Saturday, July 16, 2005

from Ocean to table

Ann’s delightful post about my plunging sweet Hermione into boiling water last night triggered some requests for the recipe for the soup where Hermione reappeared, looking very much like a shark attacking the innocent:

Ann's photo

I am warning you, the recipe requires coordination and patience, though if you treat it like an assembly line operation, you wont fail.

It comes from Alfred Portale’s book (he cooks at the really cool Gotham Bar and Grill in NY).

Chilled Pea Soup with Lobster, Crème Fraiche and Wilted Watercress

Side-note #1: Don’t look for crème fraiche in the store, make your own! The day before, put a cup of heavy cream in a jar, add a tablespoon of buttermilk, cover with lid and leave it out. In some twelve hours you will have beautiful, silky, French cream. Refrigerate it once it gets thick.

Side-note #2: Okay, I substituted what should have been there – fresh pea shoots, which I can only get at the downtown market on Saturdays – with watercress. It works!

Side-note #3: I cheated again in terms of peas. The recipe calls for 4 cups of shelled peas. After shelling three cups, my sprained thumb was killing me so I used as a fourth finely chopped snap peas. Great taste, much easier. Shelling peas in the restaurant where I worked for a bit was always handed over to the very lowest person in the kitchen hierarchy. I actually think that the recipe would work with frozen peas (but only if fresh are out of season, please!) – though then you should reduce the cooking time.

Side-note #4: Here’s the line-up you should have to make it work smoothly: Have a medium bowl with a large fine mesh strainer over it, then next to it a blender, then another bowl set over an ice water bath.

Side-note #5: It says the amount will serve 4. I think it actually is enough for 5 – 6, though the portions of lobster meat grow smaller.

Okay, the recipe:

1 TBSP olive oil
1 onion, chopped
½ rib celery, chopped
1 qt of chicken stock or broth
4 cups of shelled fresh peas
salt and white pepper to taste
up to 2 TBSP unsalted butter

In stockpot, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion and celery and cook, stirring, 3 – 4 minutes, until softened. Add stock, raise heat to high, bring to boil.
Add peas, return to boil, reduce heat and simmer for about 12 minutes (until peas are tender). Remove from heat and season with salt and pepper.
Strain soup into the first bowl with the strainer. Transfer vegetables to blender and purée, adding only enough of the strained stock to make a fine, thick purée. Add butter and pulse or stir until it melts and enriches the purée.
Scrape contents of the blender into the bowl set in the ice bath. Add the remaining stock, a little at a time, until the soup reaches the desired creamy consistency (I used about ¾ of it).
Cover and refrigerate.


1 1 ½ pound live lobster

Cook it as you would cook a live lobster. For this dish I threw in a half a lemon into the boiling water and cooked the lobster for 11 minutes.
Then cool it under running water so that you can get at the meat.


½ cup crème fraiche
2 tsp fresh lemon juice
salt and white pepper to taste
1 cup lightly packed pea shoots or watercress
(caviar is suggested as an option as well. I omitted it. This soup is already expensive!)

Remove soup from refrigerator some twenty minutes before serving. It should be chilled, but not ice cold.
Whisk together crème, lemon juice and salt and pepper.
Cut lobster into big chunks and toss with crème.
Cook pea shoots or watercress in a small pot of boiling water for 15 seconds, just until wilted. Reserve some leaves for decoration before throwing the lot of them into the boiling water.

Then place a mound of the watercress in the middle of the soup plate, lobster on top of that, and ladle pea soup all around the little island. Garnish with fresh watercress leaves and swirls of crème.

You can also just treat this as a great chilled pea soup recipe without the lobster.

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