HOMARD À L’AMÉRICAINE [Lobster Simmered with Wine, Tomatoes, Garlic, and Herbs]
Homard à l’américaine is live lobster chopped into serving pieces, sautéed in oil until the shells turn red, then flamed in cognac, and simmered with wine, aromatic vegetables, herbs, and tomatoes. In France, unless you are at a formal dinner, the meat is left in the shells and guests dig in, flanked by finger bowl and napkin. We have noticed that many Americans prefer that the meat be removed from the shells before the dish is served, which is too bad, as it makes more work for the cook.
The origin of homard à l’américaine is a subject for discussion. Some authorities call it à l’armoricaine, after the ancient province of Armorique in Brittany where lobsters grow. Others say armoricaine is nonsense because the tomato flavoring is quite untypical of Brittany and that the recipe is far more likely the product of a Paris chef with Provençal inclinations who titled his dish after an American client, or after the exotic origins of the tomato. In any case it is a splendid creation for fresh lobster, and though we are not partial to frozen lobster tails, it is one of the best ways we know to cook them.
Risotto simmered in fish stock, or steamed rice, and a dry white wine with body such as Burgundy, Côtes du Rhône, or Graves would make fine accompaniments.
Split the lobsters in two lengthwise. Remove stomach sacks (in the head) and intestinal tubes. Reserve coral and green matter. Remove claws and joints and crack them. Separate tails from chests.
Heat the oil in the skillet until it is very hot but not smoking. Add the lobster pieces, meat-side down, and sauté for several minutes, turning them, until the shells are bright red. Remove lobster to a side dish.
Stir in the diced carrot and onion, and cook slowly for 5 minutes or until almost tender.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Season the lobster, return if to the skillet, and add the shallots or green onions, and the garlic. With the skillet over moderate heat, pour in the cognac. Avert your face and ignite the cognac with a lighted match and shake the skillet slowly until the flames have subsided. Stir in all the ingredients to the left. Bring to the simmer on top of the stove. Cover and place in middle level of preheated oven. Regulate heat so lobster simmers quietly for 20 minutes.
While the lobster is simmering, force the lobster coral and green matter with the butter through a fine sieve into the mixing bowl and set aside.
When the lobster is done, remove it to a side dish. Take the meat out of the shells if you wish. Set skillet with its cooking liquids over high heat and boil down rapidly until sauce has reduced and thickened slightly. It will acquire more body later when the butter and coral mixture is added. Taste very carefully for seasoning.
(*) Recipe may be completed to this point, and finished later.
Return the lobster to the sauce and bring to the simmer to reheat the lobster. Beat a cupful of hot sauce by driblets into the coral and butter mixture, then pour the mixture into the skillet with the lobster. Shake and swirl the skillet over low heat for 2 to 3 minutes to poach the coral and green matter, but do not bring the sauce near the simmer again.
Arrange the lobster and sauce in the rice ring, decorate with herbs, and serve immediately.