As a kid growing up in Fairfield, Conn., Atlanta chef Anne Quatrano looked forward to summers. Her grandmother would rent a cottage on Long Island Sound, and the family would lock up their house and retire to the beach for the season.
These were happy, idyllic times. The family would catch seafood straight out of the ocean and devour fresh lobsters from Maine. Nothing fancy. Just boiled.
The biggest decision was deciding whether to eat lobster rolls with butter or mayonnaise.
“My father liked the butter, but I like the mayonnaise,” says Quatrano, now the chef behind the Atlanta restaurant empire that includes Bacchanalia, Star Provisions and W.H. Stiles Fish Camp at Ponce City Market, among others.
This time of year, when Maine new-shell lobsters are plentiful, Quatrano returns to that nostalgic place of her childhood: residing for a few blissful months in a kind of lobster nirvana, cooking and serving the luxurious crustaceans at her dining spots around the city.
One steamy night in July, she partnered with the Maine lobster industry to showcase sweet, tender, sustainably harvested new-shell lobsters at their peak.
On the downstairs patio outside her elegant, Parisian-inspired Little Bacch, guests compared meat from both hard- and new-shell lobsters. And they nibbled on Quatrano’s dainty lobster rolls; beet-pickled lobster with cucumber and pickled green almonds; Bloody Mary-style tomato gelee with chilled lobster and crunchy garnishes; and deconstructed lobster Louie salads in lettuce cups.
As a Southerner who knew next to nothing about working with lobster, I asked Quatrano if she would share tips for cooking and shelling lobster, along with some recipes.
Back at Little Bacch few weeks later, Quatrano and Bacchanalia chef de cuisine Jonathan Kallini showed us a clever technique for cooking new-shells by placing them in a sink or bucket and covering with boiling water. (No dumping wiggling crustaceans in boiling vats for these guys.)
Six minutes later, the 1 1/2 new-shells were perfectly tender — ready to shell and eat.
The resulting lobster meat is superb in Quatrano’s Maine New Shell Lobster Roll (from the menu at W.H. Stiles Fish Camp); her luscious Lobster Bisque (which she sometimes offers at Star Provisions or on chilly wintry nights at Bacchanalia); and a main-course version of that Lobster Louie Salad, which is dressed in a heavenly pink sauce concocted from her house-made mayonnaise.
“We like the new-shell lobsters for a few reasons,” she said. “One, they are much easier for us to deal with. The shells are softer, easier to break through to cut the meat out. And they have an intense flavor and make an incredible bisque.”
One thing Quatrano is firm about is not reheating lobster. She wouldn’t dream of sauteing the lobster meat in butter like many New England lobster places do. “It’s just this chewy mess,” she says pithily.
“I would either eat it warm like this,” she says, as Kallini pulls the flesh from the shell to make a lobster roll. “Or cold. Not reheated!”
A few days later, I holed up in my kitchen, alone with a box of live lobsters, and got to work.
On my first attempt, I squirted warm briny water on the walls and littered the floor with pieces of shell. But the more I tried, the easier it got. I tested through Quatrano’s recipes. The next day, I pulled a cold lobster from the fridge, mixed up some sauce and dug in.
With a fresh new shell Maine lobster, that’s really all you need.
Check out our videos for detailed instructions on how to cook and shell a lobster and to make chef Anne Quatrano’s Maine New Shell Lobster Roll.
Recipes for Maine lobster
Here are Atlanta chef Anne Quatrano’s recipes for New Shell Maine Lobster roll, Lobster Louie Salad and Lobster Bisque. See sidebar for instructions on how to cook and clean lobster. And be sure to check out our online videos, at myajc.com/dining, for more details.
New Shell Maine Lobster Roll
Atlanta chef Anne Quatrano says New Englanders argue over whether to dress a lobster roll with mayo or butter. She’s always been a mayo girl, and I concur. She serves this seasonal sandwich at her Ponce City Market restaurant, W.H. Stiles Fish Camp, with Utz Crab Potato Chips. She likes to crumble the chips over the top of the roll before digging in, an inspired and playful touch.
2 1 1/2 pound lobsters, cooked, shelled and cut into pieces (see sidebar on how to cook lobster)
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon fresh tarragon, roughly chopped
1/4 cup celery, finely minced
mayonnaise to taste (see recipe)
1 tablespoon butter
Mix lobster meat, lemon, tarragon, celery and mayonnaise. We suggest starting with about 2 tablespoons of mayonnaise and adding more to taste. Adjust seasoning with salt and white pepper as needed.
Heat a non-stick or cast-iron skillet over low heat. Add butter, and gently melt. Toast the exterior sides of rolls in butter.
Fill warm rolls with lobster salad and serve immediately. Serves: 4
Per serving: 456 calories (percent of calories from fat, 30), 40 grams protein, 40 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams fiber, 15 grams fat (3 grams saturated), 125 milligrams cholesterol, 1,079 milligrams sodium
1 egg yolk
1 whole egg
Juice of 1 lemon
½ tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 to 1½ cups peanut or canola oil
Ground white pepper
Combine egg yolk, egg, lemon juice and mustard in a food processor or blender. Pulse until mixed well, about 30 seconds. Slowly drizzle in 1 to 1 1/2 cups of peanut or canola oil until emulsified. (Using the full 1 1/2 cups will make a thicker mayo.) Season with salt and white pepper to taste. Makes: About 1 3/4 t0 2 cups mayonnaise.
