Thursday, 15 January 2015

Why my New Year's resolution is to eat more lobster.

Live Maine Lobster
Fresh Maine lobster. Photo courtesy of Billy Kitchen.
We are now knee deep in January, the month where many people make, and break, their New Year’s resolutions. As I sit here writing this post, some of you are likely already struggling to stay on track with your ambitious goals for 2015.
Ever the optimist, I have set my own challenge for the New Year – to eat more lobster. I may be the only person on the planet with this resolution. You may be chuckling at what appears to be an indulgent decision. But in reality eating lobster syncs well with several other common New Year’s declarations.
Two of the most popular New Year’s resolutions are to lose weight and eat healthier. Consuming lobster can help with both these goals. While lobster has earned a reputation as a calorie-rich cuisine due to many of the methods by which it is cooked and served (lobster thermidor, hello!), lobster in and of itself is a very healthy food choice. It is an excellent source of lean protein, with less fat and cholesterol than skinless chicken breast. Lobster is also high in amino acids, potassium, magnesium, Vitamins A, B12, B6, B3 and B2. It is rich in calcium, phosphorus and zinc. Finally, lobster is one of the best sources of easily absorbable iron, which I discovered during my anemia-plagued pregnancies.
Beyond being good for the mind and body, I think eating lobster is good for the soul. Firstly, lobster is sustainably sourced. Most lobster is wild-caught, using methods which ensure the long-term health of the resource. The Maine lobster industry in particular has been MSC-certified as a well-managed, sustainable fishery. I love eating all sorts of seafood but not at the expense of the environment.   Secondly, eating lobster is a wonderful way to support one of the last remaining fisheries which still operates as an artisanal enterprise. As the fourth generation of a lobster fishing family, I am probably biased but I feel there is something unique and special about those rugged individualists who wrestle their living from an unforgiving ocean day after day. As I wrote in my book, lobstermen are not only the masters of their ship; they are the captains of their soul.
Though eating lobster will be good for my body, mind and soul, it doesn’t mean my New Year’s resolution will be one to which I can easy adhere. While I am part of a lobster fishing dynasty, I currently live in London and am on the opposite side of the Atlantic to the steady supply of fresh Maine lobster I grew up enjoying.   In the last 10 years I’ve lived here, most of my lobster consumption has occurred during my annual trips home to Maine or from frozen rations I bring to the UK when I return. There have also been a few blowout dining experiences, with highlights including an exquisite lobster thermidor at Scott’s in London and grilled Cornish lobster at Rick Stein’s Seafood restaurant in Padstow, but overall my lobster dinners have been few and far between.
In 2015 I plan to up my game. Thankfully, over the last few years a plethora of new lobster roll restaurants have opened in London. Several are within walking distance of my office, from the fabulous Fraqs to Smack Deli, and I intend to make lobster rolls a regular lunchtime treat. I also plan to begin buying lobster from my local supermarket and fishmongers and experimenting with some of the classic Julia Child lobster recipes.
My aim is to eat lobster at least several times a month. Will I succeed? I don’t know, but it sure will be fun trying.

Sunday, 28 December 2014

Eat, drink and be merry. Perfect wine pairings for your lobster dinner.

