Oh what a decadent dinner I have just had. I’m still full from it and so excited that I can’t wait to tell you so that you too can experience the desire to unbutton the top of your jeans and lay back in complete contentment.
I spent the whole afternoon at the Tongchuan Seafood market (on Tongchuan Lu near Caoyang Lu, right by a metro line 11 stop). It’s a 24 hour seafood market in the north of town where I had heard you can get anything you want and a lot of stuff you really don’t – so I went looking. I had heard there were rock lobsters, any kind of shellfish you can imagine, octopus, and even shark (not just the fins).
Consider those rumors confirmed. But as I walked up and down the stalls, I saw something I couldn’t come home without. Live lobsters. Not rock lobsters, with their spindly antennae, but lobster lobsters with claws that were banded shut and beautiful spotted green shells. When I picked one up, she flicked me with her tail quickly to inform me of her displeasure – there was no mistaking that these were incredibly fresh lobsters.
Even with bargaining, these weren’t a cheap purchase, but I as walked away with my wiggling bag of lobsters not thinking about the price but instead about the experience of being there at the fish market. There, you see your dinner alive, and I think that’s a more valuable than the actual purchase.
Right by the market, there are little restaurants that will happily cook up your wriggling purchases for a small fee (you will be charged by every jin, or about 600g). Because I was worried that if I tried to use any of my tiny pots, even the one I use for soups, that the lobsters would crawl out and revolt, I chose to go near by and have them boil the live lobsters for me. Wimping out? I don’t think so, because the Chinese are not used to cooking lobster the way I asked them to, and so I ended up giving very detailed instructions (included below, in case you want to replicate yourself) and watching the process to make sure they were not killed first.
We drew quite a crowd as we waited for our lobsters to emerge from their bath. Waiters and waitresses were all trying to figure out what we were going to do with lobsters that had been boiled in their shell, and why we didn’t want them to do anything to it.
We caught a cab home and sat out on our porch together, cracking lobster shells and pulling out delicate and creamy meat. Yes, the meat was expensive, but the experience of the whole afternoon and putting together a wonderful meal together was more than worth it.
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen
makes 4 very full rolls
2 live lobsters, about 1 1/4 -1 1/2 pounds each
1 small celery rib, finely sliced
1 shallot, finely diced
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
Juice of half a lemon
Pinch of kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 large french rolls
1 clove garlic
2 tbsp salted butter
Snipped fresh chives, some in the mix and some for garnish
A few leaves of your favorite mild sandwich lettuce
1. Plunge 2 live lobsters headfirst into an 8-quart pot of boiling salted water. Loosely cover pot and cook lobsters over moderately high heat 9 minutes from time they enter water, then transfer with tongs to sink to cool. During this step, the lobsters’ tails should tuck up tightly under their bodies, and their shells should go from the spotted green to a vibrant red.
3. When lobsters are cool, remove meat from claws, joints, and tails. Discard tomalley*, any roe if your lobsters were female, and shells. Cut meat into 1/2-inch pieces.4. In a large bowl, combine the lobster meat, celery, mayonnaise, shallots, lemon and salt and pepper, and half of the snipped chives and mix thoroughly. Adjust seasonings to taste.
5. In a small grill pan over medium heat, melt two teaspoons of butter. Place the buns cut side down in the butter. Let the buns soak up the butter and toast. Once toasted, remove to a plate and rub with a cut clove of garlic – I know this step seems like one you could skip, but it really does impart a delicate garlic flavor to the dish that you would miss if it weren’t there, plus it only takes two seconds of your time. Layer two pieces of lettuce on the bottom half and fill the toasted buns with lobster salad, garnishing with more snipped chives.
“I don’t even know what to say… It seems a little counter intuitive to have something so wonderful on sandwich bread, but I wouldn’t have changed a thing. There was something about cracking the lobster’s shell yourself that made the lobster taste better and made us appreciate it more. ”
The trick to this recipe was really to keep the ingredients as minimal as possible. You want to highlight the natural flavors of the lobster, and not cover them up. The result is a light and silky flavor and texture, with many different layers. Absolutely perfect for a summer evening.
*The lobster’s tomalley is its liver. While it has long been thought of as a delicacy along with roe, there have been studies recently which suggest that you shouldn’t eat it. In any animal, a liver’s job is essentially to break down toxins – for example, it is where humans process alcohol. Lobsters, while very decedent and sophisticated on a plate, are bottom feeders in the sea, and so take in many toxins that I personally would not willingly put in my body. As such, I discard the tomalley, but keep the shells, from which you can extract much of the same silky lobster flavor in a lobster stock, to be used in any number of dishes.