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Lobster Fra Diavolo, 10 Years of Blogging, and a Giveaway

I don’t know about you, but I can’t get my fill of lobster – whether it’s steamed and dipped in butter, or whether it’s lobster fra diavolo, as in this recipe. Some people claim it’s an Italian American invention, but I’m not so sure, after eating it several times on my recent trip to Italy, including one night in Rome with this version:

And a couple of times in Sardinia, as in this interpretation:

and this one below. In Italy, they’re called astice, the Mediterranean version of North American lobsters. Italy also has aragosta, similar to North American lobsters, but without the large claws.

When we returned back to the states, I was determined to make this dish at home. It’s not at all hard to make, but can be pricey depending on the size of the lobsters. But it’s a great meal for a special occasion and can be partly prepared ahead of time, making it easy for entertaining.

A few weeks before making the lobster fra diavolo, we enjoyed a Fourth of July steamed lobster feast with friends, from which I saved and froze some of the carcasses. The broth you can make from these adds a great depth of flavor to the lobster fra diavolo, but if you don’t want to fuss with it (or don’t have the lobster shells ahead of time), use bottled clam juice. I simmered this broth for a couple of hours before straining through cheesecloth. It made way more than I needed for this recipe, so I froze the rest, to be used for other recipes in the future, such as a lobster or shrimp bisque.

I love the sweetness of cherry tomatoes and there were an abundance of them in our garden, so for the sauce, I roasted a bunch with some olive oil at 425 degrees for about 20 minutes, until they split open.

If you don’t want to use fresh cherry tomatoes, or don’t have any, use the canned. The ones packed in Italy are so deliciously sweet, I like to keep a few cans on hand for other recipes too, like my codfish and chickpeas in tomato sauce.

Follow the instructions for the sauce in the recipe below, and simmer for about an hour. You can even do this the day before.

The best way to make this dish is with fresh lobsters. If you don’t have fresh lobsters near where you live, then frozen lobster tails will make a nice substitute. If you do live near a good fish store, your fishmonger can use a knife to quickly dispatch the live lobsters, then clean them and split the tails in two. I also asked him to break off the tails and claws from the main body, and crack the claws so it would be easier to remove the meat once the dish was served. He was more than happy to do it.

When the sauce is cooked, add the lobster pieces. In the time it takes to boil the water for the pasta, the lobster pieces will be cooked. Remove the lobster pieces to a dish and keep covered to stay warm, then add the pasta to the sauce and mix. Place the pasta in a serving bowl and surround with the warm lobster pieces.

Provide plenty of napkins and some way to crack the shells further, if they don’t open enough.

Eating this dish was almost like being back in Italy (almost).

Buon appetito.

And now for the blogiversary and giveaway. Hard to believe that ten years have gone by since I started this blog. I’ve taken a few breaks from blogging now and then when life has thrown me a curve ball, but even then, getting back to blogging has been a catharsis for me. I’ve met so many wonderful people in person because of Ciao Chow Linda, and it has given me a forum to showcase a few things I love doing – traveling, cooking, writing and taking photographs.

In the beginning, my only readers were family, but through the years, so many of you have come aboard the Ciao Chow Linda train and left comments, or sent me emails and I am eternally grateful for your support. I read all of them and they really encourage me to keep doing what I love best.

As a thank you to one of you (I wish I could do this for all of you), I’m offering a giveaway of a $100 gift card to LobsterGram, so you’ll be able to make this lobster fra diavolo or any other recipe you like, using fresh live lobsters sent directly from Maine. All you have to do is leave a comment on the blog telling me what recipe you’d like to see on Ciao Chow Linda (NOT by email), with a way to contact you if you’re chosen (by a computer generated random number). To increase your chances of winning, follow me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or Pinterest, and say so in the comments.

Good Luck!

