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August 2, 2013

Maine Lobster Festival Seafood Cooking Contest 2013

Another delicious time was had by all again this year at the annual Maine Lobster Festival Seafood Cooking Contest. Held Friday morning at the North Entertainment Tent on the Lobster Festival grounds, the event drew a record crowd. Despite the rain, the heat was on as this year’s five finalists entertained festival-goers and impressed judges with their unique seafood recipes.

This event is always a lively, fun time in great part to outstanding emcee Louise MacLellan-Ruf and volunteer Celia Crie Knight. Audience participation is encouraged as lobster lore is discussed and there is an opportunity to ask questions of the panelists as they prepare their dishes.

The five amateur chefs who shared their culinary talents this year were John Ruppert, Brunswick, ME; Adam B. Marcus, Owls Head, ME; Tyrrell Hunter, Brunswick, ME; Justin Libby, Tenants Harbor, ME; and Gerald Huang, Jersey City, New Jersey.

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Contestants and Judges (L to R): Adam B. Marcus, Allison Fishman Task, Lynn Archer, Melanie Beckett Hyatt, Louise MacLellan-Ruf, Gerald Huang, Tyrrell Hunter, John Ruppert, and Justin Libby.

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L to R: Allison Fishman Task, Tyrrell Hunter, Lynn Archer, Melanie Beckett Hyatt, Louise MacLellan-Ruf

This year’s winner (and her second year in a row taking the top prize), was Tyrrell Hunter for her Spectacular Seafood Cannelloni.

Judges were Lynn Archer, owner and chef at Brass Compass Cafe and Archer’s on the Pier in Rockland; Allison Fishman Task, host of the Yahoo! Original Program, Blue Ribbon Hunter; and Melanie Beckett Hyatt, editor of Maine Food & Lifestyle.

Check our blog in the coming days for complete stories, recipes, and images! As always, we had a great time covering and helping promote this special event!

November 8, 2012

Ricotta Gnudi and Maine Lobster

Maine Lobster Chef of the Year 2012, MacKenzie Arrington, shares his winning recipe!

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image by Ted Axelrod

Ricotta Gnudi and Maine Lobster with Truffle, Chanterelle Mushrooms and Chervil
Chef Mackenzie Arrington, The Dutch, New York City

MAIN COMPONENTS
Ricotta gnudi, 8 portions
1 pound Maine lobster, claw knuckles
1 pint truffle cream sauce
4 ounces chanterelle mushrooms, roasted
8 pieces chervil
8 slices black truffle, shaved
Salt and pepper to taste

RICOTTA GNUDI
1 quart ricotta
2 eggs
2 Tablespoons truffle oil
Salt to taste
Aproximately 1 quart flour

MAINE LOBSTER
1 pound lobster, claw knuckle meat
2 pounds butter

TRUFFLE CREAM SAUCE
1 quart heavy cream
3 shallots, minced
1 cup white wine
1 Tablespoon truffle trim
Salt and truffle oil to taste

METHOD – RICOTTA GNUDI
1. Remove the ricotta from the liquid and place into a large bowl. Whisk until all the curds are broken up and the ricotta is smooth.
2. Season heavily with salt, whisk and taste. Once you’ve reached the desired level of seasoning add truffle oil in while whisking until you can taste truffle but it is not overpowering.
3. Add in the eggs and whisk until they are fully incorporated.
4. Switch to a rubber spatula and add in a small handful of flour and fold in. You want to incorporate the flour with as minimal motion as possible not to over work the gluten. Add in flour until the mixture begins to form up and not stick to the sides of the bowl as easily.
5. Flour your work services and place the mixture onto the flour. Sprinkle with flour and work the remainder in by “chopping and folding” it with a bench scraper.
6. Once the mixture has started to bind and is still slightly tacky you are ready to go.
7. Work with small amounts at a time and keep the main mixture covered with plastic wrap so it does not dry out. First make a single size piece to test in water that is just under a boil to make sure all of the seasoning levels are correct and the mixture holds together.
8. Roll the portions out by hand in an outward motion on a floured surface to great one quarter width cylinder. Use the bench scraper or a knife to cut the “gnocchi” into 1-inch pieces. Place onto a well floured sheet tray and then sprinkle more flour over top to start the curing process. Let the gnudi “cure” for a few hours under refrigeration before use.

