Monday, 25 April 2016
Mum looked concerned. “What is in that box Sam?”. “OH GOD, is it alive?”. Dad had a wry smile on his face, and looked like a boy scout who had discovered a new project. Mum inched back into the doorway as dad opened the lid to reveal a pair of glistening and energetic lobsters. Lunch. This was only the second time in my life that I have bought live lobsters. The first was the day after I proposed to my wife. They are and will always be a proper treat, a symbol of celebration. The native lobster season was only a week or two old, and as soon as the first delivery came into work, I just knew I had to cook with them. Mottled, and in places electric blue in colour, they are truly beautiful creatures; a world apart from the budget ‘lollipop’ lobsters that have been all over the press recently. Although this visit wasn’t a birthday or event, on the rare occasions when I get to cook for my parents, I like to go to town.
As with everything else that I cooked for this meal, simplicity was key. After being carefully and respectfully dispatched, we sat around the kitchen table preparing the meat. Mum came around to the idea and got stuck in too. We kept on sneaking little nuggets into our mouths, “just to check” dad would say. It’s a miracle that any was left for lunch. Pasta was the only option I even considered when planning the meal; I wanted to maximise the focus and flavour of the lobster, faffing about with them as little as possible.
This dish is broadly based on Angela Hartnett’s lovely recipe. Although I really get a lot out of making pasta myself, I took her advice and stuck to dried pasta for a greater contrast in texture. Funnily enough she was right, and what could have been a laborious process was ready in minutes. The other main element for this recipe is the tomatoes. I’m spoilt in London by the easy availability of beautifully ripe, sweet tomatoes, and it really is worth seeking out the best you can get.
From the burrata, to the asparagus, and finally the lobster spaghetti, it was a lunch that I will remember with a smile for years to come. A precious morning of cooking, chatting and catching up. Of course after the plates were cleaned, mum still managed to force feed me a slice of delicious and rich chocolate cake, and cheese was offered from the fridge. Then within the hour I was back on the road, plodding around the M25 planning what I will make next time. I can’t wait.
2 large live native lobsters, approx. 800g-1kg in weight
For the pasta sauce:
2 good handfuls of small, ripe cherry or plum tomatoes
1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
6 spring onions, finely sliced
1 red chilli, finely chopped
1 glass of dry white wine
For the pasta:
400g good quality, dried spaghetti
½ a lemon, juice only
A handful of fresh basil leaves
First prepare the lobsters. Put them in a freezer for about 30 minutes prior to cooking. Fill a large saucepan with water, salt really well and bring to the boil. When the water is a rolling boil, drop the lobsters straight in (or poach one at a time if the saucepan is not large enough for both) and cook for 8-10 minutes, or until the shells turn a bright red colour. Transfer the cooked lobsters to a plate and allow to cool. To strip the meat, split the lobsters in half using a heavy chef’s knife and discard the small stomach in the head and the dark intestinal tract. Pull the tail meat away from the shell and cut into chunky pieces. Crack the claws and excavate all of the flesh. Transfer the chopped meat into a bowl along with any of the soft brown meat from the head. Keep the shells to make soup, stock or oil for another recipe.
Fill a large saucepan with water for the pasta and salt well. Bring to the boil. Add the spaghetti and cook as directed on the packet.
While the pasta is cooking, drizzle a good glug of olive oil into a separate large frying pan or saucepan and set on a medium heat. When hot, add the garlic, spring onion and chilli and fry for 2 minutes until softened. Raise the heat slightly and add the wine, allowing it to boil and reduce by half. Finally add the lobster meat, tomatoes and a good bit of seasoning, stirring to combine and heating through for a final minute or two.
When the pasta is cooked, use tongs to transfer it to the pan containing the sauce. Toss together really well, until each strand of pasta is coated with sauce. Add a spoonful or two of the pasta water to the pan if the sauce needs loosening up.
Pile the spaghetti onto each plate and scatter over the basil leaves. Finish with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and a squeeze of lemon juice.