Thursday, April 9, 2015

Homard - Lobster. The Two-Clawed European Lobster. Lobster in French Cuisine.

Behind the French Menu
Bryan G. Newman  
Updated August 2019 

The two-clawed lobster
Photograph courtesy of Brad Cerenzia
Homard, Homard Bleu or Homard de Bretagne –. The two-clawed European lobster, a first cousin of the two-clawed North American lobster. 

The two-clawed European Lobster in French
On French menus, the European lobster, the homard, will often be called the homard bleu, the blue lobster. European lobsters are mostly blue or blackish-blue when taken from the sea, hence that French name. After cooking the European lobsters turn red just like their American cousins. Within France, it is accepted that the best lobsters come from Brittany, and that explains another of the European Lobster's names, the Homard Breton.
The two clawed lobster is very different from the rock lobster,
the owner of the lobster tail.
The two clawed lobster is on the right,
the rock lobster is on the left,

Lobsters or lobster tails? 
The two-clawed lobsters, the homard, whether American or European, are never to be confused with the clawless spiny lobster or rock lobster, in French the langouste  The spiny or rock lobster has no claws and it is the provider of all those tasty, lobster tails.  Additionally, the two clawed lobster provides even tastier meat with a better texture than the lobster tail.  That being said the European two-clawed lobsters also taste a little sweeter than their American cousins. But they are much, much, more expensive and usually seen in small sizes. Price and size are the reasons you will see imported North American lobsters on French menus.

Fresh local crabs will be competing for space on the menu.

In season, are two excellent locally caught crabs the “Crabe Tourteau,” the edible brown crab and the “Crabe Araignée,” the European Spider crab;  will be on many menus. Both of these crabs are full of lovely white crab meat. The “Crabe de Neige,” the snow crab, may also be listed though it is a frozen, but tasty, import.

The two-clawed lobster on French menus:
Bisque de Homard Bleu – A European lobster bisque. This bisque will be made with pureed lobster prepared with white wine, cream or crème fraiche. Nevertheless, when lobster bisque is on the menu it always pays to ask the server how this dish is prepared. Changes to the traditional recipe can sometimes be very flavorful as every chef will have his or her preferred recipe.
Lobster bisque
Demi Homard Gratiné, Pince Décortiquée en Croustillant Sauce au Corail de Homard - Half a grilled lobster with its shelled pincer already shelled and served when crispy with a sauce made from the lobster roe.
Éclaté De Homard au Vin Jaune Fine Raviole à l’Oseille, Morilles et Pointes d’Asperges. Lobster served (with its shell cracked for easy access) flavored with the famous yellow wine from the French Department of Jura in the region of Franche-Comté. This is a special wine that yellows as it ages fir It is not made like a sherry; but, its taste is somewhat like a dry fino sherry. The lobster is served with ravioli stuffed with sorrel and accompanied by morel mushrooms and asparagus spears.
Fricassée de Homard aux Légumes Primeurs en Cocotte Lutée – Stewed lobster cooked with early vegetables in a cocotte lutée with added morel mushrooms and asparagus spears. This is a lobster fricassée, a lobster stew, and the original fricassées were only made with chicken; however, that was originally. Today fricassées are made with veal, other poultry, shellfish, vegetables and occasionally lamb or rabbit.  A fricassée may also be called a ragoût blanc, a white stew.  

A coquette is a casserole and a "coquette lutée" is a casserole covered with pastry. The pasty cover allows the contents of the casserole to breath as a metal or ceramic cover would not, and it still keeps all the flavors in. N.B.  The pastry cover used in covering the contents, even when very attractive, is usually not intended to be eaten.  Other dishes with decorative pastry covers are mostly added after cooking.  Those coverings may be referred to as berets, like the head coverings. 
Homard d'Audresselles    Two-clawed European lobsters caught off the coast near the fishing village