METHOD – MAINE LOBSTER
1. Cook your claw and knuckles in boiling water seasoned with salt and any other seasonings you wish to use. I personally enjoy fennel seed.
2. Cook for about 7 minutes.
3. Shock them in ice water and then remove them from the shell for the final preparation.

METHOD — TRUFFLE CREAM SAUCE
1. In a sauce pot heat a little oil and butter over medium low heat.
2. Add shallots and season with salt.
3. Once the shallots begin to break down and sweat they will become very aromatic and translucent. You do not want any color.
4. While you are doing this process have the cream in a separate pot over low heat reducing. You want to reduce the cream by 1/4 by the end of the sauce so this just gives you a bit of a jump start.
5. Deglaze the shallots with wine once they are translucent and let the wine reduce down till it is “dry.”
You will be left with very soft and aromatic shallots at this point.
6. Add the cream and finish out the reduction.
7. Once the cream has come to the desired reduction, transfer it into another pot or bain marie.
8. Season with salt and truffle oil and add in truffle trim.
9. Cover with plastic wrap and let steep for 20 mins.
10. Reserve warm if you are going to use it right away, if not cool as fast as possible and store cold.

METHOD – PRODUCTION/FINISHING
1. Have a large pot of heavily seasoned water just under a boil.
2. Place lobster claws and knuckles into warm brown butter or drawn butter and allow them to heat through while you are preparing the rest of the dish.
3. In a warm pan add a couple drops of oil and place your chanterelle mushrooms in. Once they start to get a little color on one side and start to release liquid flip them. Once the mushrooms are tender season with salt and toss a knob of butter into the pan, toss the mushrooms or baste them with the butter. Remove from the pan with a slotted spoon and place them into the base of the bowl.
4. Drop your gnudi into the bubbling water for about 45 seconds or until they are “dancing” on the top of the water.
5. Use a spider or slotted spoon to transfer the gnudi into a pan with about 2 ounces of your sauce.
6. In a circular motion move the gnudi around in the pan to cover them but do not break them. This will also help thicken the sauce.
7. Remove the lobster from the butter with a slotted spoon and season with a sprinkle of sea salt.
8. Gently place your gnudi around the mushrooms in the bowl and reserve the sauce in the pan.
9. Place the lobster knuckle meat with the gnudi but try not to smash your hard work.
10. Spoon out the remainder of the sauce over the gnudi, lobster meat and mushrooms.
11. Finish by placing the claw meat and shaved truffle on top. Garnish with a nice piece or two of chervil.
12. Serve and smile.

Serves 8.

November 7, 2012

Flying With Knives: Part II

Checklist—cars loaded up and off we go. The audience of 200 is lined up at the door anxiously awaiting the opportunity to sample the lobster dishes of three contestants, be entertained by same three chefs on stage, and finally get the chance to vote for their favorite. I must admit hearing “Chef Margaret’s here, hello chef, best of luck to Mac, it’s the mother-son team” from all corners of the waiting crowd makes me feel like I am the one about to be back on stage…. Nope…I am to be the wilberforce behind the curtain. The one who will keep the rest of the team calm and focused and make sure the water is boiling and no one misses a spec when putting the lobster on during plating.

Arrington
image courtesy of harvestontheharbor.com

Now the flurry begins, we have less than an hour to get everything boiling-everything reheated-judges plates are photo plate-perfect and orchestrate the plating of another 200 plates. We were promised induction burners (a professional type of hot plate that has water boiling in 90 seconds). What we walk into is a row of butane gas portable burners, and no one has thought to put in fresh cans of butane….Obstacle #1. Mac and I think alike and at the last minute packed up one of our induction burners… Saved!

