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Lobster in Orzo “Risotto”
By Charlie Burke

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Live lobster, properly boiled or steamed, is close to a perfect meal and is eaten
locally unadorned or with only melted butter and, perhaps, a squeeze of lemon.
Less is certainly more, while preparations with heavy sauces serve only to
obscure the sweet flavor of the lobster. Shelling the lobster at the table is best
done outside on a picnic table or at informal meals inside when a few pieces of
flying shell and errant juices can be taken in stride. When taken out of the shell
before a more formal dinner the lobster meat can cool rapidly, so it’s best if it is
slightly under cooked and reheated immediately before serving, as is done in
our lobster in tomato
tarragon sauce and in this recipe.

I cooked our first lobster of the season last week and decided to serve it out of
the shell and reheated in a lightly flavored orzo “risotto”. The term risotto refers
to the cooking of Italian short grain starchy rice, such as Arborio, in a traditional
recipe. Onion is sautéed in olive oil or butter and the rice is added and stirred
until coated with the fat. Wine is added and reduced, and then the rice is cooked
while stock is gradually added until the rice reaches its proper consistency.

Risotto is nearly as common as pasta in areas of northern Italy, and lately the
same technique has been used with grains or pasta. Using flavored stock or
broth, which is added only as the previous volume is absorbed, concentrates
flavor in the rice, grain or pasta, and the preservation of starch results in a rich,
creamy consistency.

Orzo, rice-like pasta, lends itself well to the risotto technique which in this
recipe permits the addition of subtle flavors compatible with lobster. The anis
flavor of chervil, tarragon and fennel matches nicely with the lobster, and any of
these in small amounts will provide a nice background flavor. The richness of
the lobster and the pasta needs some acidity, here provided by the white wine
and tomato paste in the “risotto”. The use of a small amount of Pernod (anise
flavored liqueur from France) complements the flavor of fennel seed in the orzo.

Two servings:

2 1 ¼ –1 ½  pound live New England lobsters
Sea or kosher salt.

To boil, fill a large pot 2/3-3/4 full with water, adding at least 1 tablespoon of
salt for each quart of water. Bring to a rolling boil and cook for 6-7 minutes for 1
¼ pound or 8-9 minutes for 1 ½ pound lobster (if eating out of the shell, the
cooking times would be 7-8 minutes and 9-10minutes, respectively). To steam
the lobsters, place 2-3 inches of salted water in a pot, place rack in the pot and
bring water to a boil. Cook 1 ¼ pound lobster for 8-9 minutes; 1 ½ pound size
takes 9-10 minutes. Again, add 1 – 2 minutes for lobster to be eaten out of the
shell. Cooking times start when the water returns to a boil or the steaming pot is
full of steam.

When lobsters have cooled, remove meat from the shell. Leave claws whole and
peel top of tail, removing the intestinal vein. Leave tail whole. Cover meat and
set aside. (Shells make an excellent stock: cover with water, add onion, celery,
carrot, pepper corns and a bay leaf and boil for one hour. When boiled, strain
and use stock as a base for fish soups or sauces. It can be frozen for a couple of
months.)

Orzo “Risotto:
1 cup orzo or whole wheat orzo
½ medium onion, diced
2 tablespoons olive oil or butter
1 quart warm mild chicken, fish or lobster stock (you will use approximately 2
½-3 cups)
¼ cup Pernod or other anise flavored liqueur (optional)
½ cup dry white wine
Scant 1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 ½ teaspoons fennel seeds
1 pinch saffron soaked in ¼ cup warm water (optional)
Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Heat a wide heavy bottomed pot or sauté pan over medium heat. When hot,
add olive oil and tilt to cover the bottom. Add onions and sauté, stirring until
opaque; do not brown. Add orzo and cook for 2 minutes, stirring until all are
nicely coated with the olive oil. Add Pernod, if using, and boil until nearly
evaporated. Add wine, turn heat to medium high and cook, stirring until wine is
absorbed and boiled off. Add 1 cup of stock, along with fennel seeds and tomato
paste, and cook, stirring until stock is absorbed. Add more stock, 3/4 cup at a
time as each is absorbed, until orzo is “al dente”, meaning it is cooked but still
has a small amount or resistance. Cooking time will be 8-10 minutes. Add salt
and pepper to taste

Place lobster meat into orzo and place pan over low heat. Cook only until
lobster is re warmed.

To serve, remove claws and tail of each lobster and place on a warmed plate.
Mix in the remainder of meat with the orzo and place onto plates separate from
the larger pieces. I served this with the first of our asparagus which was simply
tossed with olive oil and a tablespoon of lemon juice and seared over high heat
in a covered sauté pan until just crunchy tender. The lemon juice caramelized
slightly to add flavor the asparagus.

For casual meals, “lobster in the rough”, served hot and shelled at the table,
with steamed clams, corn on the cob and potato salad will always be the
quintessential New England lobster experience, but for more formal
entertaining, guests appreciate not having to deal with the shelling. This
preparation adds a little richness and a slight pleasant taste of anise, while
respecting the sweet salty taste of the sea in the fresh, tender lobster. The risotto
preparation is quick and easy, taking little time. The lobster can be prepared a
day ahead and brought to room temperature an hour of so before dinner,
making this ideal for entertaining.

About the author: An organic farmer and avid cook, writer Charlie Burke is the vice
president of the
New Hampshire Farmer's Market Association, president of the NH Farm
to Restaurant Connection and helps run the Sanbornton (NH) Farmers' Market.  Along
with his wife, Joanne, Charlie grows certified organic herbs, greens and berries at Weather
Hill Farm in Sanbornton, NH.  
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