I never thought that this project would engender such a harrowing experience. I felt like Annie Hall. Or Julie in Julie and Julia.
The national dish of Comoros, a small island off of the east coast of Africa, is langouste a la vanille, or lobster in vanilla sauce. At first I was too terrified at the prospect of dealing with live lobsters, so I was going to make a chicken in a coconut curry sauce, but then I figured that if I'm going to do this, I need to do this. My anal-retentive, obsessive-compulsive ways fed into this. So, I decided to do the lobster.
The recipe requires that the cook take a sharp knife and stab the lobsters between the eyes to sever the spinal cord. I fretted over this step for weeks, and finally decided to have the butcher do it. A kind dude at Coastal Seafoods in Saint Paul took my lobsters into the back and murdered them for me; he informed me that I'm glad I didn't do it myself, almost divulged further details, but then thought better of it. As I paid for my prey, I noted that their legs were still moving. He assured me that that would stop soon. Assuaged, I left the store.
Throughout the whole car ride home, I was positive that I could hear them moving and clacking against each other. I assumed it was my mind playing tricks on me. Once home, I removed them from their plastic bag and placed them on the counter, where I snapped a photo of them:
I then noticed that the one on the right was still moving a little, which startled me. Nonetheless, I took another picture:
The next step of the recipe required that I crack their claws with a hammer. Scared of the recently moving lobster on the right, I took out my hammer and pounded on one of the claws of the lobster on the left. Upon being hit with the hammer, he sprang back to life, started squirming his legs and BACKED UP SEVERAL INCHES. I screamed and ran out of the kitchen.
Gathering my strength, I realized that cracking the claws while they were still alive was not an option, and I was too scared to stab them between the eyes to kill 'em dead. So, I decided, rather inhumanely, to just roast the damn things alive.
I drank a glass of liquid courage (TGFPN - thank god for pinot grigio) and steeled myself for the rest of the recipe.
Knowing they were both alive, I was too scared to touch them with my bare hands, so I used tongs. Lifting the first lobster to the roasting pan, I lost control, and he landed on his back. His legs flailing, I was too petrified to flip him over. Liquid seeping out of his head, into the oven he went. The transference of the other lobster went more smoothly.
I let them roast for five minutes, then decided to man up and go flip the upside down lobster. However, when I opened the oven door, HE WAS STILL MOVING HIS TAIL. What a way to go. I let him roast upside down.
Here the first lobster is, after roasting. You can see the liquid that seeped from his head:
The other guy is less visually upsetting:
The remainder of the cooking experience went just fine, and the end result was delicious, albeit rich. I really liked the vanilla sauce, whereas Andy did not, which is not surprising as he doesn't like vanilla. The shallots and white wine give the buttery vanilla sauce a complex flavor. The national dish is just the lobster and the sauce, but I added the spinach at the recommendation of the website from where I got the recipe, and threw in some potatoes that I had sitting around
I really enjoyed this dish, but will NEVER do it again. Lobsters are too frightening.
Langouste a la Vanille
-2 live lobsters, 1 1/4 lb. to 1 1/2 lb. each
-1 T. olive oil
-7 T. + 2 tsp. butter
-3 medium shallots, peeled and finely chopped
-1/4 c. white wine
-1 1/2 T. white wine vinegar
-1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
-1/2 tsp. salt
-3/4 lb. spinach
-Vidalia onion, sliced thinly
1) Place a roasting pan large enough to hold the lobsters into the oven and preheat to 450 degrees. With the tip of a sharp knife, pierce the lobsters between the eyes to sever the spinal cord. Crack claws using blunt edge of a cleaver or a hammer. Place lobsters in a hot roasting pan, drizzle with olive oil and roast until red, about 15 minutes. Remove from oven, set aside.
2) Melt 2 tsp. butter in a small saucepan. Add shallots and sauté over low heat until soft and translucent, about three minutes.
3) Add wine and vinegar, raise heat, and cook at a moderate heat until liquid is reduced to 1 T., about 5 minutes. Remove pan from heat.
4) Whisk in 6 T. butter, on tablespoon at a time until incorporated. Scrape seeds from vanilla into sauce. Stir.
5) Strain into a clean saucepan. Use spoon to mash shallots to squeeze out juice. Season with 1/4 tsp. salt and pepper.
6) When lobsters are cool enough to handle, remove meat from claws. Detach tails and discard heads. With scissors, but the shell on the underside of each tail in half lengthwise. Remove meat. Cover with foil and keep warm.
7) Melt 1 T. butter in a large pot; add spinach and onions. Stir and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Season with remaining salt and pepper.
8) To serve, reheat sauce until warm over low, whisking constantly.
Place a bed of greens on each plate, arrange lobsters on top and spoon sauce over it (I served it on the side in case we didn't like it). Top with sprouts.