Get up to speed with the rapidly evolving sous vide movement. Grab your immersion circulator (it doesn’t have to be professional-kitchen grade!) and a copy of Lisa Fetterman’s Sous Vide at Home. The tech entrepreneur is the creator of Nomiku, one of the most popular circulators on the market, and her book shows you how to pull off restaurant-grade fare on the regular. Learn how to make sous vide butter-poached lobster and wow your guests!
This recipe is a riff on the popular butter-poached lobster developed by Thomas Keller of the French Laundry. The key is beurre monté, a butter sauce that is hot but remains in a stable emulsion. Butter prepared this way can be used as a medium for cooking lobster without separating, which means it will still be creamy and emulsified after the lobster is cooked and can thus be used for the sauce. You can also simply melt butter in the bag with the lobster and serve the lobster with the butter and a lemon wedge. Either way, your lobster will be lusciously succulent and delicious.
The precise low temperature of sous vide cooking ensures perfectly prepared crustaceans every time. However, to properly cook a lobster sous vide, it must be parboiled and shelled first. This might seem like a bit of a hassle, but if you’re willing to invest the extra effort, the payoff is a truly indulgent and refined dining experience: perfectly moist, tender meat that doesn’t require a bib or a lobster cracker to consume. This recipe is a great candidate for upscale entertaining, and I promise your guests will be impressed. Serve the lobster with a simple starch, such as rice or even chunks of baguette, to soak up all of the insanely delicious sauce.
Do-Ahead Strategy: The lobster can be parboiled and shelled up to 3 days before butter-poaching it, as long as it’s kept bagged and refrigerated (a good trick for keeping it extra fresh is to put the bag in a bowl of ice in the fridge). The sauce can be prepared in advance, as well, and refrigerated for 3 days.
- 4 1- to 1 1/2-pound live lobsters (if using 2- to 3-pound lobsters, add 10 minutes cooking time)
- kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon canola or other mild vegetable oil
- 1 yellow onion, sliced 1/8-inch thick
- 1 carrot, sliced 1/8-inch thick
- 1 fennel bulb or celery stalk, sliced 1/8-inch thick
- 3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
- 1/4 cup water
- Pinch kosher salt
- 1/2 cup cold, unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
- 1 shallot, minced
- 1/2 cup Cognac, brandy or bourbon
- 1/4 cup dry white wine
- 1 cup creme fraiche
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon
- 1 tablespoon minced fresh chives
- salt and freshly ground white pepper
For the lobster
Select a stockpot large enough to accommodate all of the lobsters at the same time. Fill the pot two-thirds full with water, salt the water generously (use about 2 tablespoons salt per 4 cups water), and bring to a boil over high heat. If you do not have a pot large enough to cook all of the lobsters at once, cook the lobsters in batches, dismember them as instructed, setting aside the claws, and then cook all of the claws together as directed. Have ready an ice water bath for shocking the lobsters and the lobster pieces as they emerge from the boiling water.
Working with 1 lobster at a time, place the point of a heavy chef’s knife at the joint where the head meets the body (right behind the eyes) and cut downward in one fluid movement, driving the knife, tip first, all of the way through the head. The lobster may continue to move a bit, but rest assured that it’s on the express route to a watery grave.
Using tongs, submerge the whole lobsters in the boiling water and cook for 1 minute. Their shells will turn red. Transfer the parboiled lobsters to the ice water bath and chill until cool enough to handle, at least 2 minutes. Remove from the ice water bath and, using a twisting motion, pull the tail and claws from each body. Set aside the tails (and the legs if using). The tomalley (liver) can also be pulled from the body cavity and saved for adding to the sauce later, if desired.
Once all of the lobsters have been dismembered, return the claws to the boiling water, lower the heat to a simmer, and cook for 4 minutes. (They need to be cooked longer so you can remove the meat from the shells.) Transfer the claws to the ice water bath (adding more ice if necessary) and chill until cool enough to handle, at least 2 minutes, and then remove from the ice bath. Discard the lobster cooking water.