lobster wine pairing
If you are lucky enough to be enjoying lobster over the festive period, or at any point during the year, you might be wondering what is the best wine to pair with your crustacean cuisine.
Lobster has a delicate flavor and should be matched with a wine which compliments and accentuates its sweet, succulent nature. Most red wines do not go well with lobster because the tannins in red wine do not react well with the iodine found in lobster. White wines, especially those with more mineral and vegetable notes, usually work better than fruit-oriented wines. Of course the specific lobster entrée you plan to enjoy will also influence the choice of wine.
Champagne is almost always a good choice for lobster dishes and fitting for a special celebration. The experts recommend Blanc de Blanc champagnes which are made from 100% Chardonnay grapes. The other basic advice on pairing champagne with lobster is to steer clear of extra dry (Extra Brut) champagnes.
Beyond the above, choose a wine that suits your tastes and budget and, if possible, work with your wine store specialist or restaurant waiter who will know significantly more than I do!  Speaking of which, Eric Mihan, owner of The Bangor Wine and Cheese Company has been kind enough to provide some advice and recommendations to compliment my below suggestions on which wines to pair with specific lobster dishes. So without further ado... 
Wine pairings for boiled, steamed or poached lobster.
Go for a medium-bodied California Chardonnay with more mineral than oak.  Look for a wine with a hint of lemon or lime, apple or pear and a taste of honey, caramel or vanilla.  A Russian River Chardonnay could work well. For example, The 2011 White House State Dinner in honor of President Hu Jintao featured poached Maine Lobster, which was paired with a 2008 Russian River Chardonnay. Francis Coppola and Huntington Hill are other brands worth exploring. If you want to go sparkling, why not try a rose champagne, such as a Mumm Rose.
Wine pairings for rich and creamy lobster dishes, such as lobster thermidor, lobster ravioli, lobster bisque, lobster pot pie, lobster newburg or lobster mac and cheese.
A richer lobster dish calls for a richer Chardonnay. Go for a White Burgundy, such as a Meurault, Montrachet or Pouilly-Fuisse.  I am also a big fan of Viognier.  Look for a wine with spice and herb notes (anise, clove, sage, nutmeg), hints of grapefruit, lime, apricot or fig and honey along with cream, butter, caramel or vanilla notes.  
I currently live in London and have access to a wonderful variety of French wines in my local supermarket and corner store.  I have my favorites but fear many of these wines might prove tricky to find for my American readers. One French brand which I like and I know is popular in the U.S. is Louis Jardot. Their Macon-Villages Chardonnay or Pouilly-Fuisse would be a safe bet for a richly-flavored lobster dish if you are not able to get a personal recommendation from your local wine store.  
Eric Mihan of The Bangor Wine and Cheese Company likes to pair rich, buttery lobster dishes with a wine that has a "white pear, peach, and even [a] pineapple-y nose...with nice acidity and minerality to cut the butter."  He recommends Christophe Cordier's Bourgogne Blanc or Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc-Viognier as a good, affordable alternative.  
Wine pairings for grilled lobster.
When serving grilled lobster, you can go for a more oaky Chardonnay. California produce some great, inexpensive varieties.  I have always enjoyed Toasted Head Chardonnay.
Eric likes a wine with "a little more spice or smoke on the nose."  He recommends Claiborne & Churchill Gewurztraminer for its great spice and Domaine de Bel-Air Pouilly-Fume for its smokiness and as "a gorgeous expression of Sauv Blanc from the Loire that has enough weight and texture to match grilled lobster perfectly."
Wine pairings for a lobster roll or lobster salad.
Go for a Sancerre or Sauvignon Blanc. Sauvignon Blanc from Duckhorn Vineyards and Windsor Vineyards has been paired with lobster for recent White House inauguration lunches.  A nice rosé would also work well. Lobster and rosé both capture the essence of summer and combining the two can mentally transport me from rainy London to the sunny South of France or the rocky shores of Maine.  While currently not accessible in The States, I am in love with a Provençal rosé from Domaine Sainte Lucie (MIP Premium Rose) which goes wonderfully with Lobster Bouillabaisse.
Wine pairings for lobster in a tomato sauce.
Finally, while white almost always works better than red with lobster, if you're serving lobster with a tomato sauce (e.g., Lobster Fra Diavolo) a Chianti Classico would work well.  For a spicy, red sauce dish Eric recommends a wine with "acidity to match the acidity of the tomato, and...that will cut that heat and refresh your palate."  In Eric's eloquent words, "Sangiovese (the main grape of Tuscany, and hence, Chianti) is a great one as long as it is lithe and focused, and not covered or ruined by heavy oak or over-extraction. Ciacci Piccolomini makes a little Tuscan red that sells in the mid-teens that is mostly Sangiovese, with a touch of Cab and Merlot, that just rocks that sort of dish."
Cheers!  If you have any recommendations for me, please email me or comment below.  I would love to hear of them and add them to this blog.
lobster and champagne dinner
Lobster and champagne - why yes!

Saturday, 20 December 2014

‘Tis The Season For Seafood In Europe. How Lobster Takes Center Stage in Festive Celebrations.

