Finest Kind: Lobster Chowder

Scotian lobster chowder

Not everyone in Maine celebrates the year-end holidays with lobster, but in my family, my mother considered a bright red lobster a proper commemoration of the feast, whether Christmas or New Year’s. Truth to tell, it’s a whole lot easier to serve up steamed lobsters with melted butter–with a side of baking powder biscuits and a big green salad—than it is to roast a turkey, boil the vegetables and make all those pies. (Who needs pie after consuming a whopping great Maine lobster?)

Even better is this lobster stew, which we had for Christmas Eve but it would be just as good at New Year’s—or any time throughout the chilly months when you feel the need for celebration. It’s based on a recipe from Sam Hayward, dean of Maine chefs, a man who truly understands Maine food and foodways. Sam called it Scotian Lobster Chowder because he said he first had it in Nova Scotia. I’ve simplified it somewhat because even the most simpatico restaurant chef doesn’t always understand the need for effortless and uncomplicated techniques in the home kitchen.

You can buy already cooked lobsters, but if you can find live ones they’re easy to steam in 2 to 3 inches of heavily salted water for about 15 minutes or until the shells turn bright red.

Can you make this ahead? Absolutely, and it’s actually all the better for sitting overnight.

SCOTIAN LOBSTER CHOWDER (after Sam Hayward)

Makes 4 to 6 servings

  •          2 or 3 cooked lobsters, about 4 pounds in all
  •          2 ounces slab bacon, cut in small dice
  •          4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  •          2 pounds (about 3 medium) russet potatoes, peeled and diced
  •          2 medium leeks, diced
  •          2 cups whole milk
  •          1 cup heavy cream
  •          Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  •          Medium hot chili pepper (piment d’Espelette is good, but for a smoky flavor, use Spanish smoked pimenton de la Vera, hot or sweet)

Crack the lobster shells and pick out all the meat you can find, especially from the tail and claws. Include the green tomalley and the red coral, if any, from the body cavity. You should have at least 2 cups of lobster meat. Cut the lobster into bite-size chunks and set aside.

Put the tea kettle on to boil.

Set a large heavy soup kettle over medium-low heat; add the bacon and a tablespoon of butter. Sauté until the bacon yields its fat and is starting to crisp on the edges. Add the potatoes, leeks and about 1 ¼ cupsof the boilingwater. Cover and simmer until the potatoes are tender, about 10 minutes.

sauce the cooked lobster briefly in plenty of butter

Meawhile, in a separate skillet, melt the rest of the butter over medium-low heat and add the lobster chunks. Stir the lobster meat in the butter until it is heated all the way through, then scrape the lobster and butter into the chowder. Add a little more boiling water if it seems necessary to cover everything. Cover the pot and continue to simmer gently for about 20 minutes. At this point, if you wish, remove the chowder from the heat and cool it to room temperature, then cover and refrigerate for up to 8 hours.

When you’re ready to serve, bring the chowder to a simmer while you heat the milk and cream together over medium-low heat. Simmer the milk and cream for 2 to 3 minutes, then add to the chowder. Season to taste with salt and pepper, adding a good pinch of hot of sweet chili pepper if you wish.

Ladle the chowder into warm bowls and serve hot.

 

 

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