Ricotta gnudi, a delicate tiny Italian style dumpling (for lack of a better description), is to be cooked on site. We will have to hustle to make this happen on portable butane burners. Obstacle # 2-the Alto Sham aka hot box onsite is luke warm (barely). Its purpose is to hold hot food, but at 120 degrees. You could put a baby in it for a nap and still need a blanket…. Mac thinks fast…All the stainless bowls we brought for just in case we need them are put on top of the pots of “slowly boiling water”, and the lobster in brown butter is dumped in for a faster reheat. Meanwhile, the induction burner we brought along is boiling pot after pot for a “boiling pot Chinese fire drill”. Boil 1 swap it out, boil 1 swap it out….

The back stage area is a bit chaotic as three cooking teams try to work, and a half dozen culinary student helpers stand in the way with “deer in the headlight eyes”. I snap into executive chef mode and start assessing the space and working on a game plan so that when Mac in on stage charming the crowd, his food will be plated in order and go out as it should.

We love Melissa Bouchard, executive chef at Dimillos Floating Restaurant. She is the first chef up. Her team is working on plates, the dish is beautiful, but I know from experience that being the first on stage sucks. Mac is number two and we are now in control of our destiny and everything is going according to plan.

Bless the heart of the third chef, Kerry Alterio of Café Miranda. In all the chaos, he actually asked if we needed help. I’m thinking “that’s a switch”. At my last national competition, a southern chef stole my butane back ups and my power strip. My sous found them hidden behind a trash can….

So here we go. Dina will cook the gnudi, toss it gently (Ricotta gnudi is delicate as a cloud, it breaks easily but when it keeps itself together and makes it to the plate and then the lips in one piece, it is like eating something an angel kissed.) in the truffle cream sauce, and pass it on to the student who will be plating it. I’ll take chanterelle duty until a student sees the placement and takes it over. (Side note on chanterelle mushrooms- they are a highly sought after wild foraged species-currently not in season in Maine so these costly fungi came to us from the woods of Oregon. Full of pungent woodsy, earthy flavor-the chanterelle is the best flavor friend lobster can have.

Sandra will be on knuckle meat duty, cautiously placing two to three pieces on each tiny plate, and then I will follow the gnudi patrol with perfect claws, placed exactly atop the gnudi. Ifrah will bring up the rear with the chervil garnish. (Chervil-an underutilized herb-actually a member of the carrot family but one of my personal favorites). Then out go the plates.

We can hear Mac talking with Tom Martin, owner of Lucky Catch Lobster (he’s the MC and an excellent choice) as calmly as if they are sitting in a bar having a drink together. He gives a shout out to his brother and Dad who are in the audience (2 votes for sure) I sneak out to take a peak at the monitor. QVC training paid off well. Mac talks directly to Tom and when Tom turns his eye to the audience, so does Mac. Good job! I hear Tom ask Mac if his Mom, the Maine Lobster Chef of 2008, is in the audience.  Mac quips “Nope, I got her out back working.”

As the last stack of 20 plates leaves the plating area, we sigh in unison that it’s done. We hear the audience give Mac a huge round of cheer and his lanky 6’5” presence pops back behind the curtain, all smiles. We join Melissa and her team on the sidelines to watch chef # 3 give his pitch.

Finally, the three chefs are called to the stage for awards.

MacKenzie Arrington—Maine Lobster Chef of 2012-Peoples Choice.

Okay-Now we all scramble back to clean up, dump trash, pack cars, carry dirty pans back down Commercial Street and an hour later Mac and Dina are elbow deep in the dish sink. And that is what culinary competition is all about!

***Tomorrow, be sure to check back here for MacKenzie Arrington’s winning Ricotta Gnudi recipe!!***

November 6, 2012

Flying With Knives: Part I

Flash back to 2008. Maine Lobster Chef of the Year competition at the Blaine House in Augusta….When yours truly was crowned, MacKenzie Arrington, my son, sous chef for the event and student at the Culinary Institute of America announced with total confidence, that he would steal the title from me in 2009. And, “so he did”. Two weeks after graduating from the Bachelors program at CIA, Mac became Maine Lobster Chef of 2009.

mac again

Between then and now, Mac moved to Brooklyn, NY, and began his calculated progression through the culinary world. In the last two years, under the guiding hands of David Chang (Momofuko), Daniel Humm (NoMad), and Andrew Carmellini  (The Dutch and Locanda Verde) (a few of New York’s top chefs) Mac has learned skills, techniques and nuances that we “provincial cooks” only see on shows like Iron Chef. So recently when invited by the Maine Lobster Promotion Council to return to Maine to compete in the 2012 Maine Lobster Competition, Mac jumped on a chance to bring his city style back home.

