Hello friends, and welcome back to Will It Sous Vide?, the column where I usually make whatever you want me to with my immersion circulator. Today we're making a sexy little dish that's impressive without requiring a whole lot of effort on your part: Sous vide lobster tails.
Photos by Claire Lower
For whatever reason, lobster - a large sea bug - has become a signifier for success, luxury and decadence. If you are courting someone, these are probably qualities you want your lover (sorry) to associate with you, and serving them a perfectly butter-poached, vanilla-scented lobster tail either as a main or as an addition to some other protein (ribeye), might give the impression that you at least vaguely have your life together. Luckily, these meaty tails are fairly simple to prepare, and I'm going to show you how to cook them up for your very special piece of tail.
I had tooled around with sous vide lobster before, removing them from the tail and cooking them around 57C for an hour, but found there were two things I didn't love about it. For starters, 57C is too low a temp; though the lobster was cooked through it was a bit too tender, and it was completely lacking in that pleasant bounce I associate with this beautiful sea crustacean. In addition to that, every single sous vide lobster tail recipe I found insisted I remove the tail meat from the shell before cooking. As someone who enjoys the somewhat raw and visceral experience of ripping meat off the bone with my teeth or busting up a bunch of crab legs, this annoyed me. Also, lobster tails are a pain to remove from the shell while raw - the meat tends to tear - unless you parboil them, and I really didn't want to deal with two pots of hot water. I couldn't find any good reason why I shouldn't cook them in their shells, so I set up a little experiment to compare and contrast.
I took two tails, simply splitting the top of one shell with some kitchen shears, and removing the meat completely from the other. I then put them each in a bag, and added a couple of tablespoons of butter to each bag, along with a sprig or tarragon and quarter of a split vanilla bean. I then cooked them both for an hour at the Food Lab-suggested temperature of 60C, before giving each tail a little nibble.
That shmutz is vanilla bean - the best kind of shmutz.
I don't know your feelings on the matter, but I think the in-shell tail just looks more impressive than the small little strip of pink meat. Both were perfectly tender and tasty, and gently flavoured with vanilla and tarragon, and I honestly couldn't taste the difference. (Ofclaire insisted the the in-shell one was better, but I think he just enjoys ripping the meat out of the shell himself, which is an easy task once the meat is cooked.) I did dip mine in butter (Ofclaire is a meat-only purist), but it didn't really need it, as both pieces were pretty infused from their butter bath.
Extremely satisfied with my discovery that there was no need to remove the tail meat from its shell, I turned my attention to speeding up the process. Cook times for this kind of recipe range from 30 minutes to 60, so I split two more tails to see if we could get lobster on the table in less than an hour. (If you've never butterflied lobster before, it's quite easy. Just cut the top, armour-looking portion straight down the middle with some kitchen shears, then squeeze the bottom part of the lobster to crack it open.)
In addition to being less work, another bonus to leaving the shell on is that you can use the shell to hold a couple of tablespoons of butter in place, maximising butter-to-meat contact time. After I had the shells split and my butter in place, I threw both tails in the same bag with half of a split vanilla bean.
Those babies went in a 60C bath for half an hour, which they seemed to enjoy. After they were done cooking, I served them (to myself) with a little bit of clarified butter and some lemon wedges. (Again, the butter isn't totally needed, but it just seems wrong not to have it there.)
From start to finish, the process took less than 45 minutes, with most of that time being spent perfecting my Valentine's Day playlist, which just isn't ready yet. I also sustained very few injuries, because I didn't attempt to remove the sweet lobster flesh from the traitorous chitin until it was cooked, at which point it popped right out. What I'm saying is this was the easiest, most stress-free lobster cooking project of my life, and you should grab a couple (or six) for February 14, whether you have a Valentine or not.