Fresh tender lobster in a cream sauce is baked in lobster shells and topped with gruyere cheese in this stunning French dish.
Want people to talk about your next dinner party for months? Maybe even years?
I’ve got a recipe for you.
Where did I get the idea to make Lobster Thermidor? From The Lego Batman Movie, of course.
Jonathan and I both really enjoyed that one. We generally don’t like a lot of the same movies. When we’re trying to find a movie to watch together, our best bet has been kids movies. In the movie, Batman gets home late and looks through the fridge for some leftovers to heat up for dinner. He finds his favorite food, lobster thermidor, and then microwaves it.
Who microwaves lobster?
Anyway, we’re like, what’s lobster thermidor? And we looked it up. And I decided to make it. So on a random Monday Jonathan told all his coworkers he was having lobster thermidor for dinner.
Lobster Thermidor is a French dish made with lobster meat in an egg yolk and cream custard, often served in the lobster shell. Thermidor was the name of a month used in a calendar created during the French Revolution. More on the history of the dish on Wikipedia.
I made some changes to the basic dish, mostly to make it simpler. I’ve seen recipes that will have you roast the lobster heads and then boil them in water for over two hours to make the lobster stock, which is used as a base for the sauce. I took a shortcut and threw a piece of onion and celery into the water I used to steam the lobsters. I mixed some of this cooking liquid with white wine and cognac and boiled it for only 20 minutes to reduce it down. When mixed with the cream, the sauce still had a strong lobster taste and so much flavor. And yes, I just added some cream instead of making this complicated egg yolk and cream custard. The last significant change I made was leaving out the mustard because I just don’t care for mustard. I do like how you still get a nice red color in the sauce from the paprika mixed with the lobster.
By the way, I always seem to associate French food with fancy dinner party food. If you don’t like seafood or want another option to make for guests, make sure to check out my Beef Bourguignon.
This recipe was the first time I made anything with lobster other than plain steamed lobster. Normally I would serve one steamed lobster per person (admittedly a smaller lobster than the ones used in this recipe) with some sides. Every Lobster Thermidor recipe I saw had a ratio of one lobster to two servings. I was skeptical that a recipe with two lobsters would actually serve four. However, the sauce was so rich, I was really full after eating one serving of this recipe. Add a salad and some bread, maybe some desserts, and you’re feeding four people a fancy lobster dish for (what I paid) $35 worth of lobster. For a holiday dinner party or even New Year’s Eve, I think you could do a lot worse.
I didn’t have the easiest time with this recipe. First, there was buying the lobsters. I’m lucky in that there are over 10 supermarkets in our town, so I have choices. Most of them, including my favorite, are a bit further away. I try to go grocery shopping only once a week, to save time. With live lobsters, you absolutely need to buy them the day you’re going to cook them. That’s the only way to ensure they’re fresh and safe to eat. I’m not going to name names, but I decided to go to the closer supermarket to get a couple lobsters and four or five other items, rather than making a longer trip to my regular supermarket.
When I got there, I took a quick look at the seafood department first to make sure they had lobsters. I saw a half full tank so thought I was good to go. Then I aimlessly wandered the aisles trying to find the five other things I needed to buy because I don’t know where anything is in that store. Everything at this supermarket was more expensive, the same granola bars I normally buy were $3.49 instead of $2.99 I’m used to paying. So finally I found my other items and went to get the lobster before checking out. I thought the lobsters weren’t really moving around that much, but I didn’t put much stock in it. Like, where are they going to go in that tiny tank anyway? So the guy started taking out lobsters, and turns out every single lobster in the tank was dead.
So I made the trip to my regular supermarket and vowed never to waste time going to this closer supermarket again. When the woman there pulled a lobster out of the tank, it was flopping around so much I thought it was going to flop off the table. They were so lively, I didn’t even take my regular ingredients photo because they wouldn’t stay still.
The two lobsters I bought were 3.40 pounds total. I asked for the smallest two in the tank. I’m used to buying the smaller lobsters, like 1 to 1 ¼ pound each. It was kind of a struggle to get these two to fit into my largest pot.
I’m not a vegetarian, and I understand a lot of the food I eat was alive at one point, and not raised in the greatest conditions either. Buying packaged chicken pieces in the supermarket feels pretty far removed from seeing a live chicken. Cooking live lobsters is probably the closest I get to my food in its living state, and I always feel slightly nervous about it. When the lobsters were cooking, I heard a big pop and the lid popped off the pot. For a split second, I thought like the lobster was getting out. It was just the water about to boil over.
