Delmonico’s is the oldest restaurant in the country. It is also one of the most expensive. In fact, one of its most expensive dishes, the famous Lobster Newburg, was invented in the restaurant in 1876. A decadent dish of lobster and cream, brandy and caviar, "the classic" Lobster Newburg costs $49 at Delmonico’s per person, plus tax and tip. But, if you make it yourself—buying only two pounds of lobster for four people and skipping the optional caviar garnish or choosing the cheap variety—this splurge can suddenly become very affordable, very Old New York, very haute classic. The only thing you need to invest is your time.
- Two 1-pound live lobsters
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1/2 cup diced carrots
- 1/2 cup diced onion
- 1/2 cup diced celery
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon brandy
- 3 cups heavy cream
- Coarse salt and freshly ground white pepper to taste
- 2 shallots, peeled and minced
- Cayenne pepper to taste
- Freshly ground nutmeg to taste
- 1 large egg yolk, at room temperature
- 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed, strained lemon juice
- 1 ounce American sturgeon caviar, optional
- Brioche Batons (recipe follows), optional
- 1 loaf brioche bread
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) melted unsalted butter
- Sea salt to taste
Place a lobster on a cutting board. Using a sharp chef’s knife held vertically, plunge the point into the lobster’s head about 1 inch behind the eyes. Push the knife completely in to touch the cutting board and then move it forward to cut the entire head in half. This is the quickest and easiest method for killing a live lobster. Pull the claws from the body. Prepare an ice water bath in a bowl large enough to hold all the lobster parts and set it aside.
Place the claws and bodies in the top half of a steamer over boiling water. Cover and steam the lobster for 3 minutes. Remove the bodies and continue steaming the claws for an additional 3 minutes. Immerse both the bodies and claws in the ice water bath as soon as you remove them from the steamer to stop the cooking.
Crack the shells on the bodies and claws and carefully remove the meat, keeping it in pieces as large as possible. Separately reserve the meat and the shells.
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Place the lobster shells in a roasting pan in the preheated oven and roast, turning occasionally, for about 12 minutes, or until nicely colored and fragrant. Remove from the oven and set aside.
Heat 2 tablespoons of the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the carrot, onion, and celery and sauté for about 4 minutes, or just until the vegetables begin to soften without taking on any color. Add the tomato paste and sauté for about 1 minute, or just until well-incorporated. Stir in the reserved lobster shells, followed by 1/4 cup of the brandy. Cook for about 3 minutes, stirring to deglaze the pan. Add the cream, stir to blend, and raise the heat. Bring to a simmer and then immediately lower the heat to a gentle simmer. Season with salt and pepper and cook gently for about 1 1/2 hours, or until very thick and well seasoned.
Remove the sauce from the heat and pour it through a fine-mesh sieve into a clean container, pressing on the solids to extract all the flavor. Discard the solids and set the sauce aside.
Heat the remaining tablespoon of butter in a medium sauté pan over medium-low heat. Add the shallots and season with cayenne and nutmeg. Cook, stirring constantly, for about 2 minutes, or until the seasonings have colored and are fragrant. Add the reserved lobster meat and sauté for 1 minute. Add the remaining tablespoon of brandy, stirring to deglaze the pan. Add the reserved cream sauce, raise the heat, and bring to a gentle simmer.
Place the egg yolk in a small bowl.
Remove from the heat and, using a slotted spoon, transfer an equal portion of the lobster meat to each of 4 shallow soup bowls. Whisk a bit of the hot sauce into the egg yolk to temper it and then whisk the egg mixture into the sauce. Add the lemon juice, taste, and, if necessary, adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper. Pour the sauce over the lobster in each bowl. If using, spoon an equal portion of caviar into the center of each bowl and garnish with Brioche Batons. Serve immediately.
Preheat oven to 375°F.
Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Set aside.
Using a serrated knife, slice the ends from the brioche. Then cut the brioche crosswise into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Trim the crust from all sides of each slice. Cut each slice into logs about 1/2 inch wide. You will need 5 pieces for each serving of the lobster.
Using a pastry brush, generously coat all sides of the brioche pieces with butter. Season with sea salt and place in a single layer on the prepared baking sheet.
Bake for about 7 minutes, or until golden and crisp. Remove from the oven and serve warm.