Last month I had a great time participating in the 5 Star Makeover hosted by Natasha of Five Star Foodie Culinary Adventures and Lazaro of Lazaro Cooks! This month’s challenge: to create a dish using sustainable seafood. It was one I was particularly excited about because sustainability in food production and harvesting is something I’ve always been passionate about, but it’s also something I will admit I’ve been a bit lax about these days. I was excited to have the opportunity to get back on track and challenge myself at the same time.
I thought the challenge would be especially fun for me if I took something I was already eating and looked for a more sustainable alternative.
Enter lobster. I chose this ingredient because of all seafood it’s the one with which I have the most emotional and nostalgic relationship. I ate it for the first time in college, in the dining hall no less. Every year my university would have lobster night in the dining hall. It was a big production. Each student got a paper ticket that entitled them to exactly one lobster. I, however, was very lucky and had a vegetarian friend who couldn’t have been more happy to pass off her lobster to me. I was a clear amateur. By the time I finished I had bits of shell clinging to my hair, but I was hooked. For the eight years I lived in Boston lobster was a common source of joy for me.
Fast forward to 2011. I’ve been living in Chicago one year and lobster has become a sadly infrequent treat. I knew this challenge was the time to change all that. Prior to this challenge I was most familiar with the Maine Lobster, as I am sure most of you are as well. Also known as the main lobster, it thrives in cold, shallow water and is most common on American restaurant menus. According to The Monterey Bay Seafood Watch it’s a ‘Good Alternative’ but not the ‘Best Choice’ because the current population status is unknown and whales sometimes get entangled in lobster fishing gear.
Image from California’s Department of Fishing and Game
Lucky for me, there was a better, though less known option – The spiny lobster. Also known as the California spiny lobster or red lobster you’ll know it because it has no large front claws and instead has a thick, muscular tail. It’s caught in places like Florida, California, and Baja, Mexico. Unlike the Maine Lobster, it is caught using traps that are less likely to accidentally catch unwanted fish or other wildlife and that do only moderate damage to the environment. I found it stocked frozen (as tails) at Whole Foods along with the typical Maine Lobster Tails.
And what did I make with it? Because lobster rolls were among my favorite lobster-centric dishes I knew I wanted to reinvent them. For my take I decided to make a latin-inspired lobster salad of avocado, bell pepper, and granny smith apple tossed in a homemade Serrano-Cilantro mayonnaise. And continuing with the latin-inspired theme, I traded the standard buns for arepas.
If you’ve never had one before, an arepa is a simple bread made from masarepa, a precooked corn flour. It’s an unleavened and made into patties that can be grilled, baked, or fried. It’s most common in Colombia and Venezuela. The arepas are sometimes stuffed with a filling, making them the perfect stand in for a more traditional bun. I love them! They remind me of a bread version of polenta – dense and full of corn flavor. They are very mild, but serve as the perfect pairing with lobster salad.
Overall, I couldn’t be more pleased with this dish. The creaminess of the mayonnaise and the avocado played up the richness of the lobster beautifully, while the red bell pepper accentuated its sweetness. The crunch of the arepa was also a great compliment to the soft pieces of lobster. The most noticeable difference for me between the Maine Lobster and the Spiny Lobster was that the meat was a tad bit tougher, but easily overcome by using it in a salad where this texture could be offset by other ingredients. No lobster? Shrimp would also taste delicious in this dish and the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch also has some great suggestions for sustainable shrimp options.
Overall I had a gerat time with this challenge. It was fun to find a more sustainable option for one of my favorite treat foods. Thanks again for the invitation to participate and be sure to check out the blogs of our gracious hosts to see what everyone came up with!
Arepa recipe adapted from Bobby Flay and The South American Table and mayonnaise recipe adapted from Last Chance Dinner Club
-3/4 cup milk (I used reduced fat)
-2 tablespoon unsalted butter
-1 1/2 teaspoons honey
-3/4 cup masarepa
-3/4 sea salt
-1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
-1 egg yolk
-1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
-2 teaspoons lime juice
-1/4 cup chopped cilantro leaves
-2 serrano chiles, ribs and seeds removed and minced
-3/4 cup canola oil
-Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
-8 ounces cooked spiny lobster tail meat, chopped
-1/3 cup diced granny smith apple
-1/3 cup diced red bell pepper
-1/3 cup chopped avocado
-2 tablespoons chopped green onions
-1/3 cup Serrano-Cilantro mayonnaise
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. To make arepas, heat the milk in a saucepan over low heat until gently simmering. Add the butter and honey and stir until the butter has melted. In a large mixing bowl, combine the masarepa, sea salt, black pepper and stir until well combined. Pour the milk mixture over the masarepa mixture and mix together using a large spoon until it forms a soft dough. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and let stand for 5 minutes. Then, knead the dough until smooth. Shape into 4 equal-sized disks, about 3/4-inch thick. Oil or wet your hands lightly and shape into balls the size of golf balls. Flatten each ball into a circle and shape the edges to form a smooth disk.
To cook the arepas, heat a griddle or cast iron skillet over medium heat. Grease it lightly with oil and cook the arepas on both sides, turning a couple of times until a crust forms. If the arepas are browning too fast, reduce the heat to low. Total cooking time is about 10-15 minutes. Transfer to an ungreased baking sheet and bake in a preheated oven for 15 minutes. To tell if the arepas are ready, tap them lightly. If they sound hollow, they are ready.
While the arepas are in the oven, make your mayonnaise. Add the egg yolk through serrano chiles to the food processor and pulse until a pesto-like paste, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary.
With food processor running continuously, slowly add oil very slowly, drip by drip until the begins to thickens. Once your mixture starts to look like mayonnaise you can then add a steady stream of mayonnaise. Note that depending on the consistency of mayonnaise you prefer, you may use more or less oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
To assemble lobster salad, gently toss lobster meat through green onions together in a bowl and then gently fold in mayonnaise. Serve alongside arepas or inside arepas by cutting a slit and stuffing with filling.