This year’s event would be different from year’s past in that a panel of 3 judges would cast their vote for their favorite and the audience of 200 would cast their vote for a second winner.

Along with his sous, the amazingly talented Dina Fan also of NYC and Taiwan, Mac, all packed and ready to fly north, arrived at JFK to pass through TSA (airport security). TSA can be a bit of a challenge for a traveling chef. Here’s how it goes…. Carry on bag opened and passing through the scanner revealing some questionable skeletons. Any chef who travels, especially if cooking is involved on the other end of a trip, takes his knives.

As security watches cautiously, Mac opens his case to reveal knives of almost surgical instrument comparison. “Very sharp-very expensive-very necessary.” What follows is the explanation of why he has them, what they will be used for, etc. Next item to be scrutinized by security—a jar of black truffles packed in salt. Explanation follows as to what they will be used for. Fear goes along with this explanation. These little balls of black “gold” are about as valuable as “gold”. Please don’t confiscate them officer!

Now of course the knives pose some concern for security. Can a traveling chef be trusted to leave them in his carry on bag? Must a flight attendant baby-sit them during the flight? Must they be locked in the cockpit with the pilot until the plane lands in Portland?

So far, as far as we know, no terrorist wearing size 15 Sven kitchen clogs ever hijacked a plane with an 8” inch chef’s knife, so Mac’s knife roll is allowed to travel in carry on….

Safely arrived in Maine, Mac and Dina begin prepping for the competition. Within sight of Ocean Gateway (where the event will be held) is my seafood processing facility, complete with a huge state of the art production and manufacturing kitchen. What could be better? Chanterelle mushrooms (pounds and pounds upon pounds of them) can all be browned off at one time in a 40 gallon tilt skillet, pots of melting butter cover the top of an 8 burner range, gallons of cream are reduced quick and slick on a row of induction burners. An entire 12 foot stainless table is floured for kneading, curing and cutting ricotta gnudi (recipe will follow!).

Culinary competition is in Mac’s blood. He is in high gear and thriving…. Guess he got that from his Momma! Prep tasks are delegated as my kitchen intern Ifrah (Raised and trained in strict German kitchens) culls through mounds of fresh lobster claws, picking out 220 perfect specimens, while Sandra, a retired Marine turned culinary student, exactingly picks through chervil (it’s an herb-recipe will follow!) Music is blasting; energy is high. Mac is methodically detailing his expectations of his team for tomorrow’s cook off. They all listen carefully. I go about my own flurry of business knowing Mac always has it under control.

Tomorrow—Thursday 6 am comes way too quickly. Back to the kitchen we go for the final prep work then hustle over to the Ocean Gateway for “show time”. Culinary competition may look easy from the audience but for the chef, being on stage is only the tip of the iceberg and unless every detail is planned like synchronized swim, the iceberg melts fast.

***Stay tuned for tomorrow’s conclusion of Flying With Knives***

December 20, 2011

Holiday Subscripton Offer 2011

What’s the perfect gift for… the foodie on your list? The relative or friend who is currently a Mainer in exile, longing for a taste of their home state? The person who has everything? Yourself?

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It’s not too late to order the gift of Maine Food & Lifestyle magazine, a gift that will continue giving all year long with great recipes, local chef profiles, in-depth articles, and stunning photography.

Give the gift of Maine’s original food magazine, and make someone smile this holiday season. We’ll send the recipient a gift letter stating this gift is from you. Subscribe today for yourself or someone special on your holiday list!

Happy Holidays to you and those you love!

Melanie Hyatt & Jim Bazin

October 27, 2011

Lobster 3 Ways

This lobster dish was submitted to the 2011 Maine Lobster Chef of the Year competition by Chef Ryan Campbell of Lake Parlin Lodge and Cabins. His finalist entry was Maine Lobster Cake served with Mango Chutney Lobster Spring Roll, with Roasted Sweet Onions, Napa Cabbage, Avocado Cream Roasted Lobster Claw, Wild Mushroom Ragout, and Crispy Sweet Corn Fritter, Apple Smoked Bacon.

