You won't find lobster fra diavolo on any menus in Italy, but that’s what Italian-American Week is all about. We’re celebrating the dishes created here in the States, delicious sacrilege in the form of chicken parm with spaghetti, rigatoni with meatballs and devil-may-care lobster in spicy tomato sauce.
For those who may be squeamish about icing a live kickin’ lobster (I know, I don’t get it either), there’s a recipe from David Santos, executive chef of NYC’s modern American bistro Louro, who takes a fine-dining mise-en-place approach to the dish. Calling for preshelled lobster (which you can purchase at a high-end fishmonger) or meat you extract yourself from precooked lobsters, premade sauce (that you made yourself — nothing from a jar here, please) and a delightfully refined splash of white wine, Santos' approach focuses on assembly and not overcooking the lobster.
Sara Jenkins, chef/owner of NYC’s Porsena and specialist on all things Italian, on the other hand, swears by the down-and-dirty approach and uses brandy instead of white wine. “While this is a classic of Italo-American cooking, I had a very similar dish in a little trattoria in Palermo a few years ago,” says Jenkins. “While lobster in the shell is messy to eat, I think the flavor is superior. And it’s actually very Italian — in Italy, food is always eaten closer to its natural state rather than somewhat removed, as we tend to do here.”
It doesn’t matter how you make it — just make it.
Neat ’n’ Tidy
Chef David Santos’s Lobster Fra Diavolo at Louro
- 1 pound fresh or prepared cavatelli
- 1 pound lobster meat, chopped into 1/2-inch chunks
- 4 cups simple tomato sauce
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- 10 cloves of garlic, sliced
- 2 tablespoons chili flakes
- 1 cup white wine
- 1 cup of lobster stock (made from the shells of the lobster)
- 1 cup fresh basil (torn)
- Place a large pasta pot filled with salted water on high heat and bring to a boil.
- While the water is boiling, add olive oil to a large sauce pot over medium heat. When the oil is warm, add the garlic and sauté gently for 3 minutes. Make sure the garlic doesn’t brown — just sauté it until it is softened.
- Add the chili flakes to the pot with the garlic and oil. Sautee for about two minutes. Deglaze with white wine and raise the heat to medium-high.
- Cook until the wine is reduced by half, then add the lobster stock. Reduce that by half again and add the tomato sauce. Bring to a simmer and let cook for about 5 to 10 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning as you see fit.
- By this time the pasta water should be ready. Place the pasta in the water and cook until al dente. Time will depend on size and whether you are using fresh or prepared cavatelli, but it usually takes about 5-8 minutes.
- Drain the pasta well and toss into the fra diavolo sauce. Add the lobster and heat through (about 2 minutes). Be careful to not overcook the lobster.
- Portion into 4 bowls and distribute the basil into each equally. To finish, freshly grate Parmesan over the top. Serve and enjoy!
Down ’n’ Dirty
Chef Sara Jenkins’s Lobster Fra Diavolo at Porsena
- Three 1-pound live lobsters
- 2-3 garlic cloves, crushed with the flat of a knife
- 3 tiny dried Calabrian chilis (any dried chili can be used; the idea is that it’s not too spicy but still has some heat to it — I often use Mexican ancho chilis)
- ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus 2 tablespoons
- ½ cup brandy
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- ½ cup chopped parsley
- 2 cups canned San Marzano tomatoes, roughly chopped
- A little over a pound of spaghetti, preferably from an artisanal producer
- Set a large pot of water to boil for the pasta.
- Kill the lobsters first by inserting a chef’s knife at a point about midway between the eyes and the joint where the head and tail meet. (Do not remove the rubber bands from the lobster claws.) Press down and cut the head in half, moving the knife back toward the eyes. This will kill the lobster instantly. Only do this right before you are ready to cook.
- Twist the tails off the lobster and pull off the large claws. Cut each tail in half lengthwise and using a cleaver, cut a diagonal slash through the claws. Cut the bodies in half.
- Take a sauté pan large enough to fit all the lobster pieces in a single layer, add the olive oil and set over medium-high heat. Add the bodies to the pan and cook, turning, until the shells turn red, then remove to a bowl. Add the claw pieces and the tails and sprinkle with salt, cooking and turning until the lobster meat is cooked and the shells are bright red.
- Add the brandy and cook vigorously until the alcohol has evaporated, then pour the lobster pieces with the pan juices into the bowl and reserve.
- Wipe out the pan and set over low heat. Add the butter with the garlic and cook gently until the garlic is slightly golden, then stir in the chili and half the parsley and cook a few more minutes.
- Add the tomatoes and the reserved lobster-cooking juices and cook about 10 minutes over medium heat until the flavors are amalgamated and the tomato has cooked down.
- While the sauce is cooking, cut the lobster pieces, shell and all, into smaller pieces that will be easier to handle. Have ready a warmed serving bowl.
- When the water is boiling, add 3 tablespoons sea salt and cook the spaghetti according to package instructions. When the pasta is about 4 minutes away from being done, add the lobster pieces, excluding the bodies, and any cooking juices to the tomato sauce.
- Drain the pasta and transfer to the bowl. Toss immediately with the rest of the parsley and the remaining olive oil. Serve immediately.
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