Steamed Lobster with Herb Sauce and Lobster Bisque

Steamed Lobster with Lobster Bisque

The great classic summer dish of New England, steamed lobster, is found in all the best restaurants as well as in little summer lobster and clam shacks near the ocean. It is usually served with baked potatoes and corn on the cob. We enjoy it often during the summer at restaurants as well as at home.

I’ve created a recipe for steamed lobster that’s easier for guests to eat. I remove the lobster from the shell after steaming the lobster and serve it with a buttery herb sauce and fingerling potatoes that I remember well from my boyhood as “quenelles.” (They’re so named because they have the same shape as a Lyon specialty, pike dumplings, which are called “quenelles.” They are also called “rattes,” after the name for a mouse with a similar shape.) I grow these potatoes in my garden. They’re dense and firm, and they never seem to fall apart when cooked. I serve them boiled with this dish, but they are also great sauteed in butter and oil in a skillet, as my mother used to prepare them right out of the garden, served with an escarole salad loaded with garlic and mustard.

This is an ambitious menu but well worth the effort, especially since much of it can be prepared ahead. I have even steamed the lobsters the night before and kept the meat tightly packed in plastic wrap. The lobster shells are transformed into a rich bisque that also can be made the day before, except for a few last-minute additions.–Jacques Pépin

LC Boy Or Girl? Note

We try not to be partial or sexist in most matters, although we do have respect for what Jacques Pépin has to say about boy versus girl lobsters. Behold, the advice of an expert: “Try to get female lobsters, as they have delicious roe and are usually more tender. Use lobsters weighing 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 pounds, and serve one per every two guests. To tell a male from a female lobster, turn them over. [Editor’s Note: No bashfulness here!] Female lobsters are slightly wider where the tail meets the body, and the last two little appendages are smaller than on the bodies of the males. A fishmonger can show you the difference. If possible, use hard-shell lobsters, which have more meat than soft-shell lobsters.” There you have it.

Steamed Lobster with Herb Sauce and Lobster Bisque

  • Quick Glance
  • 2 H
  • 4 H
  • 6 servings
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  • For the steamed lobster
  • 3 lobsters, about 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 pounds each, preferably hard-shelled
  • 12 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • For the lobster bisque
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 cup each coarsely chopped onion, leek, and celery
  • 4 or 5 garlic cloves, crushed with skin on
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 1 cup tomato juice (or Bloody Mary mix)
  • 1 tablespoon herbes de Provence
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dried tarragon (or large sprig tarragon)
  • Good dash each salt and cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon Cognac
  • For the herb sauce
  • 2 cups reserved lobster broth
  • 1 teaspoon potato starch
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 1 tablespoon each chopped flat-leaf parsley, chives, and tarragon leaves
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon Asian garlic-chili paste (if available)
  • 1 pound fingerling potatoes
  • For the corn
  • 6 ears corn (one per person)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Dash salt and pepper


  • Steam the lobsters
  • 1. Place the lobsters in a nonreactive pan, like stainless steel, and add 4 cups of water. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. It is important to realize that it may take a while, maybe as long as 10 to 15 minutes, for the liquid to come to a boil. If the lobsters are turning red at this point, move them around a little in the pan to get the ones on top into the hot liquid underneath. Boil gently for 1 or 2 minutes, and then remove them from the heat and let cool in the liquid, covered, for about 30 minutes, or until they are cool enough to handle. Reserve 2 cups of the cooking liquid for the herb sauce and the remaining liquid for the bisque.
  • 2. To shell the lobsters, first remove the two claws and the tail from each. A great deal of liquid (about 1 1/2 cups) will come out; reserve this for the bisque. Press on the shell of the tail to crack it, and remove the meat from the shell. The meat should be barely cooked. Split the tail in half lengthwise and remove the vein or intestinal tract.
  • 3. Cover the claws with a kitchen towel and break them with a heavy object—a can, meat pounder, or skillet. (Placing a towel on top keeps the juices from splattering all over.) When the claws are cracked, try to remove the meat in one piece. Remove and discard the piece of cartilage that is inside each claw. The knobby articulation or joint that connects the claw to the body contains the finest meat in the lobster. Crack or cut this area with scissors and remove the meat.
  • 4. In a gratin dish lined with plastic wrap, arrange the meat in per-portion groupings, with half a tail, 1 claw, and some of the pieces from the articulation placed tightly together in one layer in the dish. Cover tightly with the wrap and refrigerate, if preparing the day before.
  • 5. When ready to reheat the lobster, melt the butter and pour it over the lobster meat in the gratin dish. Cover again tightly with plastic wrap, so the lobster pieces are soaked in butter. Warm in a very low (130°F to 160°F / 54°C to 71°C) oven. The lobster should reheat slowly so it can be served warm and remain very tender. If reheated in hot liquid or in too hot an oven, the meat tends to seize and toughen, so it is important to reheat it slowly and in butter, which will be used to make the herb butter sauce at serving time.
  • Make the lobster bisque
  • 6. Discard all the shells except the lobster bodies, where all the appendages are attached. Cut the bodies into four or five pieces each, and place them in one layer in a large saucepan with the olive oil. Cook for 7 or 8 minutes, until the moisture has evaporated and the bodies start to brown. There will be a wonderful aroma from the browning.
  • 7. Cook for 12 to 15 minutes for the pieces to brown properly, and then add the chopped onion, leek, celery, and garlic cloves. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes. To that, add the white wine, tomato juice or Bloody Mary mix (which gives some zip to the sauce), the reserved juice (about 1 1/2 cups) from shelling the cooked lobsters, and what is left of the cooking broth from the lobsters (beyond the 2 cups already reserved for the herb sauce). Add the herbes de Provence, tarragon, salt, and cayenne pepper. Bring to a boil and cook gently, partially covered, for 30 to 40 minutes.
  • 8. Strain in a colander, pressing on the solids with a spoon to extract all the liquid. Discard the lobster shells, and strain the mixture again through a double-mesh strainer, so it is very smooth. Cover and refrigerate if not serving immediately. When ready to serve, add the heavy cream and Cognac, bring to a boil, and taste for salt and pepper.
  • Make the herb sauce
  • 9. Reduce the reserved lobster broth to 1 cup, to intensify the taste. Thicken it with the 1 teaspoon of potato starch dissolved in the 1 tablespoon of water. This can be done ahead.
  • 10. When ready to serve, add the chopped parsley, chives, and tarragon to the sauce. Pour the butter used for reheating the lobster into the sauce, and return the lobster to the warm oven. Bring the sauce to a boil; the butter will be emulsified with the liquid and create a smooth, creamy, and delicate sauce. Add some salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. If available, add the Asian garlic-chile paste. It gives a special accent to the sauce.
  • Prepare the fingerling potatoes
  • 11. Peel the potatoes and cook them in salted water for 20 to 25 minutes, depending on size. Drain at serving time and place them back on the stove for 20 or 30 seconds, so the heat will absorb whatever moisture remains.
  • Prepare the corn
  • 12. Cut the kernels off the cob; a good ear of corn will yield about 1 cup of kernels. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet, add the corn kernels and salt and pepper, and cook over high heat, partially covered, for 3 to 4 minutes, until a crust begins to form in the bottom of the pan from the release of sugar from the corn mixing with the oil. This gives it a wonderful aroma and that delightful taste of roasted corn.
  • 13. Spoon the corn into the center of six hot dinner plates, place the lobster meat on top, and spoon on some of the sauce. Arrange the potatoes around the corn. Serve the bisque in small cups next to the lobster as an accompaniment.


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