 

Lobster Fra Diavolo
 
 
Ingredients
  • To Make The Lobster Broth (This will make a lot and you can freeze what you don't need. Alternatively, you could buy bottled clam juice.):
  • lobster shells from 2 or three lobsters
  • water to cover amply
  • 2 celery sticks
  • 1 or 2 carrots
  • 1 onion
  • a couple of bay leaves
  • salt, pepper
  • To Make the Sauce (This makes more than you'll need for 1 pound of pasta, but you can freeze what you don't use.)
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • ¼ cup minced onion
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 carrot, grated
  • 1 celery stick, minced
  • 3 cans cherry tomatoes (14 ounce cans) - or an equivalent amount of freshly roasted cherry tomatoes
  • 1 cup tomato puree
  • ½ cup dry white or red wine
  • salt, pepper
  • fresh basil
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • dried red pepper flakes, to taste
  • ¼ to ½ cup lobster broth
  • 2 1½ pound lobsters
  • 1 pound linguini or spaghetti
Instructions
  1. Buy two fresh lobsters and ask your fish monger to kill them while they are still alive.
  2. If you don't have access to fresh lobster, you can always use frozen (and thawed) lobster tails, but fresh is always best.
  3. Have the fish monger remove and crack the claws, and break off the tail, then cut it in half lengthwise.
  4. You won't need the part with the lungs and there is so little meat in the legs (also impossible to extract), so don't bother with those.
  5. Make the lobster broth by placing the lobster shells, onion, carrot, celery, bay leaf, salt and pepper in a large pot, covering amply with water. Bring to a boil, then simmer for a couple of hours and reduce slightly to let the flavors intensify.
  6. Drain through a cheesecloth, discarding all but the broth.
  7. You will need only a small part of this broth.
  8. Save the rest to make other recipes, including lobster or shrimp bisque.
  9. To Make the Sauce:
  10. Sauté the onion in the olive oil until soft.
  11. Add the garlic, celery and carrots and sauté over low heat until softened.
  12. Add the tomatoes, the puree, the wine and seasonings and let simmer for about an hour.
  13. Remove about 1½ cups - 2 cups of the sauce and set aside.
  14. You may want to add some back to the pot later when you add the pasta, but you should have enough to put some in the freezer later for another recipe.
  15. To the remainder of the sauce in the pan, add the lobster broth.
  16. Simmer for another 20 minutes.
  17. Add the lobster pieces to the sauce and cook with the sauce over low to medium heat, with the lid on.
  18. While the lobster is cooking, cook the pasta in boiling (salted) water until al dente.
  19. When the pasta is nearly cooked, remove the lobsters from the sauce and set aside on a covered dish.
  20. Drain the pasta, and add it to the pot with the sauce.
  21. Swirl the pasta in the sauce, allowing it to absorb all the flavors.
  22. The pasta should have enough sauce to cover, but not be swimming in sauce.
  23. If necessary, add some of the reserved sauce.
  24. Place the pasta in a serving bowl or dish, and place the lobster pieces all around.
  25. Serve at once.
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blue by Eric Ripert

Dear Mr. Ripert – How in the world do you do it? Your three-star Michelin restaurant in New York City – Le Bernardin – captivated me years ago from the first sip of champagne. But I didn’t expect to be equally enchanted thousands of miles away in the Cayman Islands on my visit to Blue, your restaurant in the Ritz-Carlton Hotel.

 However, I had a suspicion that something great was afoot when we stopped for drinks at the bar one night. The piña loca tipped me off. I mean, I knew we were in for a treat just from watching your bartender shake the drinks at the bar and deliver them in those beautiful glasses. It didn’t hurt that the charred pineapple juice and agave were mixed with cachaça.  (In case you’re taking notes, Mr. Ripert, a caipirinha – also made with that Brazilian spirit – is my favorite cocktail, although a Hendricks gin and tonic is a close second. But I digress, sorry). Anyway, we may have been tipped off by the drinks, but when we tasted the complimentary salmon rillette, it just heightened our eagerness to come back the following night for a full meal. I loved how your chef combines smoked salmon with poached fresh salmon and shallots in white wine and other ingredients. Those little toasts were the perfect transport for this delicious snack and a great way to get our evening started. I hope you don’t mind my sharing that recipe at the end of this letter.