Per 1-tablespoon serving, based on a 1 3/4-cup yield: 122 calories (percent of calories from fat, 97), 1 gram protein, trace carbohydrates, trace fiber, 13 grams fat (1 gram saturated), 24 milligrams cholesterol, 10 milligrams sodium.
Lobster Louie Salad
Traditional Louies call for shredded iceberg, but Quatrano twists the classic by serving in lettuce cup.
6 butter, little gem or iceberg lettuce cups
2 1 1/2 pound lobsters, cooked, shelled and cut into pieces (see sidebar on how to cook lobster)
18 thin slices of radish
18 thin slices of cucumber
2 small tomatoes diced
6 hard-boiled eggs, sliced in half
Freshly cracked black pepper
Louie Dressing (see recipe)
Place lettuce cups in chilled bowls. Divide lobster equally between the bowls, and arrange with slices of radish and diced cucumber, tomato and boiled egg. Season with salt and pepper. Drizzle with Louie Dressing. Serve with leftover dressing on the side. Serves: 6
Per serving, without Louie Dressing: 224 calories (percent of calories from fat, 25), 36 grams protein, 5 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fiber, 6 grams fat (2 grams saturated), 313 milligrams cholesterol, 612 milligrams sodium.
Any leftovers can be served with chilled lobster, shrimp or crab, stirred into tuna fish, or used as salad dressing.
2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
2 shallots, roughly chopped
¼ cup Worcestershire sauce
1 1/2 teaspoons dry mustard
1 tablespoon whole-grain mustard
1 1/2 teaspoon hot sauce (Quatrano likes Valentina)
1/3 teaspoon ground black pepper, plus more to taste
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
½ cup ketchup
1/3 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons honey
¾ cup heavy cream
2 cups mayonnaise (see recipe)
Juice and zest of 1 lime
Place garlic, shallots, Worcestershire sauce, dry mustard, whole-grain mustard, hot sauce, black pepper, cayenne pepper, ketchup, kosher salt, honey, and heavy cream in a blender. Blend until well combined. Pour mixture into a bowl. Fold in mayonnaise and lime juice and zest by hand. (Adding the lime at the end makes the sauce taste brighter.) Taste and adjust for salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate. Makes: 4 cups
Per 1-tablespoon serving: 67 calories (percent of calories from fat, 93), trace protein, 1 gram carbohydrates, trace fiber, 7 grams fat (1 gram saturated), 6 milligrams cholesterol, 83 milligrams sodium.
This classic bisque gets its intense lobster flavor from the addition of lobster shell. “It just gives it that depth of flavor,” Quatrano says. Just make sure to use a powerful machine, like a Vitamix. If you don’t have such a blender, just use some of the small lobster legs.
1 ounce grapeseed oil
1 cup diced onion
½ cup diced carrot
½ cup diced celery
1 tablespoon tomato paste
3 whole new-shell lobster carcasses – flesh removed, thoroughly cleaned and rinsed and chopped into manageable pieces
1 cup brandy or Madeira wine
1 quart half and half
1 quart heavy cream
¼ bunch fresh tarragon, plus more for (optional) garnish
Salt and white pepper to taste
Lemon juice (optional, as needed)
Place grapeseed oil in a large stock pot over medium heat. Add onion, carrot, and celery, and cook until onions are just translucent, about 3-5 minutes. Add tomato paste and cook until paste browns slightly. Add lobster shells and toss to heat. Add the brandy or Madeira and let cook to burn off alcohol. Add half and half and heavy cream. Bring the pot to a simmer; then turn flame down to medium low to maintain a gentle simmer. Simmer for 45 minutes to 1 hour, stirring regularly from the bottom.
Remove from heat and add tarragon. Allow to steep for 15 minutes. Remove tarragon.
Process 1 carcass and a couple of cups of cream in a food processor or heavy-duty blender. Add processed liquid back to pot and then strain all through a fine sieve or cheesecloth. (Feel free to use more or all of the carcass for a more intense lobster flavor; it just takes more time to process, as you need to do in batches.) Season with salt and white pepper to taste. Add lemon juice to adjust flavor if needed. Serve immediately or refrigerate. (If reheating: Heat over low flame in a non-reactive sauce pan, stirring gently and frequently from the bottom.)
Garnish with reserved chilled lobster meat and, if desired, snips of tarragon. Makes: About 1 3/4 to 2 quarts
Per 1-cup serving, based on a 1 3/4-quart yield: 779 calories (percent of calories from fat, 88), 7 grams protein, 13 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fiber, 70 grams fat (42 grams saturated), 237 milligrams cholesterol, 138 milligrams sodium.
How to prepare lobster for these recipes
Place lobster in sink or tub with enough room to lay lobsters flat. Pour boiling water over lobsters until submerged completely and let stand for 5-6 minutes. Remove lobster from water, and proceed to remove lobster from shell. (This works best while lobster is still warm; be sure to use a towel to grasp the shell, and beware of sharp edges, especially along the tail).
Grab the body of the lobster and twist off claws. Twist off the end of the tail, and pull to separate it from the carcass. Using lobster-cutting scissors, snip through the shell, going lengthwise from end to end on both sides. Pull meat out. Be sure to discard the black vein, near where the tail was connected to the body, as you would with shrimp.
Grasp claws with towel and pull down the smaller claw until claw cartilage snaps. Crack the center of the large claw with the back of a knife and remove the claw meat. Crack the knuckles and remove the meat. (You will likely need to use scissors to cut shells as you go along; this gets easier with practice.)
Cut the meat into ½ inch chunks. Cover and reserve in refrigerator.