Lobster with Breton Beans

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Brittany has a very New Englandy feel. The mix of seafaring, royal and revolutionary history, a strong agricultural base and intellectual curiosity has made Bretons into some of the most interesting people in France. Straightforward and convivial, with a bit of Celtic fantasy and an independent streak, Bretons are like their cuisine, at their best when sea and land come together.

So leave it to them to combine two of the best things Maine and Boston have to offer into one fantastic North Atlantic dish. Lobster with Breton Beans or Homard aux cocos de Paimpol.

The end of a wonderful Indian summer kept fresh Cocos de Paimpol at the market and the lobsters were still at August prices.  I won’t go into American vs. Breton lobster debate; they are both excellent when fresh and fished straight from sea. My dream is to have a tasting of both species on a ship in the Mid-Atlantic. Anybody out there who can arrange it?

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About the fresh beans: in France and in Europe you can find them fairly easily from the summer to early fall. In the US, I heard that they are making their appearance at farmers markets and Whole Foods. They are sold in their husks and are very easy to shell.  One pound will yield ½ a pound when shelled. The white Ccoc de Paimpol beans are plump and when cooked have an earthy flavor and creamy texture. They go well with fish, meat, or just on their own. They absorb flavors well without losing their heartiness.

If you can’t find cocos de Paimpol, you can use Navy Beans, like in Boston. If you use dried beans, which are totally OK, follow the instructions to get them to an “al dente” texture for this recipe. Fresh beans are best, but don’t let that stop you trying this great dish.

Just a last word, this dish is really simple. It looks involved, but no special techniques are needed only about an hour of intense cooking – about the time it takes to sip through the other half bottle of the white wine you’ll use for cooking!   

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Lobster with Breton Beans - Homard aux cocos de Paimpol

Serves 5 to 6

Difficulty – simple to moderate

Prep time - 15 minutes

Cooking Time – 1 hour

Ingredients

  • 3 – 1 and ¼ lbs (600 grams) Lobsters
  • 1 lbs of Coco de Paimpol shelled or Navy Beans
  • 1 leak
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 2 carrots
  • 1 thick slice of bacon (about 1/4 inch, ½ cm)
  • ½ bottle of dry white wine (muscadet, sauvignon, etc..)
  • A few sprigs of thyme
  • 3 bay leafs
  • ¾ stick or 100 grams of lightly salted butter
  • ¾ heavy cream
  • Black pepper
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 4 medium sized red tomatoes
  • ½ cup chopped parley (flat)
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Instructions

The lobster

1. Boil 6 quarts of water (do not salt, we will use the water later)

2. When the water comes to a rolling boil, throw in the lobsters for 6 minutes, more for larger lobsters

3. Remove the lobsters and let them cool down

4. Break down the lobsters and remove meat from tail, claws and knuckle joints, as well as any meat you can get from the body. You don’t get much, but it is sweet. Set aside

5. Remove and set aside tamale (the green stuff it’s the liver) and coral (the red stuff) from the heads. This is full of flavor

 The Sauce

 1. Chop leaks, carrots and garlic and cut the bacon into small chunks

3. In about 1/3 of the butter, sweat the mixture in a large sauce pan until translucent

4. Add all your lobster shells, stirring and crushing them

5. Add the white wine and reduce by half

6. Add enough  water from lobster pot to cover the vegetable/bacon/shell mixture

7. Bring to a boil and then lower heat to a fast simmer while you cook your beans. Every few minutes stir and continue crushing shells as you cook

The Beans

 1. Put the beans in a pot covered with cold water, add a few pinches of salt, a bay leaf, a crushed clove of garlic, a sprig or two of thyme

2. Bring up to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes. Your beans should cooked to “al dente” by now, drain and set aside

 Finish sauce and beans

 1. Your lobster broth should now be reduced by almost half

2. Strain the broth in a collander, pressing down on shells to get out all the flavor

3. Add strained liquid back to the pot and simmer

4. Add chopped tomatoes, the tamales and coral, the 2 bay leafs, thyme and cayenne

5. Simmer for 10 minutes, liquid should reduce a bit more

6. Strain from a second time – this gives you a great broth

7. Return this final broth to the sauce pan

8. Add cooked beans and simmer for another 7 minutes, they will absorb some broth and reduce the liquid

9. Fold in heavy cream, another third of the butter, and small bits of lobster meat from knuckles and body to the beans – simmer for 3 minutes

10. Add any salt or black pepper to taste if needed

11. Cut lobster tails into slices

12. Melt the rest of the butter in a pan and reheat lobster tails and claws for a minute in the butter

Serve beans in plates with sauce and dress with lobster claws and meat from the tails. Springle with well chopped parsley. Et voila! 

Marc’s Wine Pairing : 

Macon-Bussières from Domaine de la Sarazinière (10 euros)

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Usually with lobster you’ll want to impress with a special wine. So many people go with big rich white burgundies. Their buttery textures and flattering vanillin flavors do go well with lobster. However, sometimes contrast is more interesting than  complement.  So, I might go in with a Loire Valley, a Graves or a Rhone.

Today I’ll stick with a burgundy from hilly southern part of the region, Macon. Not a non-descript “modern” style Macon, often body built, with oak and sugar into imitation Montrachets.

Vintner Phillippe Trebignaud, makes an authentic Macon-Bussières from Domaine de la Sarazinière ( for about 10 euros ), produced from 80 year old vines that are the expression of the limestone soil. He is a minimalist; no herbicides or pesticides and he harvests manually. This is a bracing chardonnay. The nose of white flowers and citrus will liven up the earthy beans. Limestone from ancient sea floors give the wine a mineral backbone will exalt the briny side of the lobster rather than smother it in butter. Finally, the invigorating acidity brings out the best in the cream sauce and will make you reach for more of everything. 

 By the way, Trebignaud makes a killer red, too. And the price will not kill your wallet.