Blue Moons

The problem, or one of them, with the modern western diet is that little we eat is a true treat. We can, with a few exceptions, get anything we want at any time of year. Almost nothing is out of reach, physically or financially. Theoretically we could, and I know people who do, eat at fine dinning restaurants most nights of the week. For many of the rest of us, lunch is take-away, and breakfast comes in a grease-spotted paper bag. We're spoilt for choice; every continent and every cuisine a phone call away.

It's difficult, in the face of this limitless choice, to know just what is a treat any more. Only a couple of generations ago (ask your grandparents) chicken was a special meat, a celebratory roast not unlike a ham or turkey; I don't need to tell you what it has become. Even those aforementioned meats, that venerable bird and sublime leg, long the archetypal symbols of a feast, have become weekly dinner fare.

How then, do we mark a special occasion with food when food is no longer special? What's left? Extreme gluttony? Exotic foodstuffs? What grand meal do we roll out when the distant relations converge? What feast can match the festive mood? What shall we carve? What to anticipate? What, ever again, will sit us back in our seats, bellies patted, heads slowly shaking, lolling smiles, glassy eyes, all at the pure joy of a true treat of a meal?

I don't really have answers.

I have, however, a small suggestion. Rather, a single instance wherein I've found a way to keep at least one dish special. It's something of a feat, really, considering how much I enjoy it, but I manage to eat this dish no more than once a year, and that is an unshakable rule. The ingredients are somewhat extravagant; the final result is rich, opulent even. It is the dinner my wife and I ate the evening I proposed and, as tradition dictates, we roll it out nearly every year for our anniversary. It is something of a old-school French dish and is admittedly more than a bit passé. However it combines some of the most delicious flavors in the known universe – lobster, chervil, mustard, brandy, cream – all which make Lobster Thermidor amazing every time.

This is a special meal. Keep it that way.

Yabbie Thermidor

Right, I know I said lobster above, but this year I've tried something a bit different. A fair bit of this has to do with portion control. The lobsters which are generally available at Sydney's Fish Markets are prehistoric in nature. All the normal ones go to restaurants. The remainder are half-ton, walking barnacles, which might easily win a head-on with a medium yacht. Manhandling one of these giants back to your home would be much easier with a small team of circus animal handlers. Don't even get me started with the the size of the vessel in which these monsters of the deep must be cooked.

As an alternative, this year I chose yabbies - crayfish, crawfish, or crawdads to those of you outside of Australia. Long ago, I used to catch these little freshwater crustaceans in the lakes and rivers where I grew up in Wyoming. If only someone had told me they were edible. Alas.

Here in OZ they are farmed commercially and the most widely available variety has a lovely turquoise shell which, like most crustacea, turns bright red upon cooking. I know plenty of people who disagree, but I rate the meat of a yabbie as far superior to that of a lobster. They are, of course, much smaller than their sea-faring cousins, but this makes for a more sensibly-sized meal.

6 large yabbies, live
1 tbsp clarified butter
30 ml brandy
60 ml cream
2 tsp dijon mustard
2 tsp chopped chervil
1 tbsp cream
1 egg yolk

Put the yabbies in the freezer for 20-30 minutes. This puts them to sleep. Using a large, heavy knife, cut each yabbie in half down the length of it's body. Start at the head end and cut quickly. Clean the “mustard,” that is the yellow paste in the head cavity, by rinsing under cold water. Alternately you can get your fishmonger to do all this for you, but all crustacea have a very short shelf life once they are killed, so don't allow much time between the fish market and cooking.

Melt the clarified butter in a large frying pan on medium-high heat. When the butter is hot, cook the yabbies, flesh-side down, until the meat begins to color. Flip them and cook the shell side until they turn red. Remove them from the pan. Reduce the heat to low and add the brandy. Ignite the brandy and allow the alcohol to burn off.

Mix the 60 ml cream and the dijon together and then add them to the pan. Remove from heat and then add the chervil.

