In the Kitchen with a Dream Machine

Lobster tails poached with butter and herbs. Who needs to rethink anything about that?

I've been obsessing about those tails lately. We poach a lot of lobster tails in a summer at Mac's Shack. And towards the end of the season, when things cool down out front, that's when we start tinkering back in the kitchen.

So I say to Jared, "I've been thinking about lobster and fennel, but I wish I could get the flavors to meld better."

Jared Chianciola joined us in the kitchen as sous chef this summer. "I really like to do the tails sous vide," he says. 

Oh man. I knew this guy was good. But I didn't know he had experience with the dream machine. Sous vide means "under vacuum" in French. They're the ones whose high-end chefs first revved up this old-time method. Now it's become the stuff of Top Chef winners and kitchen gadget hounds. It's not that fancy, really. It's just a way of poaching foods slow and steady, in sealed bags. I tell him about how I've been eyeing Nathan Myhrvold's Modernist Cuisine and poring over equipment catalogs with sous vide machines on my mind for a while.

"Really? I've got one out in my car," he says.

We put a lobster tail and claw into a plastic bag (this is not your mother's boil in bag; it's BPA-free) and add a chunk of butter, a little orange zest, a shot of Riesling, and some chervil and tarragon. That last herb leans in the direction of fennel. We decide to braise the fennel separately and use it as a base for the finished dish.

On our first try, this poached lobster is better than anything I've tasted all summer. The infusion of butter, zest, and herbs is familiar. What is different is the juiciness of the lobster itself. And its texture is meltingly perfect. That springiness people are used to in lobster is really the result of overcooking. I watch it like a hawk when I have it poaching on the stove, and it has to come off the fire before the flavors I'm cooking it with really come together. With sous vide, you're poaching for long enough to dial up the flavor, but gently enough to prevent overcooking. That's what makes it so amazing.

What we're doing on the menu right now is that same fantastic sous vide lobster with a fall twist. It sits on a dollop of parsnip puree. A few sections of fresh orange and a scattering of minced chervil and toasted almonds punch up the finish.

"I'm thinking about oysters," says Jared, looking over at the dream machine. 

"Good." I say. "How could you not?"

We've got one more weekend ahead of us at the restaurant. After that, I'm looking forward to a winter that includes some cooking with Jared. You'll be the first to know about good things ahead for the menu next year.

Jared Chianciola, in the picture above, grew up in Springfield, Mass., but he knows a thing or two about seafood. His grandfather was a fisherman in Gloucester. He didn't start cooking until he moved to California in search of adventure. What he found there was amazing produce and the beginnings of his culinary career. He went to cooking school in San Diego. Fortunately for us, Jared also found a Cape Cod born wife out there on the West Coast. She brought him back where he belongs. She may not agree, but we're glad he took his time getting here because he made stops in kitchens like Rialto, Eastern Standard, and 28 Degrees before joining us at the Shack.



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