A friend recently celebrated a milestone birthday and my wife and I offered to prepare a special dinner for her to mark that occasion. We asked her what she would like and she said any kind of seafood would be great.
Her husband would also be dining with us, as would two other friends. So when deciding what to serve, I soon realized that there were many seafood dishes I could make that served six.
That said, I did want to make something I could partially prepare in advance, as that would allow me spend more time with my guests. I thought B.C. fish should star in the dish, as there are some great options to choose from. And I wanted the dish to incorporate East Coast lobster, because it’s always perfect for a special occasion.
With those three considerations factored in, I decided to roast some B.C. fish fillets and top them with lobster sauce.
The night of the dinner party, I used ling cod fillets, because it was the freshest, most solid and shimmering-looking of the species available. But as you can see in my recipe, you could also use grey cod, B.C. snapper (rockfish) or halibut fillets. All have a fairly mild taste and white-to-light colour that pairs well with rich-tasting, reddish/orange-coloured lobster sauce.
To make that sauce, I boiled a 1 1/2-pound live lobster until just cooked through. I then quickly cooled it, drained it well, then removed the meat from the shells. I cut the meat into small pieces and refrigerated them. I then cut up the shells and sautéed and then simmered them with flavourings to make a lobster-flavoured sauce for the fish.
As noted in the Eric’s options part of the recipe, you can make the sauce hours in advance of the meal, cool it, then refrigerate it until needed. The cooked lobster meat gets mixed into the sauce just before serving.
I don’t have room to share the recipes here, but I served the fish with steamed green beans, sautéed cherry tomatoes and little potato cakes made from mashed potatoes coated in panko. You could, as we did, also serve an appetizer and salad before the fish, such as the smoked salmon on blinis and mixed salad greens vinaigrette we enjoyed. If it’s a party celebrating someone’s birthday, you’ll need a cake for dessert. In our case, it was orange chiffon.
West Coast Fish with East Coast Lobster Sauce
I use the term “West Coast fish” in the recipe name because you could use ling or grey cod, halibut or snapper fillets here. When cooked, the fish is topped with a rich sauce with nuggets of sumptuous lobster in it.
Preparation: 40 minutes
Cooking time: About 50 minutes
Makes: six servings
1 (1 1/2 lb.) whole live lobster (see Eric’s options)
5 Tbsp olive oil (divided)
1/2 cup thinly sliced shallots or onion
1/3 cup thinly sliced carrot
1/3 cup thinly sliced celery
3 Tbsp all purpose flour
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
2 medium garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup white wine
2 1/2 cups chicken or fish stock
1/4 cup whipping cream
6 (150 gram) ling cod, grey cod, halibut or snapper fillets
• salt and white pepper to taste
1 to 2 tsp chopped fresh tarragon
6 fresh tarragon sprigs, for garnish
Bring 1 1/2 gallons of lightly salted water to a rapid boil in a large pot. Add the lobster, return to a boil and cook for five minutes. Carefully remove the lobster from the pot, holding it above the water to allow it to drain. Set the lobster in a bowl filled with ice and water.
When cold, remove the lobster from the bowl and drain well again. Cut the lobster in half lengthwise. Remove the meat from the lobster tail. Crack, open and remove the meat from the lobster claws, leg pieces and other parts of the shell. Cut the lobster meat into thumbnail-sized pieces, set on a plate and refrigerate until needed.
Remove any dark material left in the empty shells. Now cut or break the shells into smaller pieces. Heat 3 Tbsp of the oil in another pot (mine was eight inches wide) set over medium heat. Add shells, shallot (or onion), carrot and celery and cook and stir five to six minutes, until shells become even redder in colour. Mix in the flour, paprika, garlic and cook two minutes more. Slowly, while stirring, mix in the wine and cook two minutes. Now slowly mix in the stock.
Bring the mixture, which will appear quite thick with shells, to a gentle simmer (small bubbles should just break on the surface). Simmer 20 to 25 minutes, or until it has rich lobster flavour.
Set a fine sieve over another pot. Strain the lobster-shell mixture through that sieve, letting it drain a few minutes. Now press on the shells with the back of a ladle to get every last drop of sauce out of them. Mix the cream into this sauce, along with the chopped tarragon, then set aside (see Eric’s options).
Preheat oven to 375 F. Place the fish fillets on a parchment-paper-lined baking sheet. Brush the top of the fish with the remaining 2 Tbsp olive oil; season with salt and pepper. Roast for 12 to 16 minutes, or until cooked through (see Note).
While the fish is halfway cooked, return sauce to a simmer. Simmer until lightly thickened. Add the reserved lobster meat and heat through two minutes. Season the lobster sauce with salt and pepper.
When cooked, plate the fish, topped with sauce and serve, garnished with tarragon sprigs.
Note: I give a range of cooking time for the fish because fillets can vary in thickness. When cooked, the flesh of fish will start to slightly separate into flakes, and it will lose its translucency and become opaque. When touched, cooked fish should also feel slightly firm, not hard (a sign you have over-cooked it) and not soft (a sign it is not cooked through).
Eric’s options: You can set the fish on the baking sheet, brush it with olive oil and season it, hours before cooking. Just cover it and keep it refrigerated until ready to cook.
You can also make the lobster sauce many hours before needed. After doing so, cool it to room temperature, cover and refrigerate until needed. When needed, bring back to a simmer on the stove, mix in the lobster meat and proceed as described in the recipe.
If you can’t find a 1 1/2 lb. live lobster, you could also make the lobster sauce with three raw, frozen, thawed 85-gram or so East Coast lobster tails. To make the sauce with them, cut each lobster tail in half lengthwise. Cut meat into small cubes. Heat 1 Tbsp olive oil in a small skillet set over medium-high heat. Add the lobster meat and cook 1 to 2 minutes, until just cooked through. Transfer cooked lobster meat to a plate, cool and then refrigerate until needed.
Now cut or break the lobster-tail shells into smaller pieces and then cook and simmer them with the vegetables, stock and flavourings as noted in the recipe to create a sauce with them. When ready to serve, add the piece of lobster meat to the sauce, heat through, and then spoon sauce over the fish.
Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.