When food writer Brooke Dojny wants to buy lobsters, one of her favorite places to go is on the docks in Stonington, straight from the fishermen; short of having dinner at the bottom of the ocean, it’s as fresh as lobster can get. Barring that, she’ll go to a locally owned lobster pound.
“There’s something old-fashioned about lobster pounds. There’s this whole protocol about eating there; this whole mystique,” said Dojny, a Sedgwick resident and the author of several cookbooks. “It’s been mostly unchanged for over 100 years. There’s something really special about that.”
All things lobster — from the lingo to stories to 55 different recipes — are included in Dojny’s new book, “Lobster! 55 Fresh & Simple Recipes for Everyday Eating,” which was released last week by Storey Publishing. Dojny’s previous New England-themed cookbooks for Storey, including “The New England Clam Shack Cookbook” and “Dishing Up Maine,” have been popular in stores statewide, so devoting an entire book to the most famous Maine food was a natural choice.
“I think Mainers almost take lobster for granted — and how lucky are we, that we can have such easy access to one of nature’s best foods,” said Dojny, who won a James Beard Award in 1997 for her book “The American Medical Association Family Cookbook.” “There’s a lot more you can do with lobster besides just boiling it, or putting it in a roll. Though there’s of course a reason why those are such classic dishes.”
Dojny began work on “Lobster!” about two years ago, testing recipes from a variety of sources. Before she decides to include a recipe in her book, she cooks it — so Dojny has tasted quite a few lobster dishes in preparation for the book.
“I get recipes from many different sources,” she said. “I get ideas at the market, at the grocery store, from eating out at restaurants, from magazines. Sometimes I retest things, sometimes I tweak it a little bit. It’s a combination of all sorts of inspirations.”
While there isn’t one particular recipe that Dojny singles out as her favorite, she is particularly fond of the many hors d’oeuvres recipes included in the book — from adorable Mini Lobster Cakes to a delicate Lobster and Pea Shoot Salad.
“I like hors d’oeuvres because it’s a great way to give your guests a little treat of lobster, without having to spend a lot of money on several pounds of lobster,” said Dojny. “You can really stretch the meat.”
There also are plenty of main dishes included, such as trendy restaurant dish Lobster Mac & Cheese, a Lobster Club sandwich, elegant comfort food such as Lobster Pot Pie, and the adventurous Grilled Lobster with Basil Lime Butter.
Dojny also supplies a number of side dish pairings, including slaws, biscuits and desserts. For grilled lobsters — a smoky treat easily made at home — the cook must split the lobsters before cooking, a process that intimidates some lobster lovers. Dojny gives precise instructions on how to use a knife to split a lobster — though she recommends parboiling them first, to make it a little easier.
“I remember the first time I split a lobster it took a little doing. It can make some people a little squeamish,” said Dojny. “You can parboil them for three to five minutes, and then plunge them into a bowl of ice water, so they’re dead but only slightly cooked, so you retain most of the flavor. Lobster is really a very versatile ingredient, more so than you’d expect.”
“Lobsters! 55 Fresh & Simple Recipes for Everyday Eating” is available in stores and online. It retails for $14.95.
Lobster and Pea Shoot Salad
4 strips bacon
1 cup small peas, fresh or thawed frozen
2 cups chopped, cooked lobster meat — from about 3 1-pound lobsters, or two 1¼ pound lobsters
1 medium tomato, seeded and diced
¼ cup finely chopped red onion
1 ½ cups tender pea shoots
about 8 Romaine lettuce leaves
salt and freshly ground black pepper
⅓ cup mayonnaise
⅓ cup sour cream
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon coarse-grain Dijon mustard
To make the dressing, whisk the mayo with the sour cream, lemon and mustard in a small bowl. Can be made up to a day in advance and refrigerated. Cook the bacon in a skillet over low heat until the fat is rendered and the bacon is crisp; remove and drain on paper towels. If using fresh peas, blanch them in a saucepan of boiling salted water until just tender, about 5 minutes. Drain, refresh in a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking, and drain again. If using frozen peas, simply run them under warm water to thaw, and drain on paper towels.
