If we’re not dipping out lobsters in clarified butter and eating them by the light of a seaside bonfire, let’s light them on fire and douse the flames with cream instead. We’ll move the fire inside, burn whiskey instead of wood, and exchange the butter for luscious cream and shallots.
This dish may look like it took a bit of skill to put together, but in truth, the entire process is quite simple. If you trust your fish monger to steam your live lobster for you, you’ll spend only a few short minutes putting it all together. And with the aromas coming from this dish, a few minutes may be all you can wait.
There’s also the element of fire. Humans are drawn to the dancing flames, the warmth they provide, the “snap, crackle and pop” of bursting knots, and most importantly, their ability to cook food. Our fire will not only be under the pot, it’ll be in the pot as well. Igniting highly flammable (high alcohol content) spirits is a quick way to reduce the amount of alcohol in a dish. While it doesn’t completely burn away, there is residual alcohol still in the dish, the level of alcohol is no longer perceptible, except to those with extreme sensitivity to alcohol. And quick is what we need. Our lobster is already cooked; we’re just bringing it back up to temp and flavoring it during the cooking process.
Igniting alcohol can be a bit daunting, if you’ve never done it before, or are afraid of flames on your stove top. But we have a few things going for us. Firstly, alcohol burns at a substantially lower temperature than the natural gas or propane in your stove, or the logs in your bonfire. Secondly, it’s also contained and of limited quantities. And lastly, none of the other ingredients in the pan are flammable at the ignition point and burning temperature of the scotch, so nothing other than what you intend to set fire to will alight. All that being said, the initial flame is still impressive and intimidating.
You have two ways to ignite the alcohol. After adding it to the pan, allow it to simmer and vaporize for a few seconds. The vapor is what burns, not the liquid. Either tip the pan slightly with the edge of the pan over the burner flame until the vapors ignite and then quickly set the pan back on top of the burner without flinching, or for the novice (or electric stove top users), simply use a lighter with a long stem designed for lighting grills and fireplaces. You hands are farther away from the initial flame, and all you are holding is a lighter if you do flinch. Remember that the vapor is what burns. You’ll have to agitate the pan every few seconds to help release trapped alcohol vapor bubbles. The flame will burn for a minute or two until it’s completely out. A word of caution though. If you have long hair, tie it back. Roll up loose sleeves or remove them completely, and for God’s sake, don’t lean over the pan. If your burner knobs are located on the back panel of your stove, move the pan before adjusting the temperature.
If you’ve been bitten by the firebug, or want to impress your friends and family with a bit of flambe, this decadent seafood dish is your ticket to ride.
(this recipe serves 2)
- 2 large lobsters, steamed (1½ to 2 pounds each)
- 2 tablespoons lightly salted butter
- 1 medium shallot, finely minced
- ¼ cup Irish whiskey such as Kavanagh or Jameson
- ½ cup heavy cream
- sea salt flakes
- fresh ground black pepper
- pinch of cayenne pepper
- paprika and fresh parsley for garnish
Remove the tail, knuckle and claw meat whole from the lobster removing the red/orange roe if present and tomalley. Chop the meat roughly, reserving the claws whole. Set aside.
In a large skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the shallots and cook, stirring frequently until they soften but don’t turn brown, about 3 minutes. Add the lobster meat, including the claws, the salt and pepper, the cayenne and the scotch. Allow the liquid to simmer for a few seconds. Gently tip the pan toward the flame, or light the pan with a lighter held above the liquid. The flames will quickly ignite. Gently agitate the pan every few seconds until the flames subside completely, about 2 minutes. Add the cream and stir to combine.
Divide the lobster meat and claws between two hot plates placing the claws on top. Garnish with paprika and fresh parsley.