Plant to Plate: Little Hallingbury chef Alistair Dibbs' recipe for poached lobster with lightly-pickled cucumber, beetroot, orange and wasabi
In his fortnightly Indie column Plant to Plate, top chef Alistair Dibbs, from Little Hallingbury, extols the virtues of growing, cooking and eating your own food...
This week I wanted to show how easy it is to pair super-cheap and easy-to-grow-at-home vegetables with one of the ultimate in luxury foods, the lobster.
With 2020 having been a year to remember for all the wrong reasons, this dish would be a great way to bring a bit of pleasure to your loved ones at Christmas (Government guidelines permitting). And if guidelines permit only small gatherings it may be worth splashing out a little more on your guests and getting them up close and personal with a lobster.
Having been really busy the last couple of weeks, I took advantage of the mild weather and some free time last weekend and got out into the garden to remove all my old and dying aubergine, tomato and sweetcorn plants and have a general clear-out in the garden and greenhouse, composting most of the crops.
I have a number of winter crops growing, including leeks, carrots, cabbage and some lovely beetroot that I planted in the spring. As beetroot is one of those easy-to-grow, hardy vegetables, I tend to leave it in the ground and pick it as and when it's needed – that way, it's always ultra fresh.
I also picked the very last of the cucumbers from the greenhouse. I find that by growing cucumbers in the warm and protected environment of the greenhouse I can prolong the season by a couple of months, so I can still be picking in late October if it's mild.
Now for a bit of lobster history...
Legend has it that when the first European settlers went to North America, lobsters were so plentiful that the beaches in places like Maine (now famous for lobster) could be found with piles of washed-up, rotting lobster. There were so many around that they were ground down and used as fertiliser and fish bait! They were also used as food for farm workers and prisoners when harvest was poor – so they really were at the bottom of the pecking order.
The lobster became a bona fide luxury ingredient when the godfather of French haute cuisine, Auguste Escoffier, devised his famous Lobster Thermidor dish in Paris in the 1880s. This was originally a lobster split down the middle and topped with a very rich, cheesy bechamel sauce with herbs and egg yolks. The dish remains a French mainstay to this day, but has become lighter and healthier.
Generally two types of lobster are sold in the UK: native and Canadian. Natives are, as the name suggests, from the UK – often Scotland – and are usually slightly more expensive than the Canadians, but prices fluctuate for both depending on supply and demand. Lobster must always be bought live and should have no aroma whatsoever.
The only humane way to cook a lobster is to kill it first. To kill it in the swiftest way, put the lobster on your chopping board, place the blade of a sharp, heavy knife on the small cross on the lobster's head and drive your knife all the way through it in one swift movement.
For an 800g lobster, cook it in lightly-salted boiling water for four minutes then refresh it in iced water to arrest the cooking process. The meat in a lobster is predominantly in the tail and claws, so detach the tail by gently twisting it away from the rest of the body. Repeat the same process with the claws.
Using a pair of gloves, open up the shell housing the tail meat and gently separate the shell from the tail, teasing out the meat at the same time. Then place each claw on your chopping board and hit each one with the back of your knife to crack them. Use your fingers to open the shell and tease out the meat, keeping it whole.
Keep the meat, which should be firm with a bright pink tinge, in the fridge until needed. The shell can be frozen and used to make a lobster bisque at a later date.
Alistair's recipe for poached lobster with lightly-pickled cucumber, beetroot, orange and wasabi
For my dish this week I have kept it really simple to showcase the fantastic lobster itself, pairing it with some delicious lightly-pickled beetroot from the garden and the very last of the cucumbers.
- 2 lobsters of 800g each
- 2 medium beetroots, with beetroot leaves if possible
- 1 cucumber
- 2 oranges
For the pickle mixture
- 300ml water
- 80ml honey
- Pinch of salt
- 80ml white wine vinegar
For the dressing
- 50ml extra virgin olive oil
- Squeeze of lemon juice
For the wasabi crème fraiche
- 5g wasabi paste
- 50g crème fraiche
- A squeeze of lime juice
Place the ingredients for the pickle mixture in a small pan and bring them to the boil, set aside and leave to cool. Leave half of this mixture in the pan and pour the other half into a different bowl (this is to pickle the cucumber separately to the beetroot to avoid the beetroot staining the cucumber). Using a mandoline or a sharp knife, slice the beetroot into very thin disks and place in the pan of pickle mix.
Using a peeler, peel along the length of the cucumber to create 12 long, thin, almost translucent strips. Place these in the other bowl of pickle mixture for 20 minutes or so.
Next, peel your oranges and, using a sharp knife, remove the segments from the orange and set them aside.
Mix together the ingredients for the wasabi crème fraiche and place in a piping bag.
Mix together the olive oil, lemon juice and salt to form the dressing.
Assembling the dish
Take two of the cucumber strips and cut them in half to create four smaller pieces. Place them next to each other on the plate as these will form a base for the rest of the ingredients to sit on. Take five of the beetroot disks and place them on top of the cucumber.
Cut a lobster tail in half and place it on the left side of your plate and place a claw on the right side before lightly seasoning them and brushing with the olive oil dressing.
Place three of the orange segments around your plate. Next, roll up the remaining cucumber strips as per the picture and place one next to the lobster tail and one next to the lobster claw.
Finish the dish with some small drops of the wasabi crème fraiche and a few of the beetroot leaves scattered over the dish.
I purchased my lobster through Marrfish's superb home delivery service at marrfishhome.co.uk.
These guys really are the fish experts and are based at Start Hill, just outside Bishop's Stortford. Their home delivery service is second to none. You can even order the lobster ready cooked to make things simpler!
When you place your first order online you will get a 10% discount if you quote HALLINGBURY10 at the checkout.