serves: 6 servings
This beautiful brodetto is brimful of colors, tastes, and textures, and extends the flavor of lobster to bowls of polenta or pasta. Lobster and corn cooked together in a brodetto is not traditionally found in Italy. I discovered this combination of flavors when I was traveling through Maine and other parts of the Northeastern coast of the United States and I liked it so much that I took the liberty to Italianize the duo.
2 live lobsters, each about 1 1/2 pounds
½ cup canola oil, or more if needed
½ cup flour, or more if needed
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped into 1/4-inch pieces
2 tablespoons shallots, finely minced
¾ teaspoon salt, or to taste
2 cups leeks, chopped in 1/2-inch pieces
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 28-ounce can plum tomatoes and their juice, passed through a food mill
4 cups vegetable broth or water, or more if needed
¼ teaspoon peperoncino (hot red pepper flakes)
3 cups fresh corn kernels (and juices), scraped from the cob
1 cup scallions , chopped
Cutting up the Lobsters
About 30 minutes before cutting them up, put the lobsters into the freezer in whatever bag or paper wrappings they are in. They will become inactive as their temperature drops.
Before cutting up the lobsters, put towels under your cutting board, extending out, to catch the juices which are released.
You will split the lobster lengthwise in 2 strokes of the chef's knife. Hold the lobster flat on a cutting board with your left hand on the tail, put the point of the knife just behind the head and with a sharp stroke cut through the top of the shell, bringing the knife blade down between the eyes and antennae of the lobster. This splits the head part in two. Turn the lobster, so you are now holding with the left hand the split front, and split the entire tail in one stroke. Let the split halves lie with their cut sides open, so flesh and innards and juices stay in the shell.
Next, cut the claws off where they attach to the head; then cut the meaty pincer part of each claw from the jointed knuckle. Crack the heavy shell of the pincers on both sides, using the back of the knife blade. Cut lengthwise slits in the knuckle joints with the knife point—this will make it easier to remove the cooked meat.
Now look in the split halves for a pale vein (the digestive tract) that runs from the tail forward, along the top side only; pick it out and discard. Next, pick out and discard the stomach sacks that are located behind and underneath the eyes in both head sections.
Using the shears (or the knife if you prefer), cut off the eyes and antennae and the bit of shell that holds them. Snip off the small legs where they attach to the front shell.
Cut the tail section from the head section, leaving as much of the meat in the tail as you can, and all of the tomalley and roe in the head.
Split and cut up the second lobster in the same way. You should now have 4 split head sections, 4 split tail sections, 4 cracked pincer claws, 4 slit knuckle joints and 16 small legs.
Flour the 8 split head and tail sections by sprinkling flour over the cut sides and patting the flour to cover the meat, tomalley, roe, and the rest of the insides completely. You can't press or roll the lobster in flour because the innards will come out—and you don't need to put flour on the outside shells.
Pour the oil into the skillet, using enough to coat the bottom completely. Set over medium-high heat; when the oil is hot, quickly lay the split pieces, floured side down, in the pan. Don't move them for 2-1/2 to 3 minutes, until caramelized and crusted evenly—give the wider head pieces a bit more time in the pan than the tail pieces. Remove each piece with tongs and set it on a board or a tray, cut side up. Put the claw pieces in the pan—no flouring needed—and fry them for 20 seconds or so on each side, then remove them too.
Pour out the frying oil and pour in 1/4 cup of the olive oil. Set over medium-high heat and stir in the onions and shallots. Sprinkle on 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and stir as the onions heat for a minute or so, then lay the 4 head pieces in the pan, fried side up. Strew the 16 small lobster legs in the skillet and stir them around with the onions.
Cook for another minute and then scatter the chopped leeks into the pan; stir them and heat for a minute. Clear a space and drop in the tomato paste; toast it in the hot spot for a minute, then pour in the milled tomatoes or tomato sauce and 2 cups of broth or water—or more, if necessary, so the lobster shells are just covered. Raise the heat to high, sprinkle another 1/4 teaspoon salt and the peperoncino all over and stir and shake the pan as the sauce comes to a boil.
When it is boiling, cover the pan and adjust the heat so the sauce is perking nicely all over the surface. Cook for 10 minutes or so, shaking the pan now and then; uncover and add broth or water, if necessary, to keep the pieces barely covered. Cover the pan and cook another 5 minutes or so.
Now uncover the pan, and push the claw and tail pieces into the sauce all around the skillet. Bring the sauce to a good simmer again and cook uncovered. After 4 minutes or so, lift up one of the head pieces with tongs, holding the shell so the meat is free to drop out. Shake the shell sharply; I usually bang the tongs vigorously on the side of the pan to dislodge the meat into the sauce. Empty all the head pieces this way, while the sauce keeps simmering. (If you can't fit the tail and claw pieces into the pan, empty out a couple of head pieces earlier). When the heads are gone, stir the sauce, taste and add salt if needed.
Stir the corn kernels into the skillet and drizzle over the remaining 1/4 cup of olive oil. Simmer about 4 minutes covered—or cook uncovered over high heat if the sauce needs thickening—then stir in the scallions and cook for another minute or until the corn is tender and the brodetto is flowing yet dense and rich.
Serve in warm bowls over loose hot polenta, grilled polenta slices or use to dress spaghetti or other pasta. It is also delicious with slabs of grilled country bread to dunk in the sauce. If serving more than 4, and everyone wants lobster tail, cut the tail pieces crosswise in half; claws must be distributed whole and shared peacefully.