Sunday, December 30, 2007

To Do: Eat, Drink, Be Merry

Well, la-ti-da. The Shermans ate well this Christmas.

On Christmas Eve, my dad and aunt Therese made their way to a Burbank market to collect a local, organic turkey only to learn that the day’s supply had already run out. Dad wasted no time in acquiring some other meaty thing: as we know, prime rib is a more than suitable substitution for a large swath of the edible animal kingdom. He roasted the great block of fatty, tender beef and we finished it at the table with a ladle of divine Madeira gravy, inspired by this Epicurious recipe and made possible by a three-quarters full bottle of the sweet red wine that was leftover from my latest Cooking Project: Lobster Newberg.

Not to be confused with the rather unfortunately named prog rock jam band, Lobster Newberg is a classic dish popularized (if not invented) at one of America’s first white-linen dining establishments, Delmonico's Restaurant in New York City. You just don’t see it on menus anymore, although it continues to inspire nostalgia (I've seen it on a few cheerful signs in front of glorified roadside seafood shacks on Cape Cod – but have never tasted it myself).

One of our Christmas Eve dinner guests exclaimed that he loves Lobster Newberg, but when I quizzed him (apprehensively) on how well he knew the preparation, he admitted that he can’t remember when last he tasted it. (I’m always unnerved when I make a “blog dish” and someone professes to love the thing. This invariably occurs when I have not so much as tasted the dish before and have only a foggy idea of what I'm trying to make.)

Charles Ranhofer published a recipe for "Lobster à la Newberg or Delmonico" in The Epicurean (1894). He was the head chef of Delmonico's in 1876, when the dish was introduced to the restaurant by a wealthy sea merchant named Ben Wenberg. Originally listed on the menu as Lobster à la Wenberg, the name was scrambled after a quarrel between Charles Delmonico and Mr. Wenberg.

In Chef Ranhofer's version, 6 two-pound lobsters are boiled (for 25 minutes!) in the shell, the meat is removed, sliced, and sauteed in clarified butter in a sautoir. Raw (unpasteurized) cream, egg yolks, Madeira, and a dash of Cayenne are added to the butter to create a very rich but cleanly flavored sauce.

We used Pacific spiny lobster tails (with their insect-like legs and lack of claws, they look like overgrown, ocean-going crawfish.) I made a few adjustments, picking up hints for measurements and cooking times on the Web, but stuck very true to Chef Ranhofer's recipe (no flour for thickening! no nutmeg! no Sherry or other liquor!), and the dish, which we served as an appetizer, was sweet, heady, and tantalizingly good. The recipe is below.

On Christmas Day, my uncle Mark, a Santa Barbara restaurateur, wine god (in that he always has such great stuff on hand, breathed and ready to pour), and all-around foodie inspiration, prepared a crown roast. He had to dig into a few cookbook classics of yesteryear for guidance on how to proceed with this imposing rack of about 20 pork chops bound by some brute butcher into a great crown of bones, like a meaty coliseum in miniature.

The result – glazed with a sweet, spicy citrus and pepper reduction and piled high in the middle with a buttery apple and cranberry stuffing – was extraordinary.

Because Ketel One martinis, fine California wine, and a well-rounded cheese platter just weren’t enough to wet our appetites for the momentous main attraction, there was a version of Oyster Rockefeller – two dozen gorgeous, still-quivering specimens blanketed by a sweet spinach, garlic, and breadcrumb sautee and dusted with browned Parmesan.

The inspiration? Alice B. Toklas and her mid-1930s cavort across America. She and Gertrude Stein sampled them at a small French Quarter restaurant. Alice's recipe (published in her cook book in 1954),was a favorite of her French gourmet friends. "It makes more friends for the United States than anything I know," she wrote. I can't vouch for its diplomatic powers, but it won over my 5-year-old cousin in 60 seconds flat.

There were more luxurious eats (namely, an almond torte with a lemon curd filling and dark chocolate buttercream icing) – but that'll have to wait for '08 posts. I'll be ringing it in with a glass or two of Roman Punch (a frothy 1887 tipple) and bustin' loose with Rebirth, my favorite New Orleans band. Happy New Year's, y'all!

Lobster Newberg

3 lobster tails
2 tablespoons clarified butter or ghee
1 1/2 cup cream
2 egg yolks
1/4 cup Madeira
Pinch of cayenne
Salt and pepper

  1. In a large pot, bring a couple quarts of salted water to boil. Cook lobster tails in gently boiling water for 5-7 minutes. Remove from heat and blanch tails in cold water. Meanwhile, melt clarified butter in a sautoir (a 12-inch saute pan with 2-inch sides) over medium heat. Chop tails into 3-4 pieces and cook gently in butter for 2 minutes on each side.
  2. Meanwhile, whisk egg yolks and combine with cream. Add cream mixture to sautoir and cook until reduced by half. Add Madeira and bring to a simmer. Add seasonings. Remove lobster meat and continue cooking sauce at a low simmer until thickened, about 5 minutes. Spoon sauce over lobster meat and serve immediately.
Serves 6-8 as an appetizer.

Oysters Sherman

2-3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2-4 cloves minced garlic
3 cups fresh spinach
1 cup breadcrumbs
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 scant teaspoon dried parsley or 1 tablespoon fresh minced parsley
1 scant teaspoon dried tarragon or 1 tablespoon fresh minced tarragon
1 scant teaspoon dried basil or 1 tablespoon fresh minced basil
1 tablespoon fresh minced chives
Salt and pepper
2 dozen oysters
½ cup grated Parmesan (optional)
1-2 tablespoons butter

  1. Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and cook just until it stars to color. Add spinach, breadcrumbs, lemon zest, and seasonings and sautee for about 5 minutes. Set aside.
  2. Meanwhile, shuck the oysters, leaving the oyster loosened in a shell. Preheat broiler. Arrange shells on a single layer on baking sheets. Spoon about 1-2 tablespoons of spinach mixture onto each oyster. Sprinkle with Parmesan (or not – they’re just as good either way). Dot each oyster with butter.
  3. Cook oysters under broiler for 4-5 minutes, until golden brown and bubbly on top. Serve immediately.
Serves 8-10 as an appetizer.


Dave, 'LunaPierCook' said...

I absolutely love oysters ... but I've yet to develop any kind of affinity for lobster. To me, lobster is nothing more than an expensive way to eat butter, and butter tastes better slathered nice and thick on still-warm pumpkin bread anyway! The pork looks absolutely amazing. I'd definitely pay extra for that!

jerry said...

It looks like an incredible feast!

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