The perfect Christmas Eve dinner. Champagne, candles, and a lobster risotto. Luxurious, yet not too heavy considering the epic feast awaiting the next day. In fact, not even that luxurious, given that the lobster cost a fiver. Who'd have thought you could find a whole cooked lobster, frozen in a bag of saltwater, in the supermarket? Admittedly, this was Lidl, a treasure-trove of the weird and wonderful; I picked up a tin of something called "musky octopus" from there once. Anticipating that a single lobster probably would not suffice on its own to feed my entire family, I decided risotto would be a good way to stretch it out a bit, without overpowering its delicate flavour (which, for those of you who haven't tried lobster, is wonderful - meaty yet sweet and delicate, a bit like crab but more substantial).
I could never bring myself to cook live lobster. Though the texture is better, and obviously it's fresher if you cook your own, the thought of plunging a living creature into boiling water is more than I can bear. I know that oysters and mussels are technically alive, but they seem less so, somehow. A lobster actually wiggles its claws around and moves. I'm happy to eat lobster, as long as I don't have to see this awful cooking process. Someone somewhere has invented a humane machine to kill lobsters with an electric shock - I remember reading about it in the news - and I like to hope that it caught on and that most restaurants use it, instead of a vat of boiling water. Unfortunately I suspect this is me being highly naive.
Even in death, the lobster puts up a pretty good fight. I sustained several lacerations to my fingers whilst trying to prise the meat out of its shell. Not only is the shell very sharp when broken, it is also covered in little spines which are likely to scratch you horribly as you try and pull it apart. It took about half an hour to yield a very small quantity of lobster meat, a quantity somewhat depleted by my tasting several pieces of it.
The risotto is fairly simple. A base of garlic, onion and celery, sauteed until soft but not coloured. A knob of butter added, rice turned over in it, a splash of white wine, and then the stock. I used fish stock from a cube, but boiled it up with a large pinch of saffron, a bay leaf, and the lobster shells, for extra flavour.
To the almost-cooked risotto, I added the zest and juice of a lemon, finely chopped curly parsley, crushed fennel seeds, the lobster meat (reserving the sliced tail meat for a garnish) and lots of salt and pepper. I also threw in some prawns and garnished it with strips of smoked salmon, because there really wasn't much lobster meat and it needed something else to make it a bit more substantial. The result: a delicious, rich-flavoured, lemony risotto with delicate, sweet pieces of lobster meat and juicy prawns. Perhaps not traditional Christmas fare, but I thought it was just right.