When this festive time of year rolls around, it’s time to pull out all the stops to create a symphony of tastes on the plate. Look no further: here is the winning combination– fragrant vanilla bean and luxurious lobster united by good black tea (my pick is Yunnan Gold for which there are many online and bricks and mortar sources). As a sumptuous main dish on a sparkling holiday buffet, this melding of the crustacean’s richness underpinned by the round mellow taste of vanilla is given a slightly smoky and peppery dimension by the brewed tea. After you have procured the best ingredients, the cooking technique is simple.
A bit about the tea: Grown in southwest China, thought to be the birthplace of tea itself, the Yunnan (AKA Dianhong) I use here is marked by an abundance of soft golden tips, yielding a gentle earthy aroma and taste. It blends well with the marine salinity of the lobster and is complexed by the flowery notes in the vanilla, becoming a kind of grace note in the sauce for the lobster.
Here’s how to do it:
Use one 1-1/2 lb live lobster per person and increase the amounts of the ingredients in direct proportion
Brew 1 quart of Yunnan, using 2-3 grams per cup of good quality water brought to the boil and allow to steep for 3-5 minutes (taste during that time to check on the intensity of the brew and then decant, carefully sieving out the tea leaves)
1 large soft, flexible Tahitian vanilla bean (these beans are thick and highly fragrant)
1 c. heavy cream
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Using a small sharp knife, cut the vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape the fragrant vanilla bean seeds into a quart sized pot or saucepan. Add the brewed tea from above and simmer for about 5 minutes or until the liquid is infused with the flavor of vanilla. Pass the mixture through a fine meshed sieve. Return it to a heavy saucepan and add the heavy cream. Boil vigorously to reduce to coating consistency. Be careful not to burn the mixture. Season with salt and pepper to taste, cover the pot tightly and set aside, keeping warm while you cook the lobster as follows. (Do taste the liquid at this point as the lobster imparts some saltiness. Don’t oversalt).
Fill a large pot with water and bring to the boil, allowing 3 quarts of water per 1-1/2 to 2 pounds of lobster. Add sea salt (to taste) to the water. Bring the water to a rolling boil. Add the live lobsters one at a time, and start timing immediately. Do not cover. Allow to cook just under the boil for 11 to 12 minutes. Remove from the heat allow the lobster(s) to stand in the hot water for 5 minutes so that the meat reabsorbs the juices inside the shell. Using tongs, retrieve the lobster(s) from the pot. Using lobster crackers and tongs, remove the lobster meat from its shell (the claws and tail are the most meaty parts, although the walking legs have a bit of meat in them).
Serve the lobster immediately with a sauceboat of the tea and vanilla sauce. You might switch continents of origin and serve this with a nutty brown basmati rice, steamed to perfection.