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image from Maine Lobster Promotion Council

Continue reading “Lobster 3 Ways” »

October 26, 2011

Trio of Maine Lobster Rolls

Classic Maine Lobster Roll; Asian Lobster Roll with Wasabi Mayonnaise; South American Lobster Roll with Corn & Chili Relish. These recipes were submitted for this year’s Lobster Chef of the Year competition by Finalist Kristian Burrin, Executive Chef of the Seasons of Stonington Restaurant.


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image from Maine Lobster Promotion Council

Trio of Maine Lobster Rolls
Click here for WCSH6/207 video of Executive Chef Kristian Burrin, Seasons of Stonington Restaurant

Trio of Lobster Rolls
-Classic Maine Lobster Roll
-Asian Lobster Roll with Wasabi Mayonnaise
-South American Lobster Roll with Corn & Chili Relish

For this recipe you will need 24 ounces of cooked lobster meat which is around four 1 to 1.5 pound lobsters.

Classic Brioche lobster roll – Preparation Time 5-7 minutes
2 large broiche rolls
8 ounces cooked lobster meat
2 Tablespoons mayonnaise (homemade if you can)
Pinch of celery salt
Lemon zest to garnish
1 ounce melted butter

Chop the cooked lobster into ¼ inch pieces and mix with the mayonnaise adding the pinch of celery salt and set to the side. Melt the butter and brush the outside of the brioche roll and grill on medium heat till you have nice grill lines on all sides. Cut the brioche rolls in half and fill with 2 ounces of the lobster mayonnaise; place in the fridge till needed for plating.

Asian Lobster Roll  – Preparation Time 10-15 minutes

For this recipe you will need a fryer and a 1 inch diameter metal cylinder.

3 sheets spring roll pastry or egg roll wrappers
1 egg white beaten
8 ounces cooked lobster meat
3 Tablespoons mayonnaise
1 teaspoon sriracha chili sauce
1 Tablespoon chopped cilantro (save one leaf for garnish)
Juice & zest of ½ lime
1 teaspoon very finely chopped ginger
1 teaspoon ready made wasabi

Heat the fryer to 300º. Take your spring roll pastry and cut it in half, lay it out, and brush the whole sheet with the beaten egg white. Roll one half round the metal cylinder as tight as you can.

Place the cylinder in the fryer basket and cook till nice golden brown. Remove from the basket and place on kitchen towel. After 2-3 minutes, pick up the cylinder with a cloth and carefully remove fried pastry. Repeat the steps till all six pastries are fried, leaving them on the towel to drain.

Take 2 Tablespoons of mayonnaise and mix in the ginger, chili sauce, lime juice and zest, and cilantro. Chop the cooked lobster into very small pieces and mix into the mayo. Carefully fill the pastry cylinders and place in fridge till need.
To make the wasabi mayonnaise, take 1 Tablespoon of mayonnaise and mix together with the wasabi.

South American Lobster Roll – Preparation Time 25 minutes
1 large sheet of puff pastry
8 ounces cooked lobster meat
4 ounces grated Gruyère cheese grated (try to use a good imported aged one)
1 egg beaten for brushing
½ teaspoon cumin seeds
1 fresh corn cob
4 ounces cherry tomatoes cut into quarters
1 fresh red chili finely sliced (de-seeded if you don’t want it too hot)
1 Tablespoon dark brown sugar
1 Tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 Tablespoon finely chopped cilantro

Preheat oven to 350º, cut the puff pastry into four 3 inch by 4 inch rectangles, and lay out on a baking tray with parchment paper. Chop the lobster into ½ inch pieces and place in the middle of the pastry, then divide the grated cheese between them putting it on top of lobster.

Brush round the edge of the pastry with the egg and then fold over to make a roll, making sure that the join is together. Then turn over so the seam is on the bottom. Brush the top of the pastry with egg and let dry for a few minutes, then repeat the brushing and sprinkle the cumin seed over the top. Bake in the oven for 20 minutes till it is nice and golden brown.

