pound unsalted butter at room
temperature, in pieces
Salt and pepper
1 1/2 cups thinly sliced leek rounds
1/4 medium-size ripe tomato, peeled,
flesh cut in small diamond shapes
2 teaspoons minced chives
1 teaspoon each finely diced carrot,
turnip and dark green of leeks
Red-beet essence [recipe follows]
Par-cooked meat from 3 lobsters at room
temperature [recipe follows]
Pommes Maxim [recipe follows].
1. Place 2 tablespoons water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil.
Reduce heat to very low, and whisk in butter piece by piece. Continue adding
butter is emulsified. Set aside, and keep warm (the best way is in
thermos); do not allow to boil.
2. Bring a 3-quart pot of water seasoned with 1 tablespoon salt to a boil.
Have a large bowl of ice water ready. Add leeks to boiling water, cook
minutes until just tender, drain in a sieve and place sieve with leeks in
ice water until leeks are cool. Drain, and transfer to a small sauté pan.
Place over low heat to reheat. Add tomato, chives, diced carrot, turnip
leek greens. Stir in 1/3 cup emulsified butter. Season with salt and
pepper, and cover to keep warm.
3. Place beet essence in a small saucepan. Whisk in 3 tablespoons emul-
butter, and cover to keep warm.
4. Heat oven to 300 degrees [F]. Place lobster pieces in single layer in a
large saucepan or sauté pan. Add remaining emulsified butter. Lobster
should be just about covered. Place pan over low heat, and cook
5 to 6
minutes, until meat is just heated through. Remove knuckle
pieces, drain and
fold into leek mixture.
5. While lobster cooks, place potatoes in oven 2 to 3 minutes to reheat.
6. To serve, place a spoonful of warm beet essence in center of each of
plates. Briefly reheat leek mixture, and spoon onto beet essence.
lobster tails and claws from butter mixture, draining well;
place a tail
piece and a claw on each plate, on top of leeks. Break
potatoes in six
pieces and place on top of the lobster. Serve.
Yield: 6 servings.
1 pound red beets, peeled and juiced, or
1 cup juice from
1/2 teaspoon red-wine vinegar
A few drops lemon juice.
Place beet juice in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Slowly
no more than 1/4 cup; it should be thickened to a glaze. Add
and lemon juice, and set aside.
Three 1 1/2- to 2-pound live lobsters
1. Place lobsters in a container with tight-fitting lid.
Cover with cold water, remove lobsters and measure water. Pour water into
another large pot,
and add 1 tablespoon vinegar for every quart of water.
2. Return lobsters to lidded container. Pour the hot water over them, cover
and steep 2 minutes for 1 1/2-pound lobsters, 3 minutes for 2-pound
lobsters. Remove lobsters. Reserve water in container.
3. Pull off lobster claws and knuckles, and return to hot water for 5
minutes. Twist off tails, and discard bodies.
4. Snip through bottom sides of tail shells with shears. Remove meat.
Discard shells. Cut tail meat in half lengthwise. Remove vein running
through top of meat. Place meat on a platter lined with paper towel,
with plastic wrap and refrigerate.
5. Remove claws from hot water. Twist off knuckles, and reserve. Hold
pull down on small pincer and pull it off. Use heavy shears to
snip shell at
knuckle end enough to open it; remove meat in one
piece. Add to platter with
6. Use shears to snip through the knuckle shell, pry open and
Add to the platter.
Time: 1 hour
7 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large Yukon Gold potato, about 9 ounces,
peeled and sliced paper thin
1. Heat oven to 300 degrees. Place butter in a saucepan over
Skim foam from surface, and discard. Slowly pour off clear golden
melted butter into a bowl, discarding milky residue.
2. Toss potatoes in bowl with clarified butter. Arrange slices, over-
lapping, on a nonstick baking sheet, and sprinkle with salt. Bake 45
to 50 minutes, until crisp and golden. Set aside at room temperature.
Copyright 2002 The New York Times Company. Used with
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