Sweet Corn & Lobster Soup with Tarragon Chive Oil
You don’t see a lot of lobster here on the Choosy Beggars, right? Well, there’s a good reason for that. I’m deathly allergic to shellfish. Okay, that was an outright lie. I’m not at all allergic to shellfish, I’m just allergic to spending $35 on a sub-prime bag of frozen King Crab legs from the local Sobeys. Do you blame me? The problem, as I see it, is that I love seafood just a little bit more than I hate the price. It’s a dangerous wire I walk.
That said, imagine my gleeful surprise when I popped into the grocery store for a 5 minute stop, intending only to buy eggs and milk, and I saw bags of lobster being snapped up at an unbelievable price — it was a 2 lb bag of precooked lobsters for $10. Yes, you read that correctly. TEN DOLLARS. At first I thought this was some kind of a foul and despicable joke. I gave the bags a sniff and a poke, wondering what the catch was (unintentional pun, my apologies). I peered suspiciously at the ruby gems, totally unconvinced that this could actually just be something as innocuous as a sale. I mean, even when lobster goes on sale it’s really more of a less ridiculous price than an affordable and attainable one. I hesitated for about 20 seconds longer, more because I felt that I SHOULD show some kind of restraint (that I wasn’t actually feeling), before I greedily grabbed the biggest bag I could and hightailed it to the cash.
Ten dollars for lobster. Sometimes I’m almost tempted to start believing in God.
Here’s the thing, though. Two pounds of lobster is still really not a heck of a lot of meat. Back in the days before a crippling mortgage and bimonthly bills took hold of my life and strangled my exuberant shopping spirit, I would consider a two pound lobster to be a perfect size for my dinner. Now, however, the meat-money has to stretch just a little bit farther. So, instead of feasting greedily on my little treat before Mike got home and caught me in the act, I took a lesson that home cooks have been teaching us for centuries: nothing stretches the dollar quite as far as a good pot of soup. With fresh herbs from the garden and a handful of household staples, this whole meal cost less than $15. I consider that to be a delicious win if ever there was one.
In terms of the corn, well, I know that it’s not exactly seasonal yet and the best summer corn is still about 2 months away. However, frankly I just didn’t have it in me to freeze that succulent looking lobster for 8 weeks until the corn was ready. After all, I had a BAG OF LOBSTER and come hell or high water it was going to be eaten that night. And really, when it comes right down to it, sweet corn which could have been super-sweet corn was still absolutely delicious. So again, I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Mysterious Rulers of Kitchen Space for making me as happy as a kid at Christmas who didn’t get the dreaded chemistry set.
Sweet Corn & Lobster Soup with Tarragon Chive Oil
Serves 4 as an entree, 6 as an appetizer
- 3 medium pre-cooked lobsters (about 2 lb) *
- 4 ears of sweet corn
- 5 cloves garlic
- 1 white onion
- 2 tsp fennel seed
- 1 tsp black peppercorns
- 1 bay leaf
- 12 cups water
- 2 cups milk
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1.5 tsp vanilla extract **
- salt and pepper to taste
- 4 slices of baguette (optional)
Tarragon Chive Oil
- 3/4 cup mild olive oil or grapeseed oil***
- small bunch chives (about 1/3 cup)
- handful tarragon (about 1/2 cup)
- salt to taste
* A 3/4 lb lobster is still rather scanty when you think about it. If you love your guests just a little bit more, or you’re feeling flush with the joy of overspending on seafood, feel free to buy larger (or more) lobster. And then invite me over to share it, please.
** Don’t be put off by the addition of vanilla to a savory soup. It’s not just for reminiscing about Grandma’s cookies, you know. A slight hint of vanilla brings out the lovely natural sweetness of both the corn and lobster, while flying just low enough under the radar that your guests will laud you with praise without quite knowing why.
*** As much as I adore a rich and nutty or a sweet and fruity extra virgin olive, this is not the time. The heavy flavor of most olive oils would overwhelm the herb oil, which would be a crying shame. If you have a very light and mild olive oil you could use that, or go for a generic oil like grapeseed – it’s about as close to flavorless as you can get.
The first step is to start separating the meat from the lobster shells. I will freely admit that I look somewhat terrifying as I enter this task with vigor, viciously snapping off claws and tails and ripping the poor beasts open with my bare hands. My method for dissecting a lobster is usually to separate it first into manageable pieces (body, claws and tail). Then I use kitchen scissors to cut cleanly straight up the underside of the tail and remove the succulent meat. Clean it, rinsing under cold water if necessary, to remove any nasty bits or greenish guts that just keep on keeping on. Chop the tail meat up into large chunks.
For the claws, I find it easier to snap them most of the way through using a nut cracker or claw cracker and then hold the claw in a clean kitchen towel to split the claw open and carefully remove the meat. Lobster claws are a thing of beauty, so reserve that meat on the side to use as a garnish.
As you work away put the meat in one bowl and throw the shells into a large stock pot. The lobster bodies are full of inedibles (and…um….undesirables) so scoop these out and discard them. The gutted bodies, of course, join the rest of their limbs in the pot.
Refrigerate the cleaned and chopped lobster meat until the soup is almost ready.