To make the relish, cut the corn off the cob and place in small pan; add the cherry tomatoes, chili, sugar, and vinegar and bring to boil. When the relish has boiled, reduce the heat and simmer for around 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and cool. When it has cooled, add the chopped cilantro.

To plate the dish, place the classic lobster roll at one end of the plate, put some wasabi mayonnaise in the middle, and run a spoon through it to make a streak and place the Asian lobster rolls on top. At the other end of the plate, place the South American lobster roll and put some corn relish on the corners, then impress and enjoy!

Yields 4 servings.

October 25, 2011

Slow Poached Maine Lobster Tail Nipponese

This lobster dish took top honors in the 2011 Maine Lobster Chef of the Year competition. The creation of Personal Chef Thomas Reagan of Kennebunk, it consists of a lobster tail poached in lemon butter sauce served atop a black and white sesame seed coated rice cake with an orange miso coleslaw garnish. Congratulations, Chef Thomas Reagan!

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image from Maine Lobster Promotion Council

Continue reading “Slow Poached Maine Lobster Tail Nipponese” »

September 23, 2011

Great American Seafood Cook Off 2011: Part 2

This recipe, entered into this year’s Great American Seafood Cook Off Contest by Chef Margaret McLellan, showcases the best of Maine ingredients.

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Maine Lobster Mac and Cheese with Wild Blueberry Spiked Greens
Chef Margaret Salt McLellan, 2008 Maine Lobster Chef of the Year

Mac and Cheese
1 pound of high quality dry pasta –(Rigorosa Vesuvio if available is the best) or other shape that will hold sauce well such as mafalda or orzo
8 ounces of mascarpone
4 ounces of creamy goat cheese
Pinch of ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon sea salt
Pinch of white pepper
2 ounces of heavy cream
1 ounce of minced black truffles
3 black winter truffles (sliced paper thin)
Set out all ingredients at room temperature 1 hour before preparing

Bring 2 gallons of salted water to a rolling boil. Cook pasta till al dente. Strain and return to pot. Keep warm.

Stir in mascarpone, goat cheese, and heavy cream. Add seasonings and minced truffles gently. Do not over stir or mix. Cover and keep warm. Reserve sliced truffle for plating time.

Butter poached Maine lobster meat
1½ pounds of fresh cooked Maine lobster meat (claw and knuckle or combination of claw, knuckle, and tail)
1 pound of salted butter
1 Tablespoon of water

Step 1

Beurre Monte (Bur Mahn-tay)
Cut butter into 1 inch chunks. Hold at room temperature up to one hour.

Bring 1 Tablespoon of water to a boil in heavy deep sauté pan. Reduce heat to low. Add butter one or two chunks at a time, whisking to create an emulsion. Once this emulsifies, all the butter may be added. Turn heat to low.

Step 2

Adding Maine lobster meat: If using CK, add meat to beurre monte. Do not chop or cut. If using tail meat, cut tails into one inch medallions. Gently incorporate into butter. Cover and hold at low heat.

Blueberry spiked micro greens
4 ounces of Wild Maine Blueberry Vinaigrette
8 ounces of micro green blend

Wild Maine Blueberry Vinaigrette
1 pint of fresh Maine blueberries
16 ounces of water
4 ounces of sugar
4 ounces rice wine vinegar
12 ounces canola oil
¼ teaspoon lemon juice

Step 1

In heavy large sauce pan bring water to boil. Add cleaned blueberries and sugar. Reduce heat to medium. Cook down till this becomes a thick sauce. Stir often. Remove from heat. Cool to room temperature. Purée in blender.

Step 2

Add rice wine vinegar and lemon juice, pulse to incorporate. Set blender to “blend” setting and slowly add oil through pour spout until this emulsifies. Keeps about two weeks in refrigeration.

Assembly

Step 1

Spoon 4-6 ounces of mac and cheese into center of a pasta bowl or slope sided plate. A ring mold may be used also. Fan 3 slices of paper thin truffles on top.