If you don’t want to cook live lobsters at home, most supermarkets will steam them for you for free. (You should still buy them live and get them steamed the same day you plan to make this recipe.) If you go that route, pick up some jarred or canned clam juice or seafood broth to use in the recipe in place of the reserved cooking liquid.
The next difficulty was cracking open the claws to remove the meat. In the past, I’ve sometimes bought soft shell lobsters from local places on Boston’s North or South Shore. Generally I believe they only sell the hard shell lobsters in the supermarket because they hold up better during transportation. I haven’t tested making this recipe with soft shell lobster. I think it would be easier to get out the meat, but I’m not sure if the shells would hold up well enough for the serving presentation.
The claws on my lobster were just rock hard, and even with the crackers, I had a hard time. Once I got all the meat out of the shells, I decided to stop and wash all the dishes and clean the entire kitchen and change my socks (because I even got lobster juice on the floor and they got all wet from that), and that clean-up time is not included in the recipe cook time.
Here you can see how I started to prepare the steamed lobsters. I removed the claws and cut it in half down the center. I removed the guts and cut off the top of the head.
Once you get the meat out of the shell, the hard part is over. You’ll clean up the shells a little, prepare the sauce and filling, and put everything together.
Here are the shells after I cleaned them out, arranged in my baking dish.
Here are some of the ingredients for the filling. That’s the chopped lobster meat, some cremini mushrooms, paprika, chopped shallot, and thyme.
All cooked up:
Here’s the white sauce which is the lobster cooking liquid reduced with white wine and cognac then finished with cream and some shredded gruyere.
That gets mixed with the lobster.
Then you spoon it into the shells.
Top with more gruyere and broil. Garnish with parsley, thyme, paprika, or lemon. Watch guests’ jaws drop. Pretend you are a billionaire like Batman as you enjoy this exquisite gourmet meal.
- 1/2 yellow onion, cut into 2 pieces
- 1 stalk celery
- 2 cloves garlic
- 2 (1 1/2 - 2 pound) live lobsters
- 1/2 cup white wine
- 3 tablespoons cognac
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 medium shallot, chopped
- 6 ounces mushrooms, chopped
- salt and pepper
- 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
- 1/2 teaspoon paprika
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1 cup shredded gruyere cheese, divided
- optional garnish: fresh parsley, fresh thyme, or paprika
- lemon wedges for serving
Add 8 cups water to a very large stockpot. Add onion pieces, celery, and garlic. Bring to a boil over high heat. Add lobsters and cover. Adjust heat as needed to prevent water from boiling over. Cook for 11 minutes. Remove lobsters from pot to cool, but save 1 ½ cups of the cooking liquid.
Pour 1 ½ cups of cooking liquid through a fine mesh strainer into a saucepan. Add wine and cognac. Bring to a boil and boil until reduced to ¾ cup, about 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, once lobsters are cool enough to handle, prepare lobster meat. First, break off the claws at the knuckle. Remove the meat from the claws and knuckles. The claw shells are not used as part of the presentation, so don’t worry about breaking those. Next, cut each lobster in half length-wise. Start at the thick end of the tail and cut down to the thinner end of the tail. Then cut from the head down the body. Remove innards and discard. Remove meat. Clean out the shells as best you can, no need to be perfect, then rinse the shells under cold water and dry with paper towels. Set aside. Chop all lobster meat into chunks.
Preheat broiler to high. Arrange lobster shells on a baking dish.
Melt butter in a skillet over medium heat. Add shallot and mushrooms and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until mushrooms release their juices, about 6 minutes. Add lobster meat, thyme, and paprika. Cook a few more minutes, until mixture is heated through.
Meanwhile, for the reduced lobster stock and wine, turn heat down to medium. Add heavy cream and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring often. Remove from heat. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add ½ cup shredded gruyere cheese and stir until cheese is melted and sauce is smooth.
Pour the cream sauce into the pan with the lobster meat and stir to combine. Spoon the lobster mixture into the shells. Sprinkle remaining ½ cup cheese over the top. Broil until cheese is browned and bubbly, 3-5 minutes, watching closely.
Serve immediately. Good options for garnish are fresh parsley, fresh thyme, and paprika. Serve with lemon wedges.