On top of being up to my eyeballs in robots and their accompanying financial strain, my spring semester is always heavy. Ergo, it’s not unusual for me to run on about four hours of sleep and copious amounts of coffee and water. Truth be told, this is the time of year that I look forward to teaching my night classes because they give me nonrobotics things to worry about, and these two in particular are near and dear to my heart: foods of the Americas, and French cuisine.
I used to teach these classes by the book, but tweaked them to make more sense. My goal is to make sure that in a very short six-week class, at one night per week, I share the most recognizable foods of the region in question; cassoulet and sauce perigeuex from Southwest France, bouillabaise of Provence, feijoada of Brazil, chimichurri of Argentina, et al. At the end of the day, nodding knowledge will go a long way in their repertoire and development as culinarians.
But, sometimes I just want to cook something new. After all, I like learning, and this is where our story begins; butter-poached lobster tails.
There is something so ethereal and decadent about butter-poached lobster. Already a treat in and of itself, the lobster is elevated to entirely new levels of arterial-blocking madness when slowly cooked in the golden fat of broken cream.
I decided to grab some lobster tails to work into our French class. I’ve butter-poached lobster before, but I wanted to compare the varying temperatures that chefs and cooks, professional and homebound alike, are claiming to be “perfect.” As I found out, beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder; or in this case, their taste buds.
After lecture, I fired up the sous vide water bath and got to work. Whole butter, tarragon, black truffle peelings, salt, pepper and lemon were gathered and the tails peeled. I divided the lobster between three bags to test the following temperature and time scenarios:
• 139 F / 15 minutes – Thomas Keller of French Laundry fame
• 139 F / 13 minutes – another chef who noted that Keller’s time yielded a rubbery lobster tail
• 139 F / 18 minutes – my hunch that I like my lobster cooked-through
As the sealed bags went in the water, I could already tell that they were having a Pavlovian effect on the students, and it was hard to wait. It wasn’t long until the first experiment came out.
Sampling the first tail at 13 minutes, it was reminiscent of warm lobster sushi. No one was a fan. The second tail, the Keller option, was better, but in the thicker parts of the tail, there were some straggling lumps of undercooked shellfish. Again, not my favorite.
However, said Baby Bear, the third one was absolutely perfect. There was none of the bite or “rubbery” nuances that I had read about. The butter, tarragon and truffles lifted the tails to a whole new level, and I realized that this is going to be a permanent installation for me. It was a good day to play around with food science.
And as I wrap things up down here, I have a feeling that it will be a good weekend to play around with science at the University of Maryland. Hey, they don’t call the “The Chef Roboticist (Core 77 Magazine)” for nothing!
Serves 4 (or me, on a good day)
4, 4-ounce lobster tails
1/2 pound Whole, unsalted butter
2 tsp. Shaved black truffles or peelings
3 full fronds of tarragon
juice and zest of one lemon
Salt and Pepper, to taste
1. Set a water bath with an immersion circulator (Anova and ChefSteps Joule are both good home-cook options) to 139 F / 59 C
2. Remove the shells from the lobster tails and devein them, cleaning them well
3. Cut butter into chunks, and place all ingredients in a vacuum bag or a Ziploc bag
4. If you are using a home-style vacuum sealer, seal the bag on the dry setting. If you are using a Ziploc, close the bag except for a small part at the end. When you submerge the bag in the water, the pressure will push the air out. When you get to the top, zip the bag closed before any water gets in the bag
5. Ensuring that the water is at temperature (139 F), place the bag in the water and time it for 18 minutes.
6. Cold/cool lobster tails will lower the water bath temperature temporarily. Wait for the temperature to reach 139 F before setting the timer
7. At 18 minutes, remove bag from water and either chill to serve later, or cut them out of the bag
8. Make sure that you keep the butter, so that you can serve it with the lobster