Cooking up a storm of lobster in New Orleans

First published in the MLA Newsletter, September 2011

Margaret McLellan is a staunch fan of Maine lobster. Chosen Maine’s Lobster Chef of the Year in 2008, the energetic McLellan thinks, talks and cooks lobster. And no wonder. She is a member of the McLellan clan, a large Boothbay family of fishermen and lobstermen who have called the area home for centuries. Her sister, Elizabeth, and late brother Shawn co-owned an offshore fishing boat together. Bet, as her sister is called, runs Bet’s Fish Fry in Boothbay, known for its enormous fish sandwiches. Brother Cameron owns and operates a dragger out of Portland. Margaret’s 24-year-old son was named Maine’s Lobster Chef of the Year in 2009. Lobster and fishing run in the family’s blood.

“My grandmother used to lobster when she was younger,” McLellan remembers with a laugh. “She would pile all six kids into the boat and off she’d go.” She credits her uncle, Phil McLellan, as originator of the lobster macaroni and cheese dish now so popular among chefs. “He had a lobster roll stand on the street in Rockland in the 1960’s,” McLellan said. “He came up with the recipe as a way to use the lobster meat.”

For the past four years McLellan has been selected by the governor to represent Maine in the annual Great American Seafood Cook-off contest. This year’s event, sponsored by the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), was held in August in New Orleans and hosted by the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board.

Margaret McLellan and her son McKenzie dish up am elegant lobster dish at the Great American Seafood Cook-off. M. McLellan photo.

The contest placed fourteen chefs in competition with each other to create distinctive dishes using fish and seafood native to their home states. With the support of the Maine Lobster Promotion Council, the Maine Lobstermen’s Association and the Lobster Research, Development and Education Board, McLellan and her sous chef Joe Ndungu traveled to steamy New Orleans to compete.

“It was great fun, lots of camaraderie, just what you’d expect in New Orleans,” she said. While cooking was the object of the contest, for McLellan it also presented the opportunity to promote Maine lobster to those attending the associated seafood show and to other chefs. “People are very excited about Maine lobster,” she said.

The chefs are asked to bring extra ingredients to share with those who pay to watch the cook-off. McLellan and Ndungu brought an additional 40 pounds of picked lobster meat donated by Linda Bean’s Perfect Maine Lobster company and

Margaret's Lobster Mac and Cheese. M. McLellan photo.

Portland Shellfish to share with the audience. “So we presented our dishes [a refined Lobster Macaroni and Cheese; see sidebar] to the judges. Then we mixed the remaining lobster meat with the pasta, brought out some sampling cups and said ‘who wants some lobster?’ People went wild,” she said.

McLellan did not win this year’s contest. That honor went to the Governor of Alabama’s personal chef, Jim Smith, who presented a dish composed of shrimp and marinated crab with garam masala, yellow squash puree, peas, bacon-peach relish and Spanish basil oil. The loss, however, does not deter McLellan.

Promoting lobster is partly a passion and partly her job. Trained as a professional chef, she is currently chief operating officer for Morrison’s Maine Course, a speciality food company based in Portland. Prior to that she worked for Shucks Maine Lobster in Richmond and consulted for Linda Bean’s Perfect Maine Company in Port Clyde. At Morrison’s she devises new products for the company and oversees the placement of those products in the marketplace.

“We’ve expanded the line to include all sorts of lobster dishes, such as lobster pie, lobster dip and lobster pizza,” she explained. Morrison’s dishes are sold on the QVC Shopping Network, in Dean and Deluca’s and other specialty store catalogues, and on the military shopping channel, which will begin broadcasting this year. Competition in the marketplace or in the kitchen doesn’t worry McLellan whose love of lobsters and the Maine industry is palpable. “We all have the same goal,” she said.  “To make the world buy Maine lobster!”

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Maine Lobster Mac and Cheese with  Wild Blueberry Spiked Greens

Servings: 8

Mac and Cheese

Ingredients

1 pound of high quality dry pasta (Rigorosa  Vesuvio if available is the best) or other shape that will hold sauce well such as mafalda or orzo

8 ounces of mascarpone

4 ounces of creamy goat cheese

Pinch of ground nutmeg

½ teaspoon sea salt

Pinch of white pepper

2 ounces of heavy cream

1 ounce of minced black truffles

3 black winter truffles (sliced paper thin)

Procedure

Set out all ingredients at room temperature 1 hour before preparing

Bring 2 gallons of salted water to a rolling boil. Cook pasta till al dente. Strain and return to pot. Keep warm.

Stir in mascarpone, goat cheese, and heavy cream. Add seasonings and minced truffles gently. Do not over stir or mix. Cover and keep warm. Reserve sliced truffle for plating time

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Butter poached Maine lobster meat

Ingredients

1.5 pounds of fresh cooked Maine lobster meat (claw and knuckle or combination of claw, knuckle and tail)

1 pound of salted butter

1 tablespoon of water

Procedure

Step 1

Beurre Monte (Bur Mahn-tay)

Cut butter into 1 inch chunks. Hold at room temperature up to one hour

Bring 1 tablespoon of water to a boil in heavy deep sauté pan. Reduce heat to low.  Add butter one or two chunks at a time, whisking to create an emulsion. Once this emulsifies, all the butter may be added. Turn heat to low.

Step 2

Adding Maine lobster meat: If using claw and knuckle, add meat to beurre monte. Do not chop or cut. If using tail meat, cut tails into one inch medallions. Gently incorporate into butter. Cover and hold at low heat.

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Blueberry spiked micro greens

Ingredients

4 ounces of Wild Maine Blueberry Vinaigrette

8 ounces of micro green blend

 

Recipe

Wild Maine Blueberry Vinaigrette

1 pint of fresh Maine blueberries

16 ounces of water

4 ounces of sugar

4 ounces rice wine vinegar

12 ounces canola oil

¼ teaspoon lemon juice

Procedure

Step 1

In heavy large sauce pan bring water to boil. Add cleaned blueberries and sugar.  Reduce heat to medium. Cook down till this becomes a thick sauce. Stir often. Remove from heat. Cool to room temperature. Puree in blender.

Step 2

Add rice wine vinegar and lemon juice, pulse to incorporate. Set blender to “blend” setting and slowly add oil thru pour spout until this emulsifies. Keeps about two weeks refrigerated.

Assembly

Step 1

Spoon  4-6 ounces of mac and cheese into center of a pasta bowl or slope-sided plate. A ring mold may be used also. Fan 3 slices of paper thin truffles on top.

Step 2

Arrange 3 ounces of Maine lobster meat on top and on side of the mac and cheese. Use equal amounts of claw, knuckle and tail meat. Ladle 1-2 ounces of butter sauce over the meat.

Step 3

Toss greens in 4 ounces of vinaigrette. Using tongs, place in equal portions on top of Lobster Mac and Cheese.

Step 4

Garnish-optional

ENJOY!