Step 2

Arrange 3 ounces of Maine lobster meat on top and on side of the mac and cheese. Use equal amounts of claw, knuckle and tail meat. Ladle 1-2 ounces of butter sauce over the meat.

Step 3

Toss greens in 4 ounces of vinaigrette. Using tongs, place in equal portions on top of Lobster Mac and Cheese.

Step 4

Garnish-optional

ENJOY!

Serves 8.

September 22, 2011

Great American Seafood Cook Off 2011: Part 1

It’s late July and I get mail from the Louisiana Seafood folks:

“Are you coming this year?”

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Margaret Salt McLellan and Joe Ndungu plating up at this year’s Great American Seafood Cook Off.

Continue reading “Great American Seafood Cook Off 2011: Part 1″ »

February 14, 2011

Ocean Escargot Hasn’t Conched Out Yet

Anyone who has been to the Bahamas, the Turks, and Caicos or even Key West knows the word Conch. Pronounced “konk,” the name has become widely popular thanks to Jimmy Buffet songs and wild crazy Key West visits. Residents of Key West (known as the Conch Republic) are called conchs, the streets are lined with conch houses, and tourists can ride the conch train. Go further south into the Bahamas where the term “conchy joe” is used to refer to Bahamians of mixed race.

All the slang aside, this beautiful and delicious marine mollusk has gone through a roller coaster of existence over the last 20 or so years.

In my early 20s, fresh out of culinary and looking for adventure, I took a job charter boat cooking in the Virgin Islands. What great fun it was to dive off the boat for conch, filling up a net bag with as many as we could before our lungs exploded, surfacing to hear the ooh’s and ahh’s of the guests onboard at the sight of these magnificent conch!

Learning from the locals that rather than smash a shell for the meat, an hour or so in the freezer was most effective at driving the conch out, leaving a fully intact shell for someone to take home as a souvenir. Running this tough hunk of muscle through a hand crank meat grinder produced a perfect textured meat for creating my version of some local dishes.

Conch incidentally is higher in protein than most seafood and second to salmon in omega-3 fatty acids. It’s pretty much a “perfect seafood.” On a trip to St. Thomas a couple years back, I was told that diving for conch would be nothing more than an exercise in holding my breath. They are few and far between in those waters.

The queen conch (the one in that beautiful big white shell with the pale pink interior) is most commonly used in all conch recipes from conch fritters to conch chowder. In the early ’80s, the queen conch population was starting to collapse. Florida banned its harvest and it was banned from the Bahamas down to Haiti and Honduras. It was being seriously overfished and facing depletion. The industrious Bahamians sanctioned a 176 square mile area of Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park as a no-take fishery zone. Since then the park has become a major source for the replenishment of queen conch. Florida jumped on the wagon and began operating a conch hatchery in the Keys in 1991 to help conch stocks recover.

As recently as 2005, there was only one commercial conch farm in the world. Owned by an American on the Island of Provo in the Turks and Caicos, this underwater pasture of 260 acres raises millions of conch annually for export. Conch is gaining its place in the seafood repertoire of some of this country’s top chefs. My interest in conch sparked further research which is now leading to partnering with a group in the Bahamas to set up a small manufacturing facility to produce (you guessed it) value added conch products for export. From Lobster Stew to Conch Chowder—here we go!

The following recipe was given to me by my good friend McKenzie, a true Bahamian gentleman.

ConchChowder

Continue reading “Ocean Escargot Hasn’t Conched Out Yet” »

November 2, 2010

Lobster Chef of the Year 2010 Finalist: Chef William Clifford

Chef William Clifford of the Portland Harbor Hotel, Finalist for this year’s Lobster Chef of the Year competition, shares his wonderful recipe, which he says is a great make-ahead meal for family get-togethers. See his video here, and recipe below.

Continue reading “Lobster Chef of the Year 2010 Finalist: Chef William Clifford” »

October 28, 2010

Lobster Chef of the Year 2010: Azure Café’s Kelly Patrick Farrin

This year’s Maine Lobster Chef of the Year top honors went to Kelly Patrick Farrin, Sous Chef at Freeport’s Azure Café. Here is his outstanding, prize-winning recipe.

