Lobster stew is easy, elegant and perfect for Christmas Eve supper or as a pre-holiday-dinner soup course. I switched from oyster stew for the holiday to lobster stew when we came to the island and had a lobsterman neighbor.
Marjorie Standish in “Cooking Down East” puts lobster stew at the front of her cookbook and rhapsodizes a bit as she recommends stirring to prevent curdling: “The constant stirring until the stew blossoms a rich salmon color under your spoon, and finally the aging, since every passing hour improves its flavor.” Whew. It certainly is true that a good lobster stew has a divine color, and it is good to make it ahead because then flavors have time to get acquainted. Besides, there is usually plenty else to do at the last minute on Christmas Eve or anytime in the holidays anyway, and knowing your stew is ready when you are helps.
A young Canadian friend visiting the States ordered a lobster stew at a diner and reported to me later her astonishment that there were no vegetables. She was accustomed to carrots, potatoes, peas and onions in stews, mostly meat ones. This reveals a historical shift from stew as a verb instead of a noun. Lobster “stewed” is what we have here really, or oyster, scallop and others, as past tense of stew. Where people in past times stewed we are likely to say “simmer” or “reduce the heat and cook slowly.”
How much lobster per person? Two pound to pound-and-a-quarter lobsters can make enough stew for four. Whether you use the tomalley or not is up to you. If there are eggs in the lobster that improves the color quite a bit. Cook your lobster just as you normally would and take the meat out of the shell. It is nice to leave most of it in generous bite-size pieces.
Yields four servings
2 1- or 1½-pound lobsters
½ stick butter
1 quart half-and-half or light cream
Nutmeg to taste
Cook lobsters and take meat out of shells. Cut into generous-size pieces. Reserve tomalley if you wish, and the coral (eggs) if there is any. In a heavy-bottomed pan, melt butter, and add to it tomalley and coral if you use them, stirring to blend. Add lobster and cook gently over low heat 10 minutes. Gradually add half-and-half or light cream, stirring the whole time. Heat mixture thoroughly, and add a grating or two of nutmeg. Set aside for several hours in refrigerator to age. Reheat gently until hot. Serve.