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Chef's Table

Readers' sticking points: lobster and more

Published April 21, 2004

I was happy to receive some interesting questions from readers and am answering a few today on lobster tails, scrambled eggs and food sticking to the bottom of the pan.

Thank you, too, to Mrs. Marion Knudsen of Homosassa Springs, a Le Creuset cookware enthusiast, who, besides beautifully typewriting her entire letter in response to last month's column about pots and pans, told me the story of how she got her Le Creuset pots. It was in the days where the round-trip "cruise" on a German phosphate carrier taking only 12 passengers to Holland and back was a mere $500. She would "tent her way south" from Rotterdam and visit her cousin who lived in the south of France. The Le Creuset set was bought sometime then and has served her well to this day. "I have never bought a new piece of cookware since!" Mrs. Knudsen writes.

Lobster by the tail

Q: I usually get lobsters at Sam's Club or Costco. They are huge and don't taste too bad. My problem is that I don't know how to cook a large lobster tail. I usually broil them but they either catch fire, or end up undercooked. Please help. - Yvonne Septfonds, Dunedin

A: That's the problem with lobster: It is an expensive delicacy and is tricky to cook to perfection. Often served too dry and too hard, these flavorful crustaceans deserve our unconditional attention in the kitchen.

I won't get into the Maine vs. Florida lobster debate, but a couple of things are essential.

The first consideration is the quality of the meat. That's why, despite the attractive pricing, I prefer buying lobsters at fish markets rather than at membership stores. If you choose a frozen lobster, you decrease your chances of success, as fresh lobster will be more moist than one previously frozen.

Secondly, whether you broil it, grill it, steam it or boil it (always prefer steaming over boiling), make sure you don't overcook it. To boil or steam, count 15 minutes for lobsters up to 11/2 pounds and add 5 minutes per pound over that. Either way, start with gently boiling water and rinse the lobster under cold water after it's done.

But gentle cooking is the key. Lobsters don't like violence. If the heat is too harsh, the meat becomes tough and tasteless. I recommend grilling at low temperature. Cut a whole lobster in half lengthwise, stuff with crab meat and fresh herbs or garlic butter, and grill shell down. (See the next question for details on what to remove from the lobster cavity.)

A trick: If you take lobster out of its shell before cooking, you have more control over its taste and texture. Therefore, a great way to cook lobster is to poach it in butter. Granted, it's not nutritionally correct, but I'm here to talk about good-tasting lobster.

Place the tails in a saucepan, cover with melted butter and poach (no boiling, melted butter should stay under 200 degrees) for about 10 minutes. The tails will stay ultra moist and tender and they will be so flavorful you'll want to work more to be able to afford this every day.

More about lobster

Q: What do I remove in the lobster cavity, and what do I use for a delicious stuffing? - Henry Della Vecchia, Holiday

A: Cut the lobster lengthwise and discard the light green tomalley, dark green roe, feathery lungs and the sac behind the head.

For stuffing, the classic associations with lobster include fresh chives, garlic, Italian parsley, ginger, lemongrass, cayenne pepper and lemon.

For instance, you can stuff your half lobsters with 4 ounces of jumbo lump crab meat, 11/2 tablespoons Dijon mustard, 1/4 cup finely diced red bell pepper, 1 tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, 1 crushed garlic clove, 3 tablespoons melted butter and a hint of cayenne pepper. Broil until just browned.

Sticky foods

Q: How do I prevent foods from sticking to my older stainless steel copper-clad cookware? Even when I use oil or butter the foods sticks. - Angelika Stieren, Clearwater

A: Food sticking to the bottom of the pan is annoying for cooks of all levels. Cooks using nonstick pans don't usually have this problem. Those with traditional cookware need to monitor the temperature of the pan because, more often than not, that's the key to the problem.

A couple of suggestions:

* Some delicately textured foods (eggs, fish) are more likely to stick. For those, it is sometimes a good idea to use nonstick pans.

* Food sticking also is caused by inferior material or hot spots. A high-quality pan or a pan that distributes heat evenly will help.

* When searing (browning quickly by subjecting the meat to high heat in a preheated pan), make sure the pan is hot first, then add a little bit of oil (or butter and oil) and wait for the right temperature. Ideally, you should add the piece you want to sear just before the oil starts to smoke (Smoking points: butter 350 degrees, canola oil 400 degrees, olive oil 410 degrees and peanut oil 440 degrees).

* When sauteing, such as vegetables, for instance, the principle is the same, but the heat should not be as high as it is for searing.

* Starting to cook food with a cold pan is almost always a guaranteed failure.

Parisian scrambled eggs

Q: While in vacation in Paris, I was served scrambled eggs that were so creamy, they were like melted butter. Do you have a recipe for this preparation? - Cecilia Aumann, Tampa

A: Scrambled eggs are an American favorite, but it's not easy to get them just right. I like my scrambled eggs creamy, moist and eggy, not tight and dry.

To achieve this consistency, you will need to cook your eggs slowly at medium temperature. Keep touching the side of the pan with your hand to monitor the temperature. It should not be too hot to touch. Do not leave the stove but keep stirring the bottom with a flat (not rounded) wooden spatula. You can also add some extra egg yolks and a tiny bit of whipping cream, unless your heart (and doctor) tells you not to.

You are done when the mixture is extremely creamy, almost runny. If you'd like them to be more done, push the egg flaps back to the other side of the pan and repeat this maneuver until the eggs are done to your liking. Serve immediately.

This technique should give you something similar to the scrambled eggs you had in Paris.

- Chef Gui Alinat welcomes questions about cooking and will respond to those of general interest in future columns. Sorry, he can't take phone calls or answer individual requests. Send questions to him in care of Taste, St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731, or e-mail him at chefgui@chefgui.com Please include your name and city of residence.

[Last modified April 20, 2004, 10:49:25]

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