Toss the lobster meat with the peas, tomatoes and onion. Drizzle on enough dressing to bind the salad, and season with salt and pepper to taste, though keep in mind that the bacon will add a bit more saltiness. Line a serving platter with pea shoots. Fill lettuce leaves with the lobster salad, and arrange over the pea shoots. Finely chop the bacon and sprinkle over the salad. Garnish with more pea shoots and serve.
Note: Pea shoots are becoming more available at farmers’ markets and specialty markets, but if you can’t get them, baby spinach is a good substitute. Serve with cornbread or muffins.
Lobster Pot Pies with Puff Pastry Hats
5 tablespoons butter
2 cups thinly sliced leeks, white and green parts only
¾ cup finely diced carrots
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 ½ cups seafood broth or clam juice
½ cup heavy cream
3 tablespoons dry sherry
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
⅛ teaspoon cayenne pepper
3 cups chopped cooked lobster meat — three 1¼ pound hard shells or four 1-pound soft shells
¾ cup tiny frozen peas
1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed but chilled
1 egg, beaten with 1 tablespoon water
Melt the butter in a large skillet or saucepan. Add the leeks and carrots and cook, covered, over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until carrots are tender, 10-15 minutes. Sprinkle on flour, raise heat to high and cook, stirring, for one minute. Add the broth and cream, bring to a boil, and cook, stirring, until sauce is smooth and thickened, about 3 minutes. Stir in sherry, lemon zest and tarragon, season with salt, pepper and cayenne.
Distribute lobster in the bottom of four buttered 12 to 16 ounce ramekins, scatter with the peas, and pour the sauce over. Cover and refrigerate at least one hour. On a lightly floured board, roll out puff pastry to a 9×13 rectangle. Cut out shapes slightly smaller than interior of ramekins, arrange on a baking sheet, and place in freezer until ready to bake.
Preheat oven to 435. Uncover ramekins, place the cut-out puff pastry atop the sauce, and brush pastry with egg wash. Bake for 10 minutes, then reduce oven temp to 375 and bake for 25 to 30 minutes more, until pastry is deep golden brown and puffed, and the filling is hot and bubbly. Let cool and serve, with a simple salad as a side.
Grilled Lobster with Basil-Lime Butter
4 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons slivered fresh basil
1½ tablespoons grated lime zest
1 tablespoon lime juice
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
2 large live lobsters — 1¾ to 2 pounds each — or 4 smaller lobsters
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
lime wedges for garnish
Melt the butter in a small saucepan. Stir in the basil, lime zest and juice, salt and cayenne. Parboil the lobsters for 3 to 4 minutes, split them and prepare for further cooking, or split the lobsters live (instructions follow). Parboiled lobsters can be refrigerated for up to 4 hours; split live lobsters should be cooked within 1 hour.
Build a moderately hot charcoal fire or preheat a gas grill to medium-high. Rub the lobster shells with oil. Place the lobsters on the grill cut sides up, brush the meat with the butter mixture, and sprinkle with paprika. Close the grill lid or place a shallow metal roasting pan over the lobsters, Cook, without turning, brushing once or twice with more basil-lime butter, until the meat is a creamy opaque white but still juicy — 10 to 15 minutes if starting raw, 8 to 10 if parboiled. Smaller lobsters will take less time. Transfer to a platter or plates, brush with more butter, and serve with lime wedges, grilled corn on the cob and rustic bread.
Splitting a live lobster
Place lobsters in the freezer for 20 to 30 minutes beforehand to numb them. Soft shell lobsters are much easier to split than hard shell. There is a cross-mark on the top of every lobster shell, near the head. Insert the point of a sharp, sturdy knife into this mark and plunge the knife straight down into the body. The lobster may do some reflective twitching, but it is dead. Now, with one swift motion, split the lobster body in half through the head. Turn underside up and cut through the body and the tail.
Discard the intestinal vein and the sand sacs in the head, near the eyes. Remove most of the runny yellow-gray tomalley. Pull off the rubber bands. If the lobsters are hard shell, use a hammer to crack the claws so that heat can better penetrate. Cook within about 1 hour.
All recipes reprinted with permission of the author and Storey Publishing.