Under the Sea: The Grand Birthday Lobster Boil

By Michael Araj

It was my birthday last week, and my parents surprised me with a cooler of live lobsters. Those who know me know that I try to cook with new ingredients often (read: at least weekly) so I can learn about new ingredients and methods of cooking (and just in case I ever make it onto Chopped on Food Network). Despite this, I had difficulty a month back finding anywhere in my vicinity that sold live lobsters, but my parents came to the rescue in a big way.

I opted to make a Lobster Boil as I had been informed we would be having company over, and the recipe below follows. Few meals are as inclusive as a seafood boil – friends and family huddled over a mass of shared, delicious food can be the ultimate comfort food experience.

I then used the shells to make a lobster stock for Jambalaya, and that recipe will be posted later on separately. I did also take one Lobster and make a Lobster Curry, and I’ll share that recipe as well. I also apologize for the lack of photos – this was not originally intended to be on the blog, but enough people have expressed interest in how to do it that thought I would share!

Before we get started though, I want to say hello and thank you to our new followers. We’re happy to have you here!

So here where the lobsters that starred in the show:

Pictured here: Loki, Thor, Paul, and Dean, chilling on some ice and getting some rest.

Later on, we grabbed the pot and started pouring the liquids and first ingredients:

Add the onions, garlic, potatoes and the rest of the ingredients from Step 1 to the pot.

Next came the corn:

Due to the unseasonably hot weather here, we still have corn available!

Then, it was time for the seafood:

The heat started to open the mussels fairly quickly.

Let the feasting begin!

LOBSTER BOIL

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 medium onions, quartered
  • 1 head of garlic – all cloves peeled and crushed (not chopped)
  • 8 Yukon Gold Potatoes, halved
  • 3 Thai chilis, sliced
  • 3 Mexican Style Beers of your choice (If you don’t want to use alcohol, you can substitute seafood stock).
  • 2 links of Turkey Sausage (We had some dietary restrictions with our company, but you could easily substitute Andouille or Kielbasa sausages, and if you eat pork, would recommend doing so). Cut these into about 1.5 inch pieces.
  • 4 ears of corn, husked and cut into 3 pieces of each for a total of 12 small cobs.
  • 5 live medium lobsters (about 1-1.5 pounds each)
  • 4 tbsp cumin
  • 2 tbsp toasted coriander seeds
  • 4 tbsp chili powder
  • 2 tbsp salt
  • 2 tbsp black pepper
  • 1 tbsp cayenne pepper
  • 2 pounds of mussels, scrubbed and cleaned
  • 2 pounds of shrimp, under 16, cleaned and deveined (alternatively, use frozen but make sure that they are cleaned and deveined as well)
  • 3 tbsp cilantro, cleaned and chopped
  • Limes

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Place the onions, garlic, potatoes, chili peppers, and sausages in a large pot. Place 4 cups of water and both beers on top.
  2. Place pot on medium high heat to bring to a boil. Once it reaches a boil, reduce to a simmer. Add the corn. Cover pot and cook for about 15 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, in a bowl, mix the cumin, chili powder, salt, black pepper and cayenne pepper together. You may want to make a double batch so you can sprinkle the mixture on top of the boil later.
  4. After 15 minutes has elapsed, add half the spice mixture over the ingredients already in the pot, then add the lobsters. Cooking time for lobsters will vary. We followed these guidelines to make sure that we treated the lobsters humanely before putting them in the pot: https://www.thespruceeats.com/ways-to-kill-a-lobster-1808804.
  5. After you add the lobsters, cover the pot. For the lobsters, you will need about 20 minutes for the first pound, and about 7 minutes per pound after. So after 20 minutes, add the mussels and shrimp and cover the pot again. Add the rest of the spice mixture. The liquid should be simmering and steaming during all of this.
  6. Cook for about 7-10 more minutes depending on size of lobsters and check on pot. Mussels should be open at this point (discard and do not eat any unopened mussels) and shrimp should be pink and opaque.
  7. Strain the pot and make sure to reserve the broth. Lay out the seafood wonders onto prepared newspaper or parchment paper. Garnish with chopped cilantro, more of the spice mixture, and lime wedges. Serve immediately.

A Leeked Secret: Potato and Leek Soup

By Michael Araj

Sometimes a soul just needs a hearty soup to make it warmed. While better served in the winter, this soup can also be served chilled, and, because of the lack of cream, tends to be lighter than a typical potato soup would be. The leeks provide a subtle garlic-like note that plays well with the starchiness of the potatoes. Quick, easy to make, and delicious – there’s no bad time to sit down to a bowl of this.

We started out going through what we had on hand – some fingerling potatoes, a leek, freshly made vegetable stock, and thus the soup was born. We used fingerlings because that’s what we had, but we would have used Yukon golds had they been on hand instead. You can substitute the 20 fingerling potatoes for 2-3 large Yukon Golds.

Always get together your ingredients beforehand. The fancy term for this is mise en place (French for “everything in its place”), but it is useful to cook without scrambling for your ingredients while cooking.

We grabbed our Dutch oven because it makes for more even cooking, and I find soups work out better in here. Then cause those leeks to jump (i.e. sautee) before adding the garlic until fragrant. Yes, that’s a lot of garlic. We love garlic, call it an occupational hazard of having Middle Eastern parents. Then add the potatoes.