So there we were, the next night at 6:30. Unfashionably early, I agree, but hey, we couldn’t wait much longer to savor the full menu. I loved the understated, yet elegant decor, and the wall art, designed by British artist Grahame Menage to represent the outlines of the Cayman Islands and other Caribbean nations. Oh, and please thank your lovely manager Christina who seated us at a quiet table with ample light — all the better for taking photos. Is she just naturally engaging and helpful, or do you instruct all your staff to be so kind? Because without being intrusive, everyone couldn’t have been nicer.

I was so eager to get started, I got fidgety waiting for the first course, although my husband Ron told me to cool my jets and be patient. He was so right. Patience was rewarded not long afterwards, when the chef,  Thomas Seifried, sent out this amuse bouche, including a taste of that now-familiar salmon rillette — it’s that dab in the middle cushioned by small round crackers, but you already knew that. Well, thanks for reminding me how much I loved it the night before. The little sample of raw snapper with a petite potato chip on top and surrounded by avocado cream and citrus vinaigrette was a lovely tease for the palate too, but can I just wax rhapsodic about that soup in the little cup on the left? Just know that I would happily drown in that luscious concoction – made with sunchokes, brown butter and croutons. We were both wishing for a lifetime supply of that soup (Sunchokes aren’t really a staple in our pantry, but if you sent me that recipe, I would search them out).

But we knew there was plenty more to come, beginning with the “almost raw” section of the menu. My husband chose the conch dish, tender slivers of the locally caught seafood, sprinkled with bits of puffed quinoa, basil aioli and espelette pepper.  The ponzu sauce added just the right acidity, with its flavors of rice vinegar, soy sauce and yuzu (I admit I had to look up ponzu sauce, but I first learned about yuzu – an Asian citrus  – at Le Bernardin years ago).

I opted for the snapper trio – served with slices of king crab and dollops of wasabi and avocado cream, and bathed in a seafood emulsion. I’m sorry, but I couldn’t help myself. I had to do what we Italians call “la scarpetta,” swooshing my bread through the sauce to savor every last drop. At least I didn’t lick the plate — well, not yet at least.

Speaking of bread, I didn’t want to make a pig of myself and choose all four offerings, so I stuck to the sourdough.  I’m coming back for the others on my next visit though.

Next came the “barely touched” portion of the menu, and I’m sure you don’t know this, but when it comes to octopus on a menu, I’m a real sucker  – no pun intended (well, maybe yes it was). I have to say that I’ve eaten lots of grilled octopus in my life, but never served with a creamy chorizo emulsion. Who thinks up these unusual flavor combinations? The smoky flavor of the sauce was the perfect partner for the “meaty” chunks of octopus.  If only I had the recipe, I might rethink my Christmas eve octopus salad in favor of this.

Let me also take this opportunity, Mr. Ripert, to give a shout-out to ViJay, our server for the night, who also recommended excellent wines to pair with each course. I am usually cautious in choosing red wines to drink with fish, but ViJay suggested the perfect accompaniment each time, whether red or white. Just one example of the night’s sampling included a smooth, vibrant Portuguese red wine from the Douro Valley that cut through the richness of the octopus and the sauce.

And like me with octopus, when my husband sees pasta on a menu, he’s gonna go for it. I think he went a little weak in the knees when this appeared at the table – a tangle of fettuccine enrobed in a truffle sauce containing king crab and lobster, topped with a healthy portion of sliced truffles. Can you say ecstasy? He would have, if he could have stopped long enough to speak. Me? I was speechless too, once he let me have a taste.

Just when you think you’ve had enough truffles, (Forget I said that. You can never have enough truffles, can you?) your chef sends this voluptuous dish compliments of the kitchen – Danish langoustine atop Iberico ham, crème fraîche, a balsamic-mushroom vinaigrette and more shaved truffles. If I’d known this was coming, I might not have ordered the lobster from the next portion of the menu – the “lightly cooked” section.

