Sunday, June 21, 2009

Lobster Mac & Cheese

When it comes to American comfort foods, the humble macaroni and cheese would be in anyone's top 5 list. A sure-fire crowd-pleaser any time you serve it, mac & cheese provides a subtle yet satisfying hint of one's childhood without being passe. Kraft Foods has marketed its Kraft Mac 'n Cheese product for years and is one of the most popular dinner-in-a-box items on the market today. Just recently, Kraft updated this product line with the Kraft Easy Mac, a microwaveable application so easy (just add water and pop it into the microwave) that a child can prepare it (or so says the Kraft marketing machine).

Nowadays, it may be convenient for busy parents to just pop one of those ubiquitous blue Kraft boxes open but for the generations of Moms before us, comfort foods should be lovingly prepared and no expense should be spared. That's why I've come up with my own version of mac & cheese, kicked up a notch (or two)! As a fair warning, this dish is not for people looking to eat healthily or lose weight. Let's face it, lobster, butter and cheese are not exactly ingredients one would find on the typical weight-loss program. Oh and let's not forget the yummy bacon as well!

So let's start with the lobster (of course). Boil the lobster for 15 - 20 minutes in a pot that is big enough to immerse the entire crustacean in water. This cooking time is for a regular 1.25 lb lobster. As the weight goes up, so must the cooking time. Typically, one adds another 10 minutes of boiling time for every extra pound. Once the lobster is cooked, cool it down in ice water for a few minutes and start shucking. To duplicate the above presentation that I did, save the lobster's tail shell by first, removing the body from the tail. Now, with a sharp knife, cut the tail down the middle but not all the way through to the bottom layer of the shell. Place the cut tail in the palm of your hand and squeeze. You'll hear a cracking sound and you can now pry the tail meat whole from its casing. Wash the shell thoroughly and save it for plating.

Next, boil a box of elbow macaroni pasta until al dente. Remember to wait for the water (salted) to come to a boil before adding the macaroni. Keep stirring frequently and check for doneness. The macaroni should not be too soft and must retain a little bit of bite to it. Remember, the macaroni would still need to go into the oven for baking later on.

Now let's work on the cheese sauce, which starts with the classical French bechamel sauce. Using the same amount of butter and flour (2 tablespoons with 2 tablespoons), create a roux (a thickening agent). On low heat, melt the butter and then add the flour. Cook for a couple of minutes (make sure that the roux does not turn brown) and then add 2 cups of either milk or light cream. Bring the milk up to temperature (not boiling) and add your cheese. I use shredded white cheddar cheese but you can mix it up with other cheeses as well. If your sauce is too thick, add more milk and continue cooking (on low heat) until the cheese thoroughly melts. Taste the sauce and season appropriately with salt and pepper. As a warning, do not leave your cheese sauce for more than a minute on the stove as it would burn quickly on the bottom of your pot. Keep the heat low and keep stirring.

While the sauce is working, bake up a few slices of bacon and ground them up when they become crispy. Also, ground up some Ritz cracker together with panko crumbs to make the crumb topping for your mac & cheese. Add some melted butter to the crumb combination and season with salt and pepper. When the sauce is done, fold it into the cooked macaroni pasta. For some texture and color, I also added green peas together with the cut lobster meat as well. Thoroughly mix everything well and transfer to a baking pan. Top it with the crumbs and bake it at 350 degree F until the crumbs turn golden brown.

For the presentation, scoop the finished mac and cheese into the cavity of the lobster tail and garnish with bacon bits and the lobster's claw meat. If you have parsley, you can chop it up and use it for garnish as well.

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