Lobster seems to be one of those rarefied experiences that we reserve for only the most special occasions. In fact, I think we often overlook its potential because we assume that it is out of reach…a crazy indulgence. While it is certainly an indulgence, it can be a really wonderful addition to a holiday party, and as an appetizer, a little can go a long way.
I have been around and around over how to best use lobster. I have bought tails, and whole lobsters, and grappled with what a big undertaking it can be. Because, if you are going to use lobster, you definitely want to optimize the experience and make this premium ingredient shine.
I’m in Texas. Let’s face it, I am not a lobster natural, if you will. But that also means that I had to start from the beginning to learn how to use it best. Here is what I learned: Lobster is best cooked immediately. Buying tails out of a refrigerator case is not necessarily optimal. Tails are brilliantly simple, though, I’ll admit. Live whole lobsters allow you to cook them live or just after dispatching the little fellow. This is optimal, but it is also a big production.
I asked a local fishmonger what he would do if his goal was to use lobster for a lobster salad or a traditional lobster roll. His response surprised me. He pulled out a flat, frozen package of lobster meat and told me he would use the frozen meat every time for these. If we lived in Maine, it would be a different story, but I am a landlubber in beef country, and being able to buy high quality Maine lobster meat that was flash-frozen immediately after it was pulled from the ocean and cooked is a really wonderful option.
Plus, if you are anything like me, getting ready for a party, small or large, has as much to do with rounding up Legos and hiding piles of mail and laundry in every available closet as it does cooking. So three cheers for high quality, frozen lobster meat.
The meat I bought was from the claws and body of the lobster, and came in nice sized chunks. I bought a pound of lobster meat which fit perfectly into a pint container. I suppose it would take several whole lobsters to accomplish this amount of picked and chopped meat.
My goal was to create as simple a lobster salad as possible, similar to what you would find in a lobster roll. My ingredient list was simple: good mayonnaise, a little celery, a bit of lemon juice, salt and pepper. Period. Because these are appetizers, I needed a vehicle for the salad, and I chose little rounds of puff pastry. Find puff pastry made with all butter, if possible, but buttered and baked baguette slices are simple and inexpensive as well.
These perfect little lobster salad bites meet all of my requirements for a wonderful appetizer. They require minimal work right before serving, are small enough to eat in one bite, and no utensils are needed. Thus, a guest can grab one and pop it in his or her mouth without juggling a wine glass, a plate or a fork.
So yes, I spent $32 on lobster meat, but only a few more dollars for the rest of the ingredients. I easily made 28 appetizers with the amount of salad a pound of lobster yields. So, at a bit over a dollar a pop, I created a wonderful treat that we just don’t see much around here
1 pound thawed Maine lobster meat (about 2½ cups)
½ cup mayonnaise
¼ cup minced celery
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon fresh cracked black pepper
1 package of frozen puff pastry, thawed (or a skinny baguette)
Chop the lobster meat into ¼ to ½” bits. Press the meat with a paper towel to absorb excess water. In a small bowl, mix the lobster and the mayonnaise, starting with only ¼ cup of the mayonnaise and adding more as needed. Mix in the celery, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Chill in the refrigerator until just before the party.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Carefully unroll the puff pastry and cut circles with a 2 inch biscuit cutter. Lay the circles on a baking sheet and cook for 10 minutes or until puffed and golden. Remove the puffs from the oven and allow them to cool until they can be handled. Break each puff in half, so that you have two cup-like sides. Fill each puff half with lobster salad. Place on a serving dish and serve immediately.
Notes: Lobster salad purists may cringe at the thought, but these are also wonderful with a tiny sprinkling of lemon zest and a drop of hot pepper sauce on each puff. Of course, purists probably also cringe at the idea of using frozen lobster meat. If using sliced baguettes, butter the slices generously and bake them in the 400 degree oven for ten minutes or until golden around the edges. Depending on the diameter of the baguette, you will be able to make fewer of the appetizers. Adjust accordingly.