Lobster stew, in all its simplicity, is a total celebration, a glamor dish reserved for Christmas Eve or for special guests arriving from away who want their first taste of Maine lobster to be as elegant and restorative as possible. It really doesn’t deserve a recipe, just a list of instructions. But for those who insist, here’s what you’ll need, and note that these are “more-or-less” quantities and should give you four abundant servings—and of course more if you insist on making this a first course.
For the lobster, you’ll need three pound-and-a-half lobsters. Once the beasts are cooked and the meat picked out, use the remains, including shells and bodies, to make lobster stock, just covering the pieces with water (adding a little white wine if you wish) and simmering for 30 or 40 minutes, then straining to make a clear reddish stock.
- ½ cup (1 stick, ¼ pound) butter, preferably unsalted
- 1 smallish onion, 1 leek, or 2 fat shallots, very finely minced
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 cups, at least, cooked lobster, in bite-sized pieces
- ¼ cup cognac, Armagnac, apple brandy, or other strong booze
- 1 cup crushed oyster crackers
- 1 cup or more hot lobster stock (or chicken or vegetable stock)
- 2 cups whole milk
- 1 cup or more heavy cream
- Dash of Tabasco or a pinch of piment d’Espelette, if you wish
Melt the butter in a heavy sauce pan over low heat and when it’s completely melted bur not sizzling, add the minced allium, whatever you choose. Cook, stirring, until the vegetable bits are very soft and melting into the butter, then add salt and pepper and the lobster.
Stir the lobster meat into the buttery sauce and when it starts to bubble up a bit, raise the heat to medium and add the booze. Let the liquor cook down, stirring all the while, until the alcohol has cooked off and left behind just its own rich fragrance.
Now stir in the crushed crackers and continue cooking, lowering the heat once again. The cracker bits will absorb all the buttery juices and gradually disintegrate into the stew, at which point add the prepared hot stock. Bring to a simmer and then stir in the milk and cream, adding a little at a time (about ½ cup) and letting it amalgamate with the rest of the ingredients before adding more.
Once all the liquids have been added, taste the broth and adjust the seasoning, adding more salt and pepper if it seems necessary, as well as a dash of hot red pepper in some form—Tabasco or other hot sauce or a pinch of crushed red chili pepper.
The stew is done but it is not ready to serve because the trick to all these milky New England stews is in the setting. That means, you put the stew to set over very, very, very low heat for several hours. That’s what the cooks say: “Put the stew to set.” The liquid should never come to anything approaching a boil, not anything more than the very gentlest simmer, just a murmur on the top of the creamy liquid. In the old days, the soup pot would be put to set on the back of the woodstove, where it would steep and grow richer hour by hour until suppertime. This is really important—I can’t emphasize it enough.
Finally, when you’re ready to serve, taste it one last time to make sure it’s perfect, then dish it up, dropping a walnut of butter on the top of each dish as it goes to the table.