Cooking with a Legend

Or how to poach a Lobster with Clarrisa Dickson Wright

When I was working as a chef for the Tresco Estate everyone discovered we were to be the focus of an episode of ‘Clarissa and the Countryman‘, a series on some of the great landed estates of the English aristocracy. As the island was in winter mode with many of the staff on holiday I was very fortunate to be given the chance to chauffeur the two stars around the island in a golf buggy and help with the final days filming. It was an amazing encounter and Clarissa and Johnny Scott were formidable, fascinating and charming guests.

Fresh Lobster
Fresh Lobster

It was eye-opening to see the work that goes into even the shortest of TV clips and in particular the last shot of the program where Clarissa and Johnny sat in the middle of one of the longest beaches on Tresco, Appletree Bay, and boiled a fresh Scillonian lobster over a fire of roaring driftwood. The camera and operator were placed in a small boat and zoomed in from the sea to film a close up of the chatting stars. All this would be perfectly easy in the height of summer but in March with a blustery sea breeze a little more complicated.

All the necessary ingredients and equipment was procured including two glorious lobsters, a large pan and the one single juicy lemon growing in the world-famous garden. Runners for the program and willing volunteers were drafted in to block off any entrances to the beach, patiently explaining to bird watchers and dog walkers the presence of the film crew. A pit was dug in the sand, and dry wood piled insufficient to heat the large pan of sea water. All very authentic and excellent, apart from the increasingly gusty breeze. Despite the best efforts of former scouts, producers, locals, and Uncle Tom Cobbley the fire would not take and the light was dying as the sun set over the next island. There was only one solution dear reader.

A quick trip to the island store, known as the Harrods of the Islands, an armful of firelighters later the fire was roaring ( the lighter fuel helped too ). The pan was filled with boiling water from the kitchen at The New Inn and a backup, precooked lobster dropped in the now steaming pan. The last touch to ensure a brilliant shot of flames licking up the side of the pan, involved yours truly laid in the sand, arms outstretched waterproof jacket acting as a windbreak. A bright pink lobster was duly removed from the boiling water and cut open on the beach. The result, a great piece of film. I will always cherish the memories of this day.

Whole cooked Lobster
Freshly cooked Lobster

I am at heart a big fan of enjoying the sweet delicate flavour of lobster as unadorned as possible and simply poached and served with a little melted butter and lemon. This, however, is not a simple matter, the purist would have you boil the lobster in seawater and this is not always easy or even safe. The alternative is fresh water with added sea salt ( add thirty grammes of natural sea salt per litre of water ).

My own choice is in a light court-bullion which is an ideal cooking medium for poaching fish, seafood, and chicken. I have adopted my recipe from Richard Onley’s, The French Menu Cookbook, a recently reprinted classic and thoroughly good read. Today’s top tip is when poaching lobsters place them in your freezer ten minutes prior to cooking, this will sedate the lobsters sufficiently to allow you to easily drop them in your boiling pan without the lobsters thrashing about and splashing you with scalding hot liquid.

Fruits de Mare
Fruits de Mare with cooked Lobster

To poach 1 or 2 1 ½ lb Lobsters or a whole poached Salmon

4 litres of freshly drawn cold Water

350 ml quality White Wine

3 large Shallots, peeled and chopped

4 sticks of Celery, washed and chopped

2 medium Carrots, peeled and chopped

1 Leek, thoroughly washed and sliced

½ bulb of Fennel, washed and sliced

1 Bay Leaf

1 sprig fresh Thyme

1 sprig Tarragon

8 fresh Parsley stems

½ teaspoon Black Peppercorns, crushed

1 fresh Lemon, halved

Place in a very large pan, cover and bring to the boil. Add the lobsters and bring back to the boil and simmer for eight to ten minutes. Using a spider remove the lobsters and plunge in lots of iced water to arrest any further cooking.

For a medium poached salmon, place the washed salmon in a fish kettle or deep tray on a triple folded piece of foil. This will allow you to lift the cooked salmon out later. Cover with cold court bullion and a tight-fitting lid. Bring to the boil, simmer for four minutes and remove from heat. Leave in cooking liquor until total cold. Lift out and drain.

The French Menu Cookbook

Richard Olney

Random House

ISBN 978-1-60774-002-5

Allergens in this recipe are;

Celery   Crab

Please see the Allergens Page

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