On Christmas morning I was delighted to open a few surprises from my husband. The most intriguing by far was a lobster cooking class he'd signed us up for at the Astor Center in NYC. My first thought was, I guess he doesn't like the way I make lobster...this must be a hint? Then he told me the class was for both of us. Really? My husband's biggest cooking accomplishment is pouring milk over cereal without spilling it. Then he explained that the class involved cooking, as well as eating and pairing the lobster with wine. Things were starting to come into focus.
Peeking into the class next door, I thought about switching classes!
Last night it was cold. I had a hard time motivating myself into the shower, then into real clothes instead of pajamas. But I did it, and was on the 4:37 train into Manhattan, then a short cab ride took me to the Astor Center, a very groovy spot. It's operated by the famous Astor Wines and Spirits, which used to be located on Astor Place, but they moved to a new locale (4th & Lafayette) to expand upon a wonderful vision of having a facility that could have a teaching space with kitchens to educate lovers of food and spirits...and also fill our bellies while we get a buzz on.
The "Classroom Kitchen" was set up with tall chairs around a stainless steel table set with water glasses, recipe packet, a pencil and a freshly poured glass of Prosecco. Good start, check that box! The class was titled, 'A Lobster Primer: Hands-On Cooking & Wine Pairing', but I could already tell this was no run of the mill Lobster 101. Our teacher and chef, Emily Peterson greeted us and immediately set a comfortable tone to the evening. She divided us into two teams: Team Lucy and Team Ethel. Emily Peterson is one talented chef, teacher, writer, and above all very approachable and just plain likable. (She had me at Lucy and Ethel.) You should read more on the fabulous Emily Peterson at her website and blog The Gourmand & The Peasant, which is thoroughly delightful and a great cooking resource.
Chef Emily Peterson, photo by Eric Caban
We were all asked to introduce ourselves, and rate our cooking abilities on a scale of 1 to 10. I rated myself a 7, based on the sheer volume of family cooking I've done and my husband gave himself a 1. I thought we were both pretty honest and accurate, but not everyone in the class was quite as humble. Our two, perfectly lovely (though delusional), teammates rated themselves an 8 and a 9 1/2. I expected great things from them, only to find Ms. 9 1/2 missing when we began with dispatching and dismantling the lobsters. Mr. 8 told me it was just too icky for her. That was clue number one that Ms. 9 1/2 was more like Ms. 5 3/4, at best. Luckily, skill level really isn't as important as a willingness to get involved and learn in an evening like this one.
After dispatching the lobsters, we put 8 whole ones on to boil and moved onto learning how to breakdown a "raw" lobster. The hardest part of dealing with the newly departed is that they don't stop moving for up to 24 hours after they've died! Chickens running with their heads cut off have nothing on the bodiless, flapping tail of a lobster! The boiled lobsters were pronounced, "done" when you pulled on their antennae and they popped right off (about 10 minutes for the 1 1/4 lb. lobsters) and were plunged into large containers of ice water.
While we moved to the back of the kitchen and got the lowdown on the other cooking ingredients, an amazing staff of inconspicuous helpers came and cleared our lobster cutting boards and replaced them. When you're cooking and learning you kind of get into a focused zone, but circling around us the whole night were a wonderful team of people washing our dirty dishes, bringing us clean dish towels, etc. And let's face it, cooking without cleaning up your own mess is just divine.
Our other ingredients & Martha gutting lobster....not too "icky" at all!
Each team had 4 dishes to prep for: Lobster & Corn Fritters with Chipolte-Lime Mayonnaise (I'm going to share this recipe with you!) Classic Lobster rolls, Lobster Poached in Gewurztraminer and Pear Nectar, and Lobster Bisque. Chef Emily was more than happy to demonstrate how to professionally cut up peppers, onions, garlic, or whatever. She included some great tips like adding a pinch of sea salt to garlic while you mince it to help give your knife some grip! We, (Team Ethel) were on our own and had to use our recipe packet and divvy up all the prep work that had to be done before we started cooking. Because it was first in the packet and included a lot of dicing, my hubby and I volunteered to do the prep for the fritters. In hindsight, I should have read ahead and done the prep on one of the dishes I wasn't familiar with and was more complicated. Ms. 9 1/2 was fascinated with a hand-held lemon juicer she had to use, as she'd never seen anything like it before. (C'mon, really? You seriously rated yourself a 9 1/2?) Another teammate (who rated himself a 4) was in charge of the lobster roll prep. He clearly left class rating a solid 6 based on his ability to read and follow directions alone, plus his dish was delish and he was a doll! Mr. 8 did lobster bisque prep, kind of. He somehow forgot the very clear instructions of making sure everything needed was placed in prep-bowls before we started cooking. Come cooking time, I spent a lot of time going back to the pantry box for bay leaves, butter, the cognac, and finding measuring spoons, etc., all for dear Mr. 8. My husband on the other hand, was amazing. I'll never finely dice another pepper again. He wasn't fast, but the man's got skills he didn't even know about and the chipotle-lime mayo was simple but spectacular.
One of the trickiest things for any cook is getting the timing right. You want it all to be done, hot and ready at the same time. To say that things are a bit more complicated with 12 cooks in the kitchen is an understatement. Despite incredible organization and prep by all parties, cooking was a little nutty. Cook tops, even professional ones, are only so big, and we all did some jockeying around while we stirred, browned, poached, or in my case fried, around the stove top and ovens. My husband (clearly a solid 4 by this point) took on plating the food and we could hear all the Astor Center's worker bees setting the table and gearing up for eating and the wine parings.
Lobster 4 Ways + January 4th =
Faltering New Years Resolutions
In the end, we all sat down to a feast of lobster four ways and five wine parings. I was stuffed half way through, but despite my better judgement or my new year's resolutions, I managed to eat every bite. And it was delicious. Our wine educator, Tess, walked us through the pairings and we chatted about what we liked, what we thought tasted best together and how we'd use our 20% coupon for those wines down at Astor Wines & Spirits.
Best of all it was a really great night with an eclectic group of "cooks" and lovers of food that ranged in ability, from a self proclaimed Mr. -4 to Ms. 9 1/2. We also ranged in age (one celebrating his 70th birthday, another in college) and relationships (siblings, father and son, newlyweds) but ultimately were brought together sharing a meal. A community of people getting together to share food and life.....hmmm...sounds familiar. And I think a Communal Pantry foodie adventure or "field trip" will have to be in the works.XOXO Martha
Click Here to Link to the recipe for Lobster & Corn Fritters with Chipotle-Lime Mayo