ATTRACTIVE LOBSTER PRICES, or a desire for something unique, may be the catalyst for preparing this recipe. Étouffée, a Creole dish, found its way to North America through settlers migrating from France to the Maritime provinces of Canada and parts of Maine down to the Kennebec and Penobscot Rivers. These Acadians brought with them this Cajun dish known as étouffée, meaning “smothering,” which is usually combined with shrimp or crawfish. This version features Maine lobster as the star. The preparation of this dish is not be to be rushed but rather done with a leisurely attitude. Shut off the fires for a couple of hours and enjoy a glass or two of wine.
Please feel free to substitute or delete ingredients and make it your own. Lobster can be replaced with crawfish or shrimp and spices and vegetables adjusted to fit your supplies.
3 (1¼-pound) lobsters
1 pound butter
4 ounces lemon olive oil (I use Fiore’s)
1 large bunch celery, chopped
4 large sweet onions, coarsely chopped
4 tablespoons finely minced garlic
4 large peppers, 2 green, 1 yellow and 1 red, coarsely chopped
Flour for roux
1 large bunch fresh parsley, finely chopped
1 bunch scallions, thinly sliced
16 ounces whole peeled tomatoes
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper or red pepper flakes
2 teaspoons cumin
4 ounces lemon juice
4 ounces heavy cream
Salt to taste
5–6 cups lobster stock (see below)
Lobster substitutions: 2 pounds of peeled, deveined raw shrimp or 2 pounds of crawfish tails.
Frozen crawfish tail meat is available at Harbor Fish and Browne Trading Market, Portland, or can be ordered from lacrawfish.com.
Lobster stock is prepared ahead by several hours or preferably the previous day.
1 gallon water
10 lobster bodies (available at most local fish markets)
12 ounces tomato paste
1 large fish tail, preferably halibut
4 ounces anchovy-based fish oil
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Arrange lobster bodies on large cooking tray, glob tomato paste over shells and bake for 30 minutes. Add baked bodies, fish tail and fish oil to boiling water, cover and simmer for several hours or even an entire day. Cool and strain with fine mesh or cheese cloth and set aside stock. This broth recipe makes more than needed for Lobster Étouffée and can be frozen for future use. Note: Packaged seafood broth enhanced with lobster base and water is a good substitute for lobster stock. Lobster base is available at Harbor Fish and Free Range Fish & Lobster, in Portland.
Lobster Étouffée + stock
In a large Dutch oven or pot, melt 4 ounces of butter and add olive oil. Heating over low heat, add celery, onions, garlic, and chopped peppers. Stir and cook until semi-soft over low to medium heat.
In a separate small saucepan melt 6 ounces of butter on a low heat, whisking in flour until you get a medium clay thickness of roux. Add roux gradually to the vegetable mix continuing to cook over a low heat.
Cook until vegetables are glazed and tender, stirring consistently. Add half the amounts of the listed spices and simmer for an hour.
Add 1 cup of lobster stock to the vegetable mixture while stirring. Place the canned whole peeled tomatoes in bowl, cut coarsely with a knife and add to the étouffée. Add 3 to 4 more cups of stock, and roux as needed, to reach a gravy-like consistency. Add the remainder of the spices, then taste and adjust to desired level of heat and flavor.
This is a good place for a break to allow the étouffée to set with no fire for up to 4 hours or simmer 1–2 hours.
Boil 3 lobsters for approximately 6-8 minutes in salted water. This is a little less than a normal preparation for boiled lobster. Crack shells, drain, and remove meat and set aside. Remove the vein from lobster tail meat and cut lobster into coarse pieces, ¾ x ¾ inch, and set aside.
In a medium saucepan melt 6 ounces of butter on low heat, add lobster meat, and lightly season with salt and pepper. Sautee briefly for 2-3 minutes over medium heat and then add to the etouffee mixture. Add the cream, gently stir, cover and simmer for another ½ hour.
Baked basmati rice
12 cups water
6 cups basmati rice
6 ounces butter
Salt and pepper to taste
Bring pot of water to a boil and add basmati rice. When the rice is al dente, after 8–12 minutes, strain in colander. Transfer boiled rice to lightly greased deep pan. Drizzle melted butter over rice, sprinkle with salt and pepper, cover with foil and place in a preheated oven at 350° for 20 minutes. Remove foil and bake another 10 minutes for a crusty top layer.
Serve Lobster Étouffée over baked basmati rice in traditional low bowls, topped with chopped chives. The étouffée may taste even better the next day when reheated as the ingredients are able to blend further. Freezing works extremely well in vacuum-sealed bags.