The observant among you, or more accurately the few who give a damn about these things, will have noticed that there is one more Friday, and therefore one more Tom Cooks! column, before Valentine's Day. Indeed. But Pancake Day is just 48 hours later this year, and I have a belter of a guest recipe for you next week.
In any event, if you are still of an age or suitably romantic persuasion to celebrate such things, you need time to prepare a feast of quality. If you really want to do it properly, watch the feast scene between Albert Finney and Susannah Yorke in the film version of Tom Jones. (That's the Henry Fielding novel, nothing to do with the Welsh singer.) It may give you ideas, but I know any number of ladies who would prefer a slab of chocolate cake to a dozen oysters. A big platter of langoustines would work - a lot of cracking and sucking and slurping involved - but there is the danger of serious injury on all these sharp shells. So I've settled for lobster, and if you're going to serve it hot, Thermidor has to be the best way. I have a good friend who tells me that lobster Thermidor is one of two things you can't get at home. I forget what the other is, but as the man writes rather salacious novels it may well be smutty.
Anyway, I could have cobbled a recipe together for you, but I thought you deserved a professional for this special day. Enter the dually qualified Campbell Mickel. Campbell will be well known to regular readers. I know that many of you have beaten a path to Merienda following the rave review a couple of years ago, and many more will have enjoyed their takeaway food during lockdown. But not all of you, I suspect, will know that he is now, in addition, a fishmonger extraordinaire, as new proprietor of the renowned Eddie's Seafood Market in the Marchmont area of Edinburgh. Who better to ask for a lobster thermidor recipe? Thanks, Campbell.
Now, one slightly sensitive subject. Your lobster must be fresh - and by that I mean freshly slain. Don't waste your money buying some sad, long dead beast whose flavour deserted it some days earlier. There are two options. Firstly, buy your own live crittur and deal with it at home. I won't spoil the romance of this column, but I've written about it before.
Alternatively, go to Eddies and Campbell will despatch it for you to prepare at home, or will happily cook it for you. When I started on this article lobster stocks were a little scarce owing to the weather. It would be a good idea to preorder.
Campbell says his recipe is lighter than the norm. I haven't had a chance to try it yet, but it looks great to me.
Campbell Mickel's Lobster Thermidor
Ingredients (serves 2 lovebirds)
1 cooked lobster (750g - 1kg); 50g salted butter; 1 shallot, very finely chopped; 250ml fresh fish stock; 60ml white wine; 60ml double cream; ¼ tsp English mustard powder; 20ml fresh lemon juice; 20g chopped fresh chives; 20g chopped fresh chervil; salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste; 100g fresh finely grated Gruyere or Parmesan; touch of Cayenne pepper.
Remove claws from the body of the lobster, crack open the claws and remove the meat. Set aside. Split the head and tail down the centre. Remove the tail meat and clean, remove the little plastic-like sac from the head cavity and spoon out the head meat. All the meat can be diced and combined in a bowl with the cayenne, chive and chervil. (Tom's Note - apart from the sac, virtually everything in the head area of the lobster is edible, no matter how unsightly it may look. The red stuff is the coral, or roe, and the green bit is known as the tomalley. All delicious in your sauce.)
Trim the spindly legs and antenna from the shell and set the shell on a steel oven tray.
Melt the butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add the shallot. Cook gently and stir until tender. Mix in the fish stock, white wine and double cream. Bring to a boil, and cook until reduced by over 50%. Mix in the mustard powder, lemon juice and pepper, check the seasoning and add salt if required. Always season with salt last!
Now combine the diced lobster meat and still warm sauce, and gently stir through the tomalley.
Divide between the 2 half shells. Sprinkle with cheese of your choice and pop under a red hot grill for 6-8 minutes. You want some texture on the top without burning.
Serve with Roast Baby Potatoes (Tom's Note - I prefer chips, but I always was a pleb) and a crisp green salad.