This will help bring out some of the natural flavors of all the ingredients and give them some dimension before we blend them into the soup.

Next, add the vegetable stock. Ours was homemade with mushroom stems and the tops of the leeks, but you can use whatever stock you prefer. If going with a store bought stock, just try to make sure it is as low in sodium as possible so that you have maximized control over the saltiness of the dish.

Simmer, but do not boil so that flavors develop and nothing overcooks.

Bring the stock to a simmer before reducing it to a simmer for approximately 20 minutes, or until the potatoes are fork tender. Then, using an immersion blender, blend all of the ingredients – the thin skins of the potatoes will help thicken the soup. Simmer the blended ingredients for 5-10 more minutes and adjust seasonings to taste.

All that’s left now is to pour some in a bowl, top with some chives for garnish and flavor, and sit down to a hearty meal. This goes well with a light salad or some bread to use as sop (I’m a Southerner through and through).

Leek and Potato Soup

Ingredients:

  • 20 fingerling potatoes, diced (or 2-3 large Yukon gold potatoes, diced)
  • 5 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 leeks, trimmed and sliced into half moons (keep the tops of the leek for stock)
  • 1 quart stock of choice (we used homemade vegetable – recipe follows)
  • Salt and pepper
  • Chives (optional)

Directions:

  1. Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Once hot, add the onions, sweating them by stirring constantly so they do not caramelize. Add a pinch of salt – this will help draw out the moisture to soften the onions. Approximately 5-6 minutes.
  2. Add the garlic, cooking another 30-60 seconds until fragrant.
  3. Add the potatoes, getting a sear on them. Continue to cook, stirring, for 10-15 minutes. Add a pinch of pepper.
  4. Add the stock, then bring it to a boil before reducing to a simmer. Simmer for 20-25 minutes until the potatoes are fork tender.
  5. Using an immersion blender, blend the ingredients directly in the pot. If you do not have an immersion blender, you can use a regular blender, but work in batches, then return the soup to the pot after completely blended.
  6. Continue to cook the blended soup for 5-10 more minutes, adjusting salt and pepper to taste.
  7. Serve immediately with garnished chives on top (optional).

Vegetable Stock

  1. Mix in 2 quarts of water into a large pot. Add the stems from a pound of mushrooms and the tops of any of the leeks. You can add any vegetable scraps that you have on hand (such as the bottoms of asparagus). This will add a subtle dimension of flavor to your soups. Bring to boil, then reduce to simmer. Simmer until mixture reduces to approximately 1 quart.

First Watch: A Refresher Course in Breakfast

By Michael Araj

In my recent business trip to Omaha, Nebraska, where I previously lived for three years, the changes to the city cannot adequately be enumerated in one post. Omaha, a barren and spread out city eight years ago, has exploded and continued on the culinary journey it had begun when I left it.

Enter: First Watch. A farm to table, breakfast and brunch focused restaurant that puts a healthy spin on some classical dishes, an uphill battle when dealing with southern comfort food like pancakes and biscuits.

For the first day, we had a leisurely breakfast, and the eclectic, modern vibe with current pop music caught my attention first. The place started out leisurely enough, but became more crowded towards the tail end of our meal.

Our very friendly wait staff started us out with hot coffee for me and cold brew for my friend. The coffee tasted well roasted, but the cold brew left much to be desired with an overtly bitter taste. One person opined that it may have been burnt; in the alternative, perhaps the proportions to the water were just off.

While not a great way to start the meal, First Watch soon redeemed itself, and in spectacular fashion. The Farmhouse Skillet Molly had looked amazing and expertly executed; my lemon ricotta pancakes left no complaints. The fluffiness and delicateness of the pancake with the richness of the ricotta proved to be delectable. The homemade lemon curd and fresh strawberries became streams of sunshine in the pillows of delight below, necessitating no syrup (this, too, was expertly provided, warmed up).

I returned two days later to explore the menu further. This time, I opted for one of the juice blends they promote, seasonally named “Summer Blush.” Light, refreshing and crisp, the apple flavor proved to be the main melody in a balanced harmony of watermelon and lemon and a light percussion of mint. It would be difficult to find a complaint with this drink; if it has any faults, it may hint towards being too sweet. However, overall, it is well balanced and the herbal earthiness cuts through the natural sweetness of the fruits perfectly.

I also opted to try two Southern staples: cheesy grits and biscuits and gravy. Don’t order the grits – they are nothing special. Do they taste good? Yes, though slightly bland, they are executed well texture-wise and the butteriness is nice. Save the room for something more special like the bacon, which is singularly excellent.

The biscuits and gravy are a revelation. The use of turkey sausage lightens up this classic dish enough to prevent you from going into an immediate food coma. A Southern grandmother could not make better biscuits. I do not say this lightly being a Southerner, but they are fluffy, buttery and flaky as all good biscuits should be. The lift on the biscuits is just right.

The over medium eggs were ever slightly overcooked, but the main complaint is the presentation of this dish. The biscuits and gravy come in their own vessel, necessitating lifting the eggs into the vessel (because what’s better than a runny yolk adding another dimension to your biscuits and gravy?). The potato hash that came on the side came also expertly cooked with the crispy exterior masking tender bites of love.

Overall, this is a great place for breakfast or brunch in Omaha, living up to the high standards set by Dixie Quicks before it. Next time I return to Omaha, this will certainly be on the short list for revisits.