This Sunday’s Mercury News food section had a recipe for lobster spaghetti. As my followers may know, I cannot make any recipe as written—I have to add my own twists. Italian food with no onion—“Inconceivable!!!!”
Note: I have not posted any recipes in months. Some have used this time productively—for example my wife who has just written her 11th book. Part of my hiatus was due to the difficulty of shopping these days. The major reason, however, was that my kids—in concern for my mental health during a time of Covid—convinced me to play Dragon Age and Skyrim. It has taken me months to resurface—but their plan did work in the sense that those months just flew by. When I finally tried to post something new, I found that WordPress had taken away my “classic editor” and replaced it with a blank screen where all of the controls were hidden in long drop-down menus. It took me a while to recover from the shock.
The original lobster recipe had very little in the way of seasoning—just a bit of garlic, black pepper, salt, and a heavy dose of red chili flakes. I assume that this was to let the flavor of the lobster reign supreme, but all of that chili would have swamped the lobster’s delicate flavor. However, also included in the recipe was the phrase “cooked lobster,” but with no directions on how it was to be cooked. Most instructions for cooking lobster have you boiling it in the shell which results in a very mild sweet flavor—as well as many broken bits of meat as you try to pry the cooked lobster out of the hot shells. If I wanted the lobster to dominate in this dish, I knew I would have to do something to boost the seafood’s flavor. I thought searing the tails in butter would create a flavorful fond, which would go a long way to resolving this problem.
Karl’s Lobster Linguini
1 Tbs. Kosher salt
5 four ounce lobster tails (about ½ lb.)
2 Tbs. Irish butter
2 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
½ yellow onion
½ tsp. Kosher salt
1 Lb. linguini
2 cloves garlic
1 Lb. grape tomatoes
½ tsp. black pepper, freshly ground
½ tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
½ cup loosely packed basil leaves
(optional) Lemon wedges
Useful but not required
5 wooden skewers
1. Set a large pot of water on the burner and add one tablespoon of salt.
2. Remove the raw lobster meat from the shells.
Tip: You may reserve the shells to add to the pasta water to infuse their flavor into the linguini as you cook it.
Note: Use kitchen shears to cut along the length of the underside of the tail. Push your finger into and along the back the shell—the meat has many attachments along the back, this technique frees the meat making it easier to remove. Pull off several of the shell plates until the meat is about half exposed. Push your finger in again and then pull the meat out of the shell. You should end up with a single solid piece of lobster.
3. Skewer each lobster tail lengthwise.
Tip: While not absolutely necessary, the skewer helps the tails to cook more evenly. The skewer prevents the tails from curling up as you sear them, giving the tails more surface area in contact with the pan.
Note: Before you start, make sure you pan is large enough to hold all of your lobster tails without crowding. If your pan is too small, sear the tails in batches. Depending on the size of your skewers and your sauté pan, you may also need to trim the skewers to fit into the pan—you do not want the ends of the skewers propped up on the edge of the pan keeping the meat off of the hot surface.
4. Prepare the rest of your ingredients—slice the onion into half moons, cut the tomatoes in half, mince the garlic, grind the pepper, and rinse the basil leaves.
Tip: Pat the basil dry, but do not tear it apart until just before you use it—the edges will start to darken very quickly.
Note: If you are boiling the lobster shells in the pasta water pot to boost the flavor, add them to the pot of water at this time.
5. Add the butter and olive oil to a large sauté and melt the butter over a medium high heat.
Tip: While the olive oil helps prevent the butter from burning, if the oils by themselves are left too long it will darken very quickly. You should have your lobster and onions ready and at had to add to the pan to prevent this.
6. Set the tails underside down in a line across your hot pan and sear them for 2 minutes.
Tip: Do not disturb the meat as it sears.
7. Flip the tails onto their backs and sear them for another two minutes.
Tip: You may need a spatula to free the meat from the pan before flipping the tails over. Also the tails themselves may not have much of a sear on them, but the flesh and juices stuck to the bottom of the pan will create a flavorful fond (see the Maillard reaction).
Note: It is not vital that the tails are cooked all the way through at this time.
8. Remove the tails to a plate to cool and—without cleaning the pan—add the onions and a half teaspoon of salt.
Note: When the lobster is cool enough to handle, cut the tails into bite sized pieces.
9. Cook the onions briefly and free the fond from the bottom of the pan (see deglazing).
10. Remove the pan from the heat.
Note: This is a place that you can put the cooking process on hold. If you have added the shells to the pasta water you may use this break to strain all of the bits of shell from the water with a sieve. If you did not add the shells you may proceed to the next step.
11. Bring the water to a full boil and add the linguini.
Tip: Simmer the pasta for 7-8 minutes, until al dente.
12. As the pasta is cooking, return the sauté pan to medium high heat and continue cooking the onions until soft with spots of browning, another 4-5 minutes.
13. Pull the onions to the sides of the pan and add the garlic.
14. Sauté the garlic until it is fragrant, about one minute.
15. Add the tomatoes to the pan and continue sautéing until the tomatoes have released their juices, about another 5 minutes.
Tip: While you want the tomatoes to form a bit of a sauce, do not cook them so long that they break down completely, you want at least some of the tomatoes to keep their shape to add color and interest to your dish.
16. Conserve one cup of the pasta water and drain the pasta into a colander.
17. Return the linguini to the pot, but do not return the pot to the heat.
18. Stir the lobster meat, black pepper, chili flakes and one quarter cup of the pasta liquid into the sauce to coat and combine.
19. Pour the sauce over the linguini in the pot and put the pot over a low heat.
Tip: You may use some of the pasta water to rinse out the sauté pan.
20. Tear up the basil leaves and put them on top of the sauce you just added to the pot.
Note: Save a few basil leaves to use as a garnish on individual servings.
21. Toss the linguini to coat them with the sauce and to mix in the meat/tomato/basil bits.
Tip: If necessary, add more of the pasta water until the sauce is to your liking, but be careful not to make it soggy.
22. Serve the linguini on individual plates and garnish with the remaining basil, more black pepper to individual taste and lemon wedges (optional).