Lobster Chef 2010 Winner

image: Maine Lobster Promotion Council

Continue reading “Lobster Chef of the Year 2010: Azure Café’s Kelly Patrick Farrin” »

November 18, 2009

Butternut-Mascarpone Lobster Ravioli, Balsamic Pomegranate Spinach Salad

Another great Lobster Chef of the Year Finalist Recipe. Beautifully Plated Up!

Butternut-Mascarpone Lobster Ravioli, Balsamic Pomegranate Spinach Salad
Rick Skoglund, Samoset Resort

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Continue reading “Butternut-Mascarpone Lobster Ravioli, Balsamic Pomegranate Spinach Salad” »

November 12, 2009

The Belly of the Beast: Conclusion

The young chefs were still cooking when I went to bed. I heard them leave for WCSH TV studio before 6 am. Mac was scheduled to present a plate on the morning show then off to SMCC kitchens to finish up his cooking for the competition. Once at Harvest on the Harbor event center, Mac, Dylan, and James busied themselves setting up for the show. The two chefs who presented before Mac did a superb job. I know how nerve wracking competition can be. You stand up there in front of a hungry audience feeling almost naked. Continue reading “The Belly of the Beast: Conclusion” »

November 11, 2009

The Belly of the Beast: Part 1

Those are words my son, MacKenzie Arrington used in his cover letter to prospective employers recently. In describing his life of growing up in the culinary world, he said “having Margaret Salt McLellan for a mother was like living in the “belly of the beast.” Interesting compliment! Continue reading “The Belly of the Beast: Part 1″ »

November 3, 2009

Lobster Tail on Braised Cabbage and Cornbread

Congratulations to newly crowned Maine Lobster Chef of the Year, MacKenzie Arrington! Here is his prizewinning recipe.

Lobster Tail on Braised Cabbage and Cornbread
MacKenzie Arrington, 2009 Maine Lobster Chef of the Year

Arrington

Equipment Needed
·   1 large cast iron skillet
·   1 large sauce pot
·   Plastic Wrap
·   1 large sauté pan or a grill top
·   1 small sauté pan
·   2 medium metal bowl

Continue reading “Lobster Tail on Braised Cabbage and Cornbread” »

October 29, 2009

Maine Lobster Chef of the Year 2009: MacKenzie Arrington

A hearty congratulations to Maine Lobster Chef of the Year 2008, Margaret Salt McLellan and her son, the newly crowned Maine Lobster Chef of the Year 2009 MacKenzie Arrington!! MacKenzie won with his Roasted Maine Lobster Tail on Braised Cabbage and Cornbread.

It’s the beginning of a new Lobster Dynasty, as mother and son share a piece of Maine history. Maine Food & Lifestyle was proud to be there to cover Margaret Salt McLellan’s 2008 win at the Blaine House, and we are happy to announce the good news of her son’s win with you here in 2009.

Best Wishes to you both!

he who must be saluted

MacKenzie Arrington accepts Lobster Chef of the Year Award.

June 23, 2009

Maine Lobster Chef McLellan: “Bring It On!” (Conclusion)

Day Two: The five finalists were announced. Among them, Texas, Maryland, and of course the favored son of New Orleans, who was now representing Mississippi, John Currence. Chef Currence, on day one, had sauntered in wearing ripped jeans, cowboy boots, and a seriously wrinkled chef jacket. Day two, he at least wore an ironed jacket but I somehow knew he was not be underestimated.

Continue reading “Maine Lobster Chef McLellan: “Bring It On!” (Conclusion)” »

June 22, 2009

Maine Lobster Chef McLellan: “Bring it On!” (Part 2)

Night One: Our information packet gave us directions to the Arts District where we were treated to an amazing sampling of local cuisine prepared by chefs of New Orleans. One could not turn around without bumping into a bartender. (I am not complaining here.) From there we were loaded onto an air conditioned tour bus and escorted to the next stop, by far the best looking Harley riding big bald police officers imaginable. Lights flashing, sirens blaring, cars pulling out of the way. It was something!

Continue reading “Maine Lobster Chef McLellan: “Bring it On!” (Part 2)” »