Wednesday, September 26, 2012

What to do with 16 Lobster Shells

Every year in Maine's Moody Beach, we have a big lobster dinner, outside. Everyone gets their own lobster, even the kids who are barely bigger than the sea bugs themselves. Then we are faced with a fairly awesome problem -- what are we going to do with all the shells?

In the past, we would throw them in a heap with leftover rubber bands and crumpled up napkins and toss it. But then someone pointed out the flavor waste and made lobster stock last year. She wasn't at the cottage for lobster dinner night this year, so Rob and I took it upon ourselves to see what we could do with the leftovers. I liked to think of it as an episode of Dinner: Impossible, only, you know -- not terrible.

We did a bit of research on Epicurious and Chowhound trying to find a good lobster stock recipe, but a lot of the instructions we found called for two or three lobster shells. Ha! Instead of multiplying everything by eight, we just looked for similar techniques and ingredients, took what we liked and ran with it.

First comes the task of taking all the leftover meat and gills and tomalley and gristle out of the cavities. It's tempting to want to use the edible meaty parts -- like when the kids forgot about the entire second claw -- but its really best to concentrate on the simplicity of the shells for full flavor.

Drizzle with olive oil and bake the shells in the oven at 350 for 5-10 minutes to bring out the flavor of the shells.

Meanwhile, chop up the aromatics. For this many lobster shells, you need a lot of carrots, celery, garlic and shallots. Remember that this is an awesome problem and stop complaining about how all that chopping makes your hand crampy. 

Sautee the aromatics with olive oil until it smells like you want to stick your face in the stewpot. Then start adding the lobster bodies and mash them up as you go. A wooden spoon does alright. Watch for flying lobster parts.

Now add some herbs. I think the best greenery for lobster stock is a bit of thyme and lots of tarragon.

Now the liquid. We used water and a little white wine. Simmer as long as you can. We left it on the stovetop while we flew kites on the beach for a few hours. Let it cook down to a nice rich color. The fragrance should reach over to the next room.

The next part is kind of gross, so I didn't take pictures. I started to second guess the whole thing but it's always darkest before the dawn, right?

Scoop out your concoction, blend in the blender, and press through a cheesecloth. It sounds easy, but there will be so many little tiny shells threatening to rip holes right through the cloth. Just continue scooping, blending, sifting, and pressing. What comes out the other wide of the cloth, thankfully, won't look so goopy and brown.

There will be a lot of stock. Freeze what you can. We took most of it and used it as a base for fish stew. While it re-simmered, we added potatoes and whatever other veggies we could find around the cottage. If the corn wasn't so amazing this year, there might have been leftovers for the soup, but there wasn't.

Earlier in the day we'd headed to the store and picked out whatever looked fresh in the seafood department. We settled on some sea scallops, hake, and maybe some haddock. Chopped into generous chunks and dropped into the stew about 5 minutes before serving time, the fish was perfectly cooked and completely enveloped in rich lobstery deliciousness. We scooped out just enough for 16 bowls. We settled back outside for dinner. The lobster life cycle was complete.

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