Meanwhile, pick the meat from the yabbie tails and claws. Try to keep the meat in large chunks.

Whisk together the 1 tbsp cream and egg yolk until they are fluffy. Stir this into the warm mixture in the pan.

Divide the meat between two bowls. Pour the cream mixture over and grill (broil) until brown and bubbly. Serve immediately, preferably by candlelight.


Chrissy said...

OMG, I remember having Lobster Thermidor in a chi-chi restaurant in San was heaven... That is definitely one dish that is saved for that special occasion...That blue creature is adorable ....

screwdestiny said...

So, I actually really want to attempt this recipe because I live in Wyoming and can get those for free!

Renée T. Bouchard said...

Lobster Thermidore will always be a "special occasion" meal to me. I've eaten it once and not since. I admit, I'm a tad intimidated by the idea of cooking it myself, but your post has given me courage. And that picure of the blue yabbie (Sp? yabby?)is priceless.


Stark said...

Oh god I love crawdads. I called them popcorn lobster when I was a kid. I'm definitely going to try this recipe.

Heiko said...

You are so right about foods that use to be special having become every day fare. We've gone back to living off the land and by the seasons. My greatest treat is my first plate of broad beans as the first new veg of the season. As for meat... Can't afford it any more, but I hardly miss it.

Jerad said...

Stark- "popcorn lobster" is awesome. This is what I'm calling yabbies from now on.

Renée- "yabby" is probably correct, but I've seen both that and "yabbie" in print Down Under, so I'm sticking with it. Also, these guys are delicious. If the recipe intimidates you, try boiling a few for about 2 min, removing the meat from the tails, tossing that with some butter and chopped garlic in a pan, adding a splash of white wine, and serving on some linguine. Yum. In fact, you can substitute these tasty little suckers in nearly any lobster recipe. Obviously adjust for quantity. Try splitting the top half of the raw tails, brushing them with chili and butter, and cooking them on the bbq. Giddyup.

screwdestiny- A tip for collecting and eating crawdads (or, rather, popcorn lobster) from the wild: they will need more cleaning than the farmed variety. When you split them in half, you will notice a dark track down the upper portion of the length of the tail. Remove this and proceed as per the recipe. Also, in which far-flung corner (and every bit is far-flung) of Wyoming do you reside? Just curious.

Chrissy- It is adorable. However, it is also really bloody tasty. The real dilemma for this attractive little crustacean is that "delicious" is an evolutionary disadvantage, while "cute" is of no advantage at all.

mike@scallopsandpancetta said...

Great post, I love your writing style and some beautiful photos. Delicious recipe too - I've never tried Lobster Thermidor before (cooking or eating), but it does seem relatively straightforward; I'll definitely give Yabbie Thermidor a go for my next dinner party!

Melanie said...

Oh cute - the blue colour makes him look like a disney version of a crayfish. Coming from South Africa - where these are a MAJOR delicacy, - crayfish would definitely be on my deathrow meal menu.

screwdestiny said...

Thanks for the tip! I live in Evanston, just an 80 minute drive away from Salt Lake City. :)

Closet Writer said...

I so look forward to your blog.

auntykaryn said...

I can't say that I have ever had Lobster Thermidore. It looks relatively easy to make, and I am a pro at following instructions. Is this recipe good with other types of seafood as well??? I'm thinking scallops may be insanely delicious in this.

louisebah said...

Avatar yabbie! so cool! I'm not too crazy about lobsters (or yabbies) but you've managed to make them look so good!! yumm :)

David Hughes said...

Here in the UK our native white clawed crayfish are struggling to survive against non-native signal crayfish. So we're encouraged to catch the signals if we see any although I must admit I've tended to just BBQ them in the past. I can feel a trip to our local river coming on!

Taylor said...

I love the first picture of the lobster you have! This looks really tasty

The Food Addicts said...

That first picture is amazing. It looks so unreal because of the blue color.

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