Now that we’ve violated the lobsters, it’s on to the corn. Use a thin sharp knife to carve all the juicy sweet corn kernels off of the cobs, stripping them as clean as your conscience permits you to do. Reserve the kernels in a bowl, sopping in as much of that lovely milky fluid as you can. The sweet juices that are released when you cut into fresh corn are fabulously flavorful, and it would be a pity to let that go to waste.
Add the corn cobs to the pot of lobster carcass, along with the fennel seed, peppercorn and bay leaf. Bisect the onion and reserve one half for the soup. Skin the other half, cut it into thirds, and add this to the pot along with 3 (of the 5) peeled cloves of garlic. Pour in 12 cups of water and turn on the heat to bring the pot to a simmer. Let the stock cook, uncovered, for 1 – 1.5 hours or until it has reduced to about 6 cups.
Discard the large cobs, shell and onions from the stock pot. Pour the rest of the liquid through a fine mesh strainer into a clean container.
I love stock. The flavor that a good stock can add is absolutely remarkable, and when you look at that color (below) you just know that all the carcass cleaning was totally worth it.
Waiting for your stock to develop isn’t exactly an exciting process, so I recommend starting on the herbed oil as you wait. Cut the chives up and tarragon (yup, stems and all) into 1 inch sections and put these into the bowl of a mini food processor. If you happen to have a Magic Bullet, this is the perfect application. Don’t believe those late night commercials with their tomfoolery, trying to convince you that you can make good guacamole or parmesan shreds using the MB. For salad dressings and smoothies however (yes, and the occasional margarita) it’s bang on. Sadly, my Magic Bullet seems to have disappeared on me (I think Mike hid it) so back to my ol’ trusty Kitchenaid. Sigh.
Oh yes, the oil. Add 3/4 cup of mild olive oil to the herbs and give everything a gentle sprinkling of salt. Whiz it up until the sauce looks uniform and you don’t see any chunks of chives flying blindly by you in the bowl.
Pour the oil through a fine mesh metal strainer into a small bowl. Press down on the solids in the strainer to remove as much of that fabulous verdant oil as possible. When you’ve pumped as much life out of those poor herbs as you could, discard any solids that remain in your strainer and chill the oil until you’re ready to use it.
The flavored oil will last in a sealed container in your fridge for several weeks, but why just let it lie fallow when there are so many wonderful applications for a good oil? It’s delicious drizzled over grilled chicken, fish or juicy pork tenderloin. You can also whisk the oil up with white wine vinegar to make a delectable dressing for an apple, walnut and arugula salad. Ooh, or you can toss vegetables like asparagus or potato wedges in the oil before you roast them. You won’t be sorry. See? Waste not want not. Save your money for lobster.
Peel the reserved 1/2 onion and 2 cloves of garlic. Chop the onion up fairly finely and mince the garlic.
Heat up the olive oil in a fairly large pot and gently start to sweat out the onions and garlic over medium low heat. Be sure to keep the heat low enough that the onion cooks down slowly and the garlic doesn’t brown or burn. After about 5 minutes the onions should be fairly soft and translucent. Add the kernels of corn to the pot and cook them until they’re a vibrant yellow, stirring occasionally to make sure that nothings sticks.
Add 6 cups of your flavorful lobster stock to the pot, along with two cups of milk and the vanilla extract. Let the soup cook on a low simmer for 15-20 minutes, making sure that it never comes to a boil. Season the soup with salt and pepper to taste.
Carefully puree the soup in small batches until it is smooth. Be sure to use absolute care, discretion, and adherence to OHS & common sense as you do so. I know, I know, it’s like a broken record with me, right? Except that I’m a crazy person when it comes to kitchen safety, and yet I still managed to spray my kitchen cupboards with an explosion of scalding hot corn retch because I filled my blender too full. Yup. I’m just saying that it happens, and when it does it’s both painful and messy, so please use extra caution and make sure that lid is held on tight.
Lay a couple of lobster pieces in the bottom of each soup bowl before ladling the hot soup over top. They will heat through before you introduce the bowl to it’s new home, the table. Adding the lobster at the end also helps to ensure that it doesn’t overcook.
Drizzle your soup bowl with the tarragon chive oil, and garnish with some fresh herbal greens if you really feel a yen…..
….and then sit back with a smug feather-eating smile, because it’s just so G.D. pretty.
Oh yes, and the claws, THE CLAWS! Jeepers, I almost forgot about them, which would have been a tragedy of garnished proportions. Well, this is not a thick chowder – it’s a thin and elegant soup. What that means is that if you try to just float a claw on top, you’ll see it tie on some cement boots before bolting for a beer in Atlantis. A better strategy is to gently float a slice of baguette (toasted or not toasted, the choice is yours) on top of the soup, and use that as an edible raft for your lobster claw and any other pretty little pieces of fluff and bother that you might have found.
And on that note, I’m going to go put on some oversized sunglasses and sip cheap white wine mixed with soda water some champagne on the lanai when I’m done this meal. Because….because I feel like it. Yeah. That’s right. If you want to join me I suggest that you do it in the next ten minutes or so. I might still have a sharing-size drop left in the bottom of the bottle.