Executive Chef and Creator of Kith and Kin in Washington D.C., Kwame Onwuachi rolls up …
In the Kitchen – A Real Lobster Adventure
It’s a well-known fact among my family and friends that I can’t cook. The new shells we’ve enjoyed all summer have all been cooked by my husband. It seems a reasonable trade – if I catch them, he cooks them. But with the colder weather bearing down on us, and the days losing their languor, I began thinking of soups and stews, and so set off on what was, for me, a real adventure.
My father, who passed away several years ago, always made lobster stew for Christmas Eve. Like me, he didn’t spend a great deal of time in the kitchen, though he had his specialties – lobster stew among them. I remember the smell of the cooked lobsters, rising up over the slightly smokey smell that lingered in our house all winter, born of loading and reloading the wood stove. Hours later, we’d sit down at the table to the stew, by then a creamy and fragrant concoction, served with warm buttered pilot biscuits. Not one for formalities, he’d entreat us, “dig in”. And we did.
Only October now, I thought perhaps with practice, I might be able to continue the Christmas Eve lobster stew tradition for my own family. The first thing I did was ask my step mother what recipe my father had used and could she please send it along? Her response was maddeningly vague:
“Your Dad didn’t use an actual recipe; it was just cooked lobsters with the cooking broth saved, the pieces of lobster put in a pot and cream added, with the lobster broth used to dilute it so it wouldn’t be unbearably rich. Salt (carefully since the broth is salty) and pepper to taste and served with a light sprinkling of paprika on top and with pilot biscuits on the side.”
Reading this, I had the vague sensation of someone trying to give me directions in a foreign language I had taken in high school – I could follow the general gist, but the specifics were totally lost on me. How much lobster? How much cream? How exactly did you make the lobster broth? These directions seemed well suited to someone who knew their way around the kitchen, which I decidedly did not. And so I did what we all do when seeking more information, I Googled “lobster stew”. I settled on a recipe from Bon Appetit (which felt a little like not knowing what dress to choose for a formal affair and so simply buying the most expensive one). We didn’t have all the ingredients (namely brandy / Cognac), but I made do with what we did have.
With our first fire of the season in the wood stove, the kids scrubbed up after their various soccer games and other fall activities, we sat down to my first attempt at lobster stew. I didn’t let on, but I was duly impressed with myself: it was so simple, but so good. My son devoured it and asked for seconds. My girls (not known for their adventurous eating) gave it the college try and my husband graciously complimented my efforts, adding, not incorrectly, that it could use more flavor – perhaps Cognac for the broth next time.
And so, with more than 60 cooking days left until Christmas Eve, I thought maybe a flavorful lobster stew was within my reach – and I could pick up the holiday tradition where my father had left off.