I love Maine lobster. Like, with every part of me that is able to love. Everywhere I have lived, I’ve been an evangelist for the bugs. When I was a season ticket holder with the Miami Hurricanes, we’d do a big tailgate boil at least once a year where I’d foist hunks of lemon-buttered tail upon unsuspecting passers-by.
Why do I love them so much? Well, I grew up in a lobster fishing town, but that’s not it. I love them because they’re DELICIOUS. That’s it. That’s the whole reason. They’re sweet and salty, and fatty but lean, tender and chewy, astringent and rounded. I could go on an on. Also, lobster isn’t an “expensive food” in the way it used to be. Even during my time in South Florida, I was able to get live Maine lobster for $8.00/lb a few times a year, and once you know what you’re doing with them, you can turn one critter into several meals, but I digress.
In my travels, I’ve repeatedly bumped into two big “well akshully,” arguments from the uninitiated. First, that Maine lobster isn’t any different or better than lobster from Massachusetts or Canada or wherever. It’s laughable, and ridiculous, and I won’t belabor the response other than to point at French wine to start the discussion about the effects of geography on flavor.
The second, and frankly more offensive, argument is that “lobster only tastes good because you cover it in lemon and butter.” Again, absolutely preposterous (you don’t see people doing the same thing with chicken, or steak, or pork chops, or even crawfish, which you’d expect if somehow lemon and butter with the magic elixir). But, it did set me thinking.
Almost every popular lobster application does involve a lot of fat: bisque; ravioli; lobster rolls; lobster Newberg; and, of course, that most accursed staple of mediocrity, lobster mac ‘n’ cheese.
But lobster is so much more than that, so much deeper and more complex. And, let’s be real, if you’re murdering a live animal, you kinda owe it to the critter to not be a jerk about how you prepare it.
And so, along this rambling train of thought, I arrived at this concept. A lobster application that makes use of leftovers, has nothing to do with fat or cream, but highlights all of the things that make lobster great. Plus, after a big nighttime lobster boil, sometimes a person needs a little… repast.
Step one: make some dashi. There have been entire books written about the traditional and best methods for making dashi; brewing “first dashi” versus “second dashi,” etc. All of that is worthwhile knowledge, but I confess I’m after a very specific culinary product here that doesn’t have a whole lot to do with tradition or ritual.
These are your only two ingredients (plus water). On the right, kombu. A dried seaweed (kelp, really, if we’re being picky) that is borderline magical in its properties (more on that shortly). On the left, katsuobushi flakes, which are a dried, smoked, shaved fish product (stick with me here). Both of these are readily available on the internet, and I’m pleased to report, keep well into the apocalypse.
Anyway, the goal here to make a kind of “tea” with the kombu, then finish it with the katsuobushi, and strain the whole thing. It’s easy.
Get your kombu in a big pot of cold water, and put the heat to it:
Don’t wander off; you want to keep an eye on this until it’s JUST about to boil, then kill the heat, cover, and let it sit for ten (10) minutes. It’ll look a lot different:
So… what’s up with the kombu? Why seaweed? Well, the science is boring, but the bottom line is this stuff is loaded with a compound that is basically flavor steroids. If you’ve never made dashi before, give it a taste before you add the katsuobushi to see what I’m talking about. It’s really hard to describe, but immediately recognizable.
At this point, pull the kombu and set aside (you can eat it if you want, or put it in your compost or whatever). Sprinkle in your katsuobushi flakes (I’m using about 40 grams here, but you can eyeball it), cover, and let stand for another ten minutes.
At the end of all that, strain it and you’ve got something that looks like this:
This stuff is essentially supernatural, has a million uses, and keeps in the freezer for eternity.
Step two: katsuobushi salt. This part is really easy, and I also keep this stuff on hand at all times. Weigh out equal parts kosher salt and katsuobushi flakes, then grind them together in a mortar and pestle:
All of this will reduce down when ground to a shockingly small volume:
You’ll probably have to work in batches, unless you have a gigantic mortar and pestle, but it all grinds down to this:
Step three: the noodles. Can you make your own from scratch? Absolutely. Is it worth it? Eh…. not really. Look, you should definitely try it once, but in my mind a lot of the appeal of ramen is the convenience. These things we’ve made in steps 1 and 2 are big-batch pantry and freezer staples, available at a moment’s notice. And so are these:
Just make sure you banish that seasoning packet to the shadow realm.
Anyway, get your dashi up to boiling, season to taste with soy sauce and the katsuobushi salt, then cook these for five (5) to seven (7) minutes, and evacuate to waiting bowls:
Step four: the eggs. This part is optional, though I personally don’t think a bowl of ramen is complete without a half-cooked egg. How do I do mine? We’ll, I’m about five hundred (500) feet above sea level, and I steam my eggs. At this altitude, they take exactly five (5) minutes. They go straight from the fridge into the steamer, then into an ice bath to shock:
Step five: serve it all up. Garnish your noodles with some green onion and leftover lobster.
Add the broth, then peel and slice the eggs. Eat while incredibly hot. Contemplate life. Ruminate on all of the lobster essence. Take to the streets, and spread the word.