Searing and Saucing Lobster Tails
Lobster is a Valentine’s day favorite. They’re red, pricy enough to save for special occasions, and relatively easy to cook. Frozen, thawed lobster tails need a little more finesse and flavor boosting than fresh-off-the-boat crustaceans. Searing lobster tails adds a savory nuttiness and exuded juices are captured in the pan and incorporated in the sauce rather than boiled away in a pot of water. Here are some tips and recipe ideas for searing and saucing frozen lobster tails to make sure you get your money’s worth.
- THAW – If you are purchasing lobster tails from your fishmonger, check that the visible meat is plump and not discolored or dry looking. The aroma should be of the sea, not a dingy aquarium. There should be no standing water under any seafood. If you purchase frozen lobster tails, remove them from the plastic and thaw in the refrigerator overnight.
- SPLIT – For the best sear, lobster tails should be split. Press the tails flat on a cutting board and use a large, sharp knife to cut them through lengthwise. I think it’s easiest to place the point of the knife in between two plates at the peak of the back with the blade facing the tail, then plunge and lever the knife to cut through. Then turn the tail and cut through the other direction. Securing the knife tip and making two cuts makes it less likely the knife will slide off the hard shell.
- CLEAN – Tidy up the split lobster pieces. Remove the dark digestive “vein” that runs along the back. I use shears to snip off the “swimmerettes” from the main shell. (There is nothing inherently wrong with them, but it makes the tails look tidier.) At this point you can pull the meat from the shell and use it as you would raw shrimp, but I don’t recommend it. Lobster shell is a flavor bomb. They are pure gold for making stocks and sauces.
- STRAIGHTEN – The lobster tails will curl when heated, especially when they are split like this. I don’t mind, but if you want them to look long and more classically shaped, thread a skewer lengthwise through the meat and then snip the skewers to fit in the skillet. Remove the skewers before serving.
- SEAR – Pat the lobster tails dry and sear the lobster in preheated pan over medium high heat. Place them in the pan split-side down, and cook until the meat is brown, about 3 minutes. You can flip them and heat the shell side to cook them through or move them to a plate and let them finish cooking in the sauce.
WINE-FROM-YOUR-GLASS PAN SAUCE
Below I have listed the fundamentals of building a Pan Sauce using my Wine-From-Your-Glass Techniques from Searing Inspiration. This pink butter sauce has flavors reminiscent of one of my favorite lobster preparations, lobster à l’américaine.
Split Lobster Tails with Pink Butter Sauce
- SEAR – Sear split-side-down in a medium hot to hot skillet for 2-3 minutes, until brown. Remove to a plate and keep warm while making the sauce.
- ADD AROMATICS – shallots and a chopped garlic clove, followed by a touch of tomato product like tomato paste or a little diced fresh tomato.
- DEGLAZE – with a little sharpness, like aged sherry vinegar, then some off-dry white wine. Reduce by half.
- EMBELLISH – add volume with shrimp or lobster stock. (Knorr makes a pretty good shrimp bouillon cube). Add a hint of tarragon if you like. Return the lobster to the skillet and simmer to cook it through as the sauce reduces.
- ENRICH – Transfer to the serving dish and enrich the sauce with a few tablespoons of cold butter or a splash of heavy cream.
- FINISH- Season with salt, pepper, and a dash of Tabasco. Maybe add a tablespoon of Cognac or sherry. Spoon the sauce over the lobster and garnish with snipped chives.
Split Lobster Tails with Habanero Lime Butter
From Searing Inspiration: Fast, Adaptable Entrée and Fresh Pan Sauces (Pages 80-81)
2 lobster tails (4-6 oz /115-170 g each)
1 tablespoon coconut oil or neutral oil
1/2 cup ginger ale or ginger beer, preferably something strongly flavored
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon finely minced habañero chile, or to taste (substitute Serrano or jalapeño if you prefer)
1 1/2 teaspoons finely grated lime zest
Pinch ground allspice
2 tablespoons unsalted butter cut into cubes the size of a small grape
2-3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
Salt and freshly ground black or white pepper
2-3 tablespoons toasted coconut (optional)
To split the lobster tails, place the tip of a large, sharp knife in between the plates about halfway down the body. Being careful to keep your fingers safe, pierce the lobster completely and then lever the knife down to split it lengthwise in the direction of where they head would have been. Turn the lobster and split it in the other direction and break it into two separate halves. Remove and discard the vein and any remaining organ meat. Use scissors to trim off the legs. If you want the lobster tails to remain straight, thread a wooden skewer through the meat from head to tail. If the skewers are long, trim them so they don’t stick out more than about an inch or you will have trouble fitting everything in the pan. Pat the lobster dry with a paper towel.
Heat a large, covered sauté pan over medium-high heat. When it is hot, swirl in enough oil to the bottom. Arrange the lobster tails in the pan, cut side down. They should sizzle the moment the touch the hot oil. If they don’t all fit, sear them in batches, wiping the pan clean and using fresh oil as needed. The tails will curl as they cook if you haven’t used the skewers. Sear the lobster until the meat is golden brown, about 2 minutes. Add the ginger ale, being careful to protect your hands and face from the steam. Cover and steam the lobster until it is just cooked through, about 1-2 minutes more. The shells will be red and the meat just opaque.
Lift the lobster from the skillet onto plates or a platter, cut side up. Remove the skewers. Boil the pan juices until they are reduced by half. Stir in the garlic, habañero, lime zest, and allspice and continue to reduce until it is concentrated and almost syrupy. Add the butter and lime juice and stir until the butter is just melted. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper as needed.
Spoon the sauce over the cut side of the lobster tails, sprinkle with toasted coconut and serve hot.