Just kidding. I wouldn’t have wanted to forgo this delectable dish of butter poached lobster served with edamame beans in a fragrant lobster-ginger consomme. And how clever to include that wonton stuffed with a mousse of halibut, lobster claw and shrimp.  It was a real treat for all the senses. By the way, I forgot to mention that I love the Limoges Bernardaud porcelain plates you use in your restaurants. The white on white recessed dots are subtle yet distinctive, without stealing the show from the food.

This dish my husband chose for the main course, Mr. Ripert, might just be the “sleeper” on the menu. It doesn’t have the sexy visual appeal of some the other dishes (don’t be offended – it is mostly brown after all, except for the bits of friseé) but wow, what a fabulous flavor – not just from the delicate fish, but from that nutty brown butter sauce infused with tamarind.  Look away while I do that scarpetta thing again.

Big decisions were ahead for dessert. Even though only four offerings are listed, aside from ice cream and sorbet, it was difficult to choose. My husband selected the “Mont Blanc”  – a heavenly whipped chestnut cream spiral with rum-candied chestnuts, studded with gold leaf, and served with a quenelle of ice cream. OK, I’ll stop drooling now.

I was having a tough time. Should I order the coconut dessert, served with passion fruit and pineapple? Or should I order the babà, the Neapolitan treat I love? I decided on the coconut, and it arrived looking like a modern sculpture. Don’t get me wrong, I ate almost the whole thing, but it was encased in white chocolate, and I should have mentioned, I’m a dark chocolate lover. When Christina stopped by to ask about our desserts, she admitted that the babà was her favorite. Darn, I said. I knew I should have ordered that!Well, that’s all she needed to hear. She hurried off to the kitchen, and returned with a gift for me — my own babà, studded with caramelized pears, Cayman honey and almond crumbs, all served with a silky sauce and yogurt ice cream. Funny how I felt stuffed after all the courses and the first dessert, but the babà went down like manna from heaven. Quick, is anybody watching while I lick the plate?

Just when we thought we couldn’t eat another thing, out comes this tray of scrumptious mignardises – petite financiers, geleés, macarons and chocolates.

Thanks for such a great dinner. Sorry it took us so long to get here (considering you opened the restaurant in 2005). What a nice touch giving us that box of macarons to take home with us too.

Oh Eric, (can I call you that now that I’ve spent three hours in your restaurant?) like I said earlier, I really never expected such a Lucullan feast down here in the Cayman Islands, but Blue is every bit as wonderful as Le Bernardin, and you’ve even got that spectacular seven-mile beach outside your door. No wonder it received the five diamond award from AAA.

And as much as we love the Big Apple, the Cayman islands has won our hearts too, especially since our extraordinary meal at Blue. Hope to see you next year. And next time, I promise to keep my fingers off the plate.

Sincerely yours, Linda and Ron

Salmon Rillette
 
Author:
Serves: serves 6
 
Ingredients
  • 2 cups white wine
  • 1 tablespoon minced shallots
  • 1 pound fresh salmon fillet, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 3 ounces smoked salmon, diced
  • 2 tablespoons thinly sliced chives
  • ½ cup crème fraîche
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • fine sea salt and freshly ground white pepper
Instructions
  1. In a shallow pan, bring the white wine and shallots to a boil.
  2. When the shallots are cooked, add the salmon and gently poach the salmon until it is just barely opaque.
  3. Remove the salmon from the wine and immediately drain on a towel-lined sheet pan.
  4. Strain the wine, reserving the shallots.
  5. Place the salmon and shallots in the refrigerator to cool.
  6. Combine the poached salmon and shallots in a mixing bowl with the smoked salmon, chives and some of the mayonnaise and lemon juice—use the mayonnaise and lemon juice sparingly to begin, and adjust to taste.
  7. Mix the rillette—do not over-mix or mix too hard.
  8. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  9. Serve cold with toasted baguette slices.