lobster for Christmas dinner
A scene from a British supermarket's Christmas TV commercial where lobster takes pride of place. Photo courtesy of Nigel Davies.
The festive season is upon us and, for many Europeans, feasting on seafood is a central part of the celebrations. As a Maine native of French extraction, married to a man of Italian descent and now living in the United Kingdom, I find myself with a particular and somewhat multi-cultural view of the role lobster plays in European holiday traditions. I love the distinctions that make the holidays in Europe unique, from my daughter referring to Santa as Father Christmas to the foods that make up the holiday meals. As Advent approaches, it’s a good time to look at the cultural significance lobster plays during December on this side of the pond.
In Southern Italy, Christmas Eve is celebrated with a seafood extravaganza. The origins of this feast, often called La Vigilia (The Vigil), stem from the Roman Catholic ritual of abstaining from meat on holy days. Prior to Midnight Mass, family and friends gather at home and enjoy an array of seafood dishes ranging from salt cod and sea bass to mussels, octopus and, sometimes, lobster.   The number of fish, spread out family-style, varies from seven to as many at 10 or even 13 and is said to have a religious significance. Some families serve seven fish to represent the seven sacraments of the Catholic Church. Some serve 10 for the stations of the cross. Some serve 13 for the twelve Apostles plus Jesus.
Over the years, this feast has been popularised by Italian-Americans and is often referred to as ‘The Feast of the Seven Fishes’ (Festa dei sette pesci). Elaborate versions of the meal can include a banquet where each fish dish is cooked in a different manner – for example, fried, baked or broiled - or uses a different main ingredient – from seafood salad to pasta served with a seafood sauce. Two lobster dishes I’ve seen referenced when reading about the Italian-American interpretation of La Vigilia are Lobster Oreganata – lobster baked with bread crumbs and oregano - and Lobster Fra Diavolo - spicy lobster with pasta in tomato sauce.
In Italy, however, it is much more common to enjoy lobster on New Year’s Eve. As explained by my Southern Italian friend, La Vigilia is celebrated at home with “local seafood and homemade recipes.” New Year’s Eve is about “luxurious food and wine, spending lots of money and perhaps going to fancy restaurants.” On this day, most restaurants feature lobster as a main menu item. Those Italians who can afford to, indulge. Of the $50 million dollars of U.S. lobster Italy imported in 2013, more than one-fifth of that lobster was delivered in the month of December, destined for Italians wanting to celebrate La Dolce Vita (the good life).
“Qu’est-ce que vous manges cette année” (what will you eat this year?) is a topic much discussed by the French in the weeks before Réveillon, France’s culinary highpoint of the year. Celebrated on Christmas Eve, Réveillon dates from the mid-1800s, when a fine meal was prepared for the return from Midnight Mass after a day-long fast. Derived from the French word for 'awakening’, the Réveillon feastrevived diners and also symbolized an awakening to the meaning of Christ’s birth.
Through the years, Réveillon meals have become more opulent and luxurious. While there is no set menu, oysters, escargots, foie gras, scallops and lobster are commonly featured in restaurants and in the homes of those hosting the feast. In 2013, France imported $35 million of U.S. lobster. More than a third of that lobster was delivered in December, prior to the holiday celebrations. The 2014 Christmas Eve menu of Le Meurice, one of the premier, three-star restaurants in Paris, includes oysters, scallops, sea bass, game pie and lobster with Jerusalem artichokes and black truffle, all for the eye-watering price of €650 (yes, that’s roughly $800).
Réveillon celebrations may also take place on New Year’s Eve both in France and in other locations such as New Orleans or Quebec.
The United Kingdom is primarily a Protestant country. The main Christmas meal is celebrated on December 25th and traditionally includes items such as roast turkey or goose, Brussels sprouts, bread sauce, pigs in a blanket (sausages wrapped in bacon) and lashings of gravy. But over the last decade an increasing number of British consumers have been selecting seafood as the focal point of their festive feasts. British grocery stores have seen record-breaking seasonal demand for luxury fish and shellfish in December. In 2011, industry experts estimated the speciality fish market at Christmas to be worth as much as £20 million (roughly $31 million) and it was growing by 15 per cent annually.
United Kingdom supermarkets are capitalizing on this trend. Seven major British grocery stores, which represent almost 90% of the British grocery market, are featuring frozen Canadian lobster in their range of Christmas products. Often this lobster is promoted at cut-rate prices.
The advertising agency I work for, TBWA, just released a Christmas TV commercial for the discount supermarket Lidl. The ad shows people feasting on a deluxe range of Lidl products, including Canadian lobster. The 2014 Christmas advertisement for the discount supermarket Iceland features a celebrity holding up a package of frozen lobster, exclaiming “whole Canadian lobster…for a fiver!”
lobster for christmas dinner
A scene from my advertising agency's recent Christmas commercial for British Supermarket Lidl, which features lobster. Photo courtesy of Nigel Davies.
The British retailers behind these ads are using lobster to symbolize the quality and luxuriousness of their holiday product range but at a budget price, hoping to lure in more middle-class shoppers. The discount cost of the crustaceans is a headline-grabbing public relations exercise in itself. The low price makes a good newspaper headline: “Now we can ALL eat lobster: Budget supermarket Morrisons unveils £10 Christmas crustacean” or A real catch! Iceland unveil plans for £5 Christmas lobster.”
As Europeans sit down to this year’s holiday feasts, some will be partaking in age-old traditions while others will be participating in modern trends. Regardless of the reason, it is wonderful to know the exceptional role lobster plays in celebrations during such a special time of year.