Cooking with Watson: Italian grilled lobster

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Cooking with Watson: Italian grilled lobster

'Cognitive Cooking with Chef Watson' is a collaboration between IBM and the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City. Once a week, as part of an ongoing series, we'll be preparing one recipe from the book until we've made all of them. Wish us luck.

I've got to say I am pretty against the idea of wrapping lobster in bacon. While, yes, bacon does tend to make everything better, I'm also a bit of a purist. I don't like butter or onions in my hamburgers, or mignonette on my oysters. These are foods meant to be enjoyed as they are. And I feel the same about lobster. It is meant to be steamed and devoured as is (or with some drawn butter and lemon if you really must). But, I have a job, and right now that job is to cook whatever Watson tell me to. So it's time to defile one of the most delicious (and expensive) sea creatures with bacon and a lot of citrus.

Gallery: Cooking with Watson: Italian grilled lobster | 41 Photos

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This recipe, Italian grilled lobster, is definitely one of the simpler and less surprising in the book. There are a couple ingredients that are tough to come by on the list, fregula and pumpkin, but both can easily be swapped for Israeli couscous and butternut squash, respectively. You'll also need saffron, but you should have some on hand anyway. Yes it's expensive, but it's an essential ingredient in many cuisines, including Spanish and Italian. And don't be fooled into buying cheap stuff posing as saffron. For those that don't know, saffron is the stigma from a particular crocus flower and it takes nearly 150 flowers to yield just a single gram of the spice. So it's not surprising that a pound of Saffron can cost as much as $10,000. You don't need to go and buy the highest grade, but definitely make sure you get real saffron from a reputable brand or dealer. In short: don't skimp here and get the generic version at your local supermarket.

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Note: If you can't bring yourself to dunk a living twitching lobster in boiling water, put them in the freezer for roughly an hour before hand. But research has shown that lobsters have no real central nervous system and don't really feel pain.

Obviously though, the star is the lobster. Now, if you're making this in the late summer or early fall and live somewhere in the north east US you may have the option of picking up new or soft shell lobsters. Now, while many prefer the flavor (myself included) and breaking them down is much easier, you should resist the urge. After a lobster molts it needs time to grow into its shell. And as this happens, the shell hardens. These "hard shell" lobsters have more meat inside and firmer flesh, which you'll need to standup to the grill and salad preparations.

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The salad side dish here combines the delicate claw meat, with tiny pasta pearls, simple roasted squash, some olives and is dressed with fresh squeezed orange juice and mint. It's a slightly odd combination, since we most often associate pumpkin (or in this case butternut squash) with fall, but the blend of citrus and mint screams summer. And the light texture of the couscous plays into that warm weather vibe. But here's the problem. The lobster was lost in all the orange zest and juice. The lovely claws became less about flavor and more about texture. And the same is true of the tails. After being wrapped in bacon and grilled, their flaky flesh tasted nothing of the sea and more like the smoked pork they were wrapped in. When the plates were cleaned my wife even turned to me and said, "I don't feel like I ate lobster." Now don't get me wrong, the flavors were good, but they just weren't the flavors I was expecting.

So here's the weird thing about this lobster dish, there are no surprises. No ingredients that make you stop and say, "what the..." None of the dishes have been really crazy yet (don't worry, there's a mushroom meringue coming eventually), but they've all had some element that tells you that a super computer and professional chef have been here. This on the other hand, feels like its missing that cognitive computing spark.

Italian Grilled Lobster

Saffron Tomato Sauce

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoon dried oregano
Pinch saffron
15 ounces canned tomatoes, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons white wine
Salt and pepper, as needed

1. Place the olive oil, oregano, and saffron in a saucepan over low heat. Let infuse for 4 minutes. Add the white wine and reduce by half.

2. Stir in the tomatoes and gently simmer for 15 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

3. Blend the mixture with a hand blender. Reserve in a warm place for plating.

Roasted Pumpkin

2 cups pumpkin flesh, small-diced
1 tablespoon fresh mint, cut into chiffonade
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt

1. Place the pumpkin into an oven-safe dish, then toss with the mint and olive oil.

2. Season with salt, then cook in a 350 degrees Fahrenheit oven until tender (about 15 minutes).

Lobster Fabrication

4 lobsters, each about 1 ½ pounds

1. Separate the heads, tails, and claws of the lobsters. Keep the heads for another recipe.

2. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Blanch the tails for 1 minute and the claws for 4 minutes.

3. Transfer the tails and claws to a bowl of ice water, and let cool.

4. Shell the tails and then lightly score underneath so they stay flat. Reserve.

5. Shell the claws and chop the lobster meat into medium-size chunks. Reserve.

Lobster Salad

½ pound dry fregula
Zest of ½ orange
½ cup Sicilian green olives, sliced lengthwise
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons orange juice
2 teaspoons white wine vinegar
Pinch red pepper flakes
½ tablespoon fresh mint, cut into chiffonade

1. Cook the fregula in salted boiling water until tender. Drain and let cool. Measure 1 cup of cooked pasta and reserve the rest for use in another recipe.

2. In a bowl, combine the cooked pasta and the prepared roasted pumpkin, along with the orange zest, green olives, olive oil, orange juice, and white wine vinegar. Mix well and season to taste with salt and pepper.

3. Add the prepared lobster claw meat, red pepper flakes, and mint. Toss again and reserve at room temperature.

Grilled Lobster Tails

6 strips bacon, each 12 inches long
2 tablespoons olive oil

1. Wrap the reserve lobster tails in bacon and brush each with olive oil.

2. Cook the tails on a grill over medium heat until well browned on all sides. If the bacon begins to burn on the grill, finish cooking on a rack in the oven. Let rest 2 minutes before slicing.

To Serve

8 red and yellow cherry tomatoes, halved
Salt, as needed
2 tablespoons olive oil

1. Reheat the tomato sauce over low heat.

2. Season the cherry tomatoes with salt.

3. Slice the lobster tails into rounds.

4. On each plate, spread a small amount of the tomato sauce, then arrange a lobster tail and some lobster salad in the center. Decorate with the cherry tomatoes and drizzle with olive oil.

This recipe and others can be found in Cognitive Cooking with Chef Watson.

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