Saturday, September 26, 2015

Lobster and Corn Chowder with Bacon

With the last of the summer sweet corn still available and the lobster catch still ample, today I'm making a New England favorite; lobster and corn chowder. You can of course make corn chowder without the lobster, but trust me; it's better with!

Julian's Lobster and Corn Chowder with Bacon
We often say lobsters are 'in season' this time of the year, but there is no special Maine lobster season for the hard-shell lobsters as they can be caught year-round in the waters off Maine.  However, more lobsters are caught in the summer months because the demand is higher, and in the winter months lobsters move further offshore. Coupled with the harsher weather conditions, this makes prices typically higher in winter. As such, just like sweet corn, now is the time to enjoy these end-of-season delicacies.

Julian with live lobster, preparing for the execution.
In the recipe below, I suggest three to four lobster shells and the meat from at least two lobsters. You can easily use the meat from all of them if you prefer. I typically roast three or four lobsters and we eat one or two of them and use the the meat from the remaining in the soup. I really hate to prepare lobster and not just east one of them dipped in butter. But certainly using the lobster meat from all three or four will make the soup even better.

I also use a stick blender to puree half of the potatoes to give the soup a thicker, creamier texture. This is optional and if you are using nothing but heavy cream, unnecessary. However, as I typically use whole milk, I prefer to puree some of the potatoes and leeks.

Preparing and Cooking Live Lobster: If you haven't cooked a live lobster previously, there are various techniques. As shown below, you can simply flip them over on a cutting board sitting inside a baking sheet (to catch any liquids) and insert the knife point just below the main front claws. Then quickly cut down through the head. Turn the knife and cut the remaining tail section in half. Note that a lobster has a decentralized nervous system and no brain, so legs will continue to move even after you've cut the head in half. You need not cut all the way through the shell on the other side, as you can flip them over and cut the top shell separately, with a knife or heavy kitchen scissors.

Killing and splitting the live lobster.
If you are squeamish, you can drop them into boiling water or a steamer.  As I prefer to roast them first, and eat at least the meat from one of them, I rinse out the inedible head section and stuff it with deviled crab. But you can simply clean them out, and roast them on a cookie sheet in a 400F degree oven for 20 minutes, or even on the grill. If you are boiling/steaming them, cut them in half after they cool slightly and remove the material in the head section, then remove the meat from claws and tail, reserving the meat and any juices. Then proceed with the recipe below. You may, of course, do this several days ahead reserving shells and meat.

Ingredients  (Makes 12-14 cups, about 6 large bowls)

3-4 (1½ ­pound) cooked lobsters,  split/cleaned
3-5 ears corn (more is better)

For the stock:
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 large yellow onion, roughly chopped
1 celery stock, roughly chopped
1 carrot, roughly chopped
1 cup white wine
1 tablespoon sweet paprika
7-8 cups water (enough to cover during cooking)

For the chowder:
1 tablespoon good olive oil
1/4 pound bacon, large diced
2-3 cups large ­diced Yukon gold potatoes, peeled
1 leek or 2 medium onions, chopped
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
6 cups lobster/corn stock (above)
sweet corn kernels reserved (above)
4 cups whole milk, cream, half and half or combo
1/4 cup cream sherry (optional)
chopped parsley or cilantro (garnish)
salt/pepper/paprika to taste

For the stock, remove the cooked meat from the shells of the lobsters. Cut the meat into large cubes and place them in a bowl, cover and refrigerate. Clean out the shell head and reserve the shells and juices.  Cut the corn kernels from the cobs, place them in a bowl, cover and refrigerate. Save the cobs.

In a large stockpot or Dutch oven add vegetable oil and heat over medium high heat until hot. Add the chopped onion, celery and carrot and cook over medium-high heat for 5 minutes, until translucent but not browned, stirring occasionally. Add the white wine and paprika and cook for 1-2 minute until simmering.

Potatoes and Leeks in Bacon Drippings 
Add the lobster shells, their juices, corncobs and the water to cover the ingredients and bring to a simmer. Cover the pot and simmer the stock over the lowest heat for a minimum of 60 minutes. I usually simmer for up to 90-120 minutes to fully extract flavor. Remove from heat and let cool somewhat. Strain the solids from the liquids and discard solids. You should now have 6-7 cups of stock as it cooks down somewhat. You may pause at this point and refrigerate the stock until you are ready to make the chowder. The proceed as below.

For the chowder, In a heavy pot or Dutch oven, heat the oil and cook the bacon for 4 to 5 minutes over medium-­low heat, until browned and crisp. Remove bacon with a slotted spoon and reserve. If there are many browned solids in the bottom of the drippings, pour off the clear drippings and discard browned solids. Return the drippings to the pot. Add the potatoes and leeks/onions, salt and pepper to the pot and saute in the bacon drippings for 5 minutes. Add just enough lobster stock to cover the ingredients and bring to a boil until the potatoes are fork tender, about 15-20 minutes longer. Using a slotted spoon, remove half of the potato mixture from the pot and reserve.

Add the remaining stock and the milk/cream to the pot and stir to combine. Using a stick blender, puree the remaining potato/leek mixture until smooth. Add the reserved potato/leek mixture and the corn back to the pot, and heat until warmed through and slightly thickened, about 5-10 minutes. If you'd like it more thick, add a slurry of flour/water. Stir in the optional sherry, cooked lobster and season to taste, heating gently for 2 minutes. Taste and correct seasoning, by adding more salt, pepper and/or paprika as needed. Serve hot with a garnish of crisp bacon, parsley/cilantro and freshly ground black pepper.

Julian's Lobster and Corn Chowder with Bacon

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