This lobster thermidor is a classic dish and an unbeatable one. One good-sized lobster serves two people to make one of the finest special-occasion dishes I can think of. Ideally, the lobster flesh, smothered in the finished sauce, is piled back into the two half shells and finished under the broiler. If you should happen to make a mess of splitting the lobster (I often do) and thereby spoil the shell, you can pile the lobster thermidor filling into one or two individual ovenproof dishes. It may look slightly less spectacular, but it will taste every bit as good. Most recipes stipulate heavy cream for the sauce, but I find it almost too rich, so I prefer to use béchamel sauce.–Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall
LC Lobstah-Polooza Note
Can’t get enough lobster recipes? Try Steamed Lobster with Drawn Butter, Steamed Lobster and Lobster Bisque, and Cedar-Planked Lobster Tails with Corn-Smoked Chile Relish.
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Kill your lobster by the officially sanctioned method of putting it in the freezer for about two hours to reduce it to a torpid state, then put it straight into a large pan of rapidly boiling water (salt water in the ratio of 2 tablespoons of salt per 4 cups water). Cooking times are 12 minutes for a minimum-size lobster of 1 pound, 15 minutes for anything up to 1 1/2 pounds, and an extra 5 minutes for every pound after that. Then let cool.
Twist off the claws, crack them with a hammer or nutcracker, and remove all the meat. Set this aside. The body of the lobster should be split lengthwise along the lateral line with a large, heavy, and very sharp knife. This is most easily done if you lay the lobster on its back on a large wooden board, press the point of the knife into the tip of the tail, and bring the knife down the length of the lobster, bisecting it evenly between the two sets of legs—do this carefully, so as not to damage the shell. Once you are through the flesh to the shell at the back of the lobster, press hard on the knife with your free hand to cut through the shell. You may want to use a pair of kitchen scissors to snip through any bits of shell that are not quite cut through.
Carefully remove the tail meat from each half of the lobster, chop coarsely, and add to the claw meat. Scrape out any brown meat from the head, along with any pink coral, and add that to the white meat from the claws and tail. Remove the nasty bits and discard. You should be left with 2 empty shell halves, with plenty of space in the head and tail cavities to replace the finished meat.
In a frying pan, cook the shallots in the butter over medium heat until soft and lightly browned. Add the white wine and simmer until reduced to a scant tablespoon of liquid. Stir in the béchamel sauce and the cream, if using, plus the mustard and tarragon, and allow to bubble in the pan for just a minute. Remove from the heat and stir in three-quarters of the cheese and the cayenne pepper. Then mix in all the meat from the lobster until it is well coated in the thermidor sauce. Season to taste with salt and black pepper.
Pile the meat back in the shell, sprinkle over the remaining cheese, and place under a hot broiler for 5 to 10 minutes, until brown and bubbling. Serve at once.
Lobster Thermidor Recipe © 2008 Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. Photo © 2008 Simon Wheeler. All rights reserved. All materials used with permission.