Remove the meat from the shells, reserving the shells for the stock. (This process will be easier on your hands if you wear rubber gloves.) To remove the meat from the tail, using kitchen shears or a sharp knife, cut lengthwise along the center of the bottom shell, taking care not to cut into the flesh. With the cut side facing up, grasp both sides of the shell and pull them in opposite directions to crack the shell open, then gently pull the meat free of the shell.
Now, separate the “knuckles” from the claws. Cut all the way through the outside edge of the shell along the “elbow” (shears are particularly helpful for this task) and then pull the shell apart and remove the knuckle meat, or poke it out with a chopstick. To remove the meat from the large pincer section of each claw, crack the back of the shell (behind the upper, larger claw) with kitchen shears or the back of a heavy knife, exposing the base of the meat. Remove the shell from the lower claw by pulling it open until it begins to separate from the meat at the joint, then wiggle it off. (A hard cartilage-like piece will pull out of the meat along with the shell, so be careful not to tear the meat off along with it.) Once the lower shell is removed, pull the claw meat out whole, wrenching apart the cracked shell as needed to release it.
When all of this is done, you should have 4 whole tails, 8 whole claws, and assorted knuckle meat. At this point, the meat can be refrigerated until you’re ready to cook it sous vide.
Preheat your sous vide water bath to 55°C (131.2°F). If you prefer your lobster meat a bit firmer, set it to 60°C (140°F).
While the water is heating, start making the stock. Heat the oil in a large stockpot or saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the onion, carrot, fennel, and garlic and cook, stirring constantly, until the onion turns translucent and just begins to color, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste, followed by the reserved shell pieces, and cook for 1 minute more. Add the peppercorns and enough water to just cover the pieces and bring the mixture to a boil. Turn down the heat and simmer for 20 minutes.
Strain the liquid through a fine-mesh sieve, discarding the solids. Return the liquid to the pot, bring to a boil over high heat, and boil until reduced to about ½ cup intensely flavored liquid. Remove from the heat and set aside to add to the Cognac sauce later.
Once you get the stock going, make the beurre monté. Combine the water and salt in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Add the butter a few pieces at a time, blending in each addition with a whisk or an immersion blender and letting the liquid return to a simmer before adding the next piece. It’s important to keep the mixture simmering to ensure the butter is heat stable. This will happen almost effortlessly with an immersion blender, but be sure to whisk vigorously if you are incorporating the butter by hand. The finished sauce will be as thick as cream and should remain the same solid off-white color as the cold butter, with no yellow droplets of oil. If the sauce doesn’t emulsify, continue to simmer it and add additional butter. When the beurre monté is ready, remove it from the heat.
Allow the beurre monté to cool for 5 minutes, then place the cleaned lobster meat in a gallon-size freezer-safe ziplock bag and pour in the beurre monté. Seal using the water displacement method.
When the water reaches the target temperature, lower the bagged lobster into the water bath (making sure the bag is fully submerged) and cook for 20 minutes.
While the lobster is cooking, make the Cognac sauce. Combine the shallot, Cognac, wine, and reduced stock in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Cook until reduced by half, about 5 minutes. Lower the heat to medium and stir in the crème fraîche. If desired, add the reserved lobster tomalley, finely chopped or pureed, to the sauce at this point. Let the mixture simmer until it is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, about 5 minutes longer, and then turn the heat to its lowest setting and cover the pot to keep the sauce warm until you’re ready to finish it.
When the lobster is ready, remove the bag from the water bath. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the lobster pieces to a serving bowl or platter. Pour the beurre monté remaining in the bag into the Cognac sauce. Stir in the lemon juice, tarragon, and chives and season with the salt and pepper. The sauce can be poured directly over the lobster or served on the side. Serve immediately.