The Rocket Scientist is currently traveling every other week for work, so we make sure that the night before she leaves, we make (or go get) a really nice meal and have a great bottle of wine to go with it. This week, we saw some coldwater lobster tails at the grocery store and decided to grab them, then decide once we got home what to do with them.
We knew we wanted some risotto to go with the tails, and nothing says ‘pair me with something buttery and creamy’ like lobster does. We decided to try a version of Ina Garten’s easy risotto from her book “How Easy is That?” One of the problems in using recipes from books is that they’re generally designed for 4-6 people. There being two of us, we have to do some adapting (or eat piles of leftovers). In this case, we scaled the recipe, also substituting leeks for peas.
¾ cup Arborio rice
2 ½ cups chicken stock
½ cup freshly grated parmigiano reggiano
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
¼ cup dry white wine
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 medium leeks
After preheating the oven to 350F, we put the rice and 2 cups of the chicken stock into the small Dutch oven, covered it and baked it for 45 minutes. While that was cooking, we cut the leeks lengthwise, cleaned them, and sliced them relatively thin (but not mandolin thin). We briefly sautéed them in a little butter and a sprinkle of kosher salt, and set them aside until the rice was ready.
When we took the rice out of the oven, we added the rest of the chicken stock, the parm, butter, salt, pepper, and the leeks, stirring vigorously for about three minutes, until it was thick and creamy.
While Gretchyn was sautéing the leeks, I was preparing the tails. We had decided somewhere along the way that we wanted to pan sauté them, but instead of in medallions, into ‘tenders.’ I cut them out of the shell, rinsed them, and patted them dry, laying them on a plate I then simply cut eat tail in half down the long axis. I know that lobster has a tendency to curl up when you cook it, so I considered sliding a skewer up the middle of them, but at this point the pieces were thin enough that I didn’t want to take any chances with them. I halved three cloves of garlic and melted half a stick of butter in the pan. Before the butter browned, I pulled out the garlic, turned the heat to medium, and laid in the tails, cooking them over medium heat for about six minutes. As I expected, they curled up a bit into little corkscrews. They were still relatively easy to cut and eat.
We plated it all up (having also steamed some broccoli), and sat outside since the night was quite nice. I think I might have liked it better had we sautéed the lobster and then mixed it in with the risotto. I’m generally not a fan of shellfish and cheese, but it would have worked (and parmigiano reggiano is no normal cheese). As it was, the lobster was a little iffy. The texture was right, but one of the tails simply wasn’t as good as the other. I had checked them out when I cleaned them—I’ve always learned the seafood should smell like the ocean and not fishy—and they were fine, but the flavor of one of them simply wasn’t as good as the other.
Ina’s ‘easy’ risotto worked. Unlike most risotto recipes, where you spend a good deal of time stirring, there was nearly no interaction with this. The flavors may not have been as layered or intricate as traditionally-made risotto, but this was more than an acceptable substitute. One note that came to mind with cooking with parm is that you have to watch how much salt you add to a dish. The salt content of parm can vary widely from wheel to wheel, so I’d consider tasting the parm you’re adding before salting anything.
The wine we had brings up the question of whether you should go for the perfect pairing or for simply what you’re in the mood for. Whenever someone asks “What wine should I drink with XYZ food,” my question back is “What do you like?” The perfect pairing and what you might enjoy could be two very different things. There’s no rule that say you have to choose one over the other. A tannic California Cab might be the best choice with your rib-eye, but no if you hate tannic Cabs. I’d avoid choosing a wine that clashes with the food, but other than that, all bets are off. Drink what you like.
For the perfect pairing, I would have chosen either Champagne (probably a blanc de blancs) or a nice white Burgundy. Buttery and creamy wine would marry wonderfully with buttery and creamy lobster and risotto.
Since we had had a bottle of bubbly the nice before (a nice, affordable rose from Schramsberg, right here in the USA), we decided to have a bottle of 2008 Sea Smoke Pinot Noir “The Southing,” which was the favorite wine a few weeks back at the Drink the Allocation Party. The great thing about great Pinot is that it’s moderately adaptable to many foods, and the subtleness of the Sea Smoke went well with the lobster. Sure, we drank it because we knew it would be great; going with the food was just a bonus. Regardless of how good they might have been, I wouldn’t have had a rich California Zinfandel or aggressive Australian Shiraz, because they would probably have obliterated dinner. Good California Pinot was a reasonable pairing, and we were enjoying the rest of the bottle long after dinner was done.