Lobster is worth shelling out for

This is the best time of year to get your claws into some lovely fresh lobster, says Skye Gyngell
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Indy Lifestyle Online

Lobsters may be expensive, but at this time of year their plump, succulent flesh is so delicious that for a special treat they are absolutely worth the money. Ask the fishmonger for native lobsters, and they need to be alive. Look for energetic ones to guarantee the flesh will be at its best when cooked. When you take them home they can be kept in the fridge covered in damp paper for a few hours, but cook them as soon as possible.

Although the idea of cooking lobster may seem scary, once you have done it you may well wonder what all the fuss is about. Place them in the freezer an hour before cooking to put them into a soporific state - arguably the kindest way to prepare them. Place a large, generous pot of water on to boil. Salt the water well - I allow about a tablespoon to half a pint of water (it should be salty like the sea).

Cook a half-kilo lobster for 8 minutes, or a little longer if it's bigger (10 minutes should be more than enough). Remove the cooked lobster - the shell will have transformed from inky black to bright, orangey red - with tongs and allow to cool slightly before removing the meat. To do this, take firm hold of the tail section and firmly twist to separate it from the body and head section. Turn the tail over in the palm of your hand and, using kitchen scissors, cut down the centre of the underside of the shell. Press on both sides with your thumbs to pry the shell open and remove the meat in one piece. Next, using lobster crackers, a knife handle or rolling pin, crack open the claws, taking care not to damage the flesh inside. Remove the meat as gently as possible, in one piece if you can. You are now ready to use the meat.

Skye Gyngell is head chef at Petersham Nurseries, Church Lane, Richmond, Surrey, tel: 020 8605 3627. Italian chef and wild food expert Claudio Bincoletto is hosting a talk, tasting and 'sensitive forage' in Petersham Woods and along the Thames at 10am on 13 May, £45 (reduced prices for children)

Lobster bonne femme

Serves 4

A little like the traditional French soup of the same name - plump, sweet lobster meat is warmed through in a sauce comprising young leeks, chunky potato pieces and thyme.

2 lobsters
500g/1lb of peeled potatoes (desiree are good, cut into irregular bite-sized chunks)
4tbsp of unsalted butter
200g/7oz of small young leeks, trimmed, washed and left whole
A few sprigs of fresh thyme (lemon thyme imparts a particularly lovely flavour into soups and stews)
A splash of vermouth
350ml/12fl oz of chicken stock
75g/3oz of shelled cooked fresh peas
1tbsp of finely chopped parsley

Place a large pot of salty water onto boil. When the water is vigorously boiling, drop in the lobsters and cook them for around 8 minutes. Remove them from the water. When they are cool enough to handle, take a sharp knife and make an incision all the way down the middle. Take out the flesh, then crack the claws and gently remove the meat from them too.

Place the potatoes in a saucepan, add enough cold water to cover and set over a medium heat. Season with salt. Cook them at a gentle simmer until tender when pierced with a fork. Drain them and set aside.

Melt 1tbsp of butter in a deep-sided skillet over a gentle heat. When the butter has melted, add the leeks, thyme, vermouth and, finally, chicken stock. Allow the broth to come to a simmer. Add the remaining butter and swirl until it melts. Taste for salt. Turn the heat down to low and add the potatoes, lobster pieces and peas. Swirl and tilt the pan to baste the lobster in the buttery broth.

Cook for a further 4 minutes or so to allow the sauce's flavour to slightly intensify and reduce, and to ensure that the lobster is completely warmed through. Ladle into bowls and serve immediately with a simple green salad and a crunchy textural bread.

Lobster curry with tamarind, roasted coconut, ginger and coriander

Serves 4

This dish is based upon a fairly typical style of cooking that is commonly found along India's south-western coast. If lobster seems too extravagant, then you can replace it with any clean, firm-fleshed fish. I have, however, added fish sauce and sugar, which is not so traditional.

4 lobsters (allow 1 per person)
3tbsp of vegetable oil (omega)
2 medium onions, peeled and finely sliced
5cm/2in thumb of fresh ginger, peeled and diced
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
5 ripe tomatoes, chopped
2 red chillies, chopped, seeds included
1tbsp of toasted coriander seeds
1tbsp of caster sugar
3tbsp of fish sauce
3tbsp of tamarind water
11/2 tins of coconut milk
1 cup of unsweetened coconut flakes, gently toasted

Cook and prepare the lobsters as before. Heat the oil in a heavy bottomed pan over a medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the onions and cook gently, stirring every now and then. When the onions are translucent set aside.

Now place the ginger, garlic, tomatoes, chillies and toasted coriander seeds in a blender and blend until they form a paste. Add this to the onions in the pan. Return the pan to the heat and cook for 5 minutes.

Add the sugar, fish sauce and tamarind water and stir well, then pour in the coconut milk. Turn the heat to medium and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the cooked lobster and cook gently for 2-3 minutes until the lobster is warmed through. Ladle into a serving bowl and garnish with the toasted coconut flakes.

Salad of lobster, peas, shaved fennel and dill

Serves 4

2 lobsters (allow half per person)
100g/31/2oz fresh peas
1 bulb of fennel
2 handfuls of mixed lettuce (l prefer rocket, ruby chard or bull's blood)
2tbsp of dill fronds
3/4tbsp of extra-virgin olive oil
A few drops of lemon juice
For the dressing
1 egg yolk
1tsp of Dijon mustard
The juice of half a lemon
Sea-salt and black pepper
50ml/2fl oz of extra-virgin olive oil
1tbsp of crème fraîche

Cook and prepare the lobsters as before. Pod the peas and blanch for 11/2 minutes in boiling, salted water. Drain and refresh in cold water and pat dry gently. Remove the fibrous outer layer from the fennel and slice in half lengthwise, then slice as finely as possible. If not using immediately, then keep it in acidulated water. Wash and pat dry the salad leaves.

For the dressing, place the egg yolk in a bowl and add the mustard, lemon juice and a little sea-salt and black pepper. Slowly pour in the olive oil, whisking as you do, until all the oil is incorporated - you should have an emulsified sauce. Fold in the crème fraîche, then check for seasoning and add a little salt and pepper if necessary.

To assemble the salad, slice the body of the lobster in half lengthwise. Place the salad leaves in a bowl with the shaved fennel, dill and peas. Squeeze over a couple of drops of lemon juice and 3/4tbsp of extra-virgin olive oil. Add the lobster and toss gently.

Divide the lobster salad on to 4 plates, spoon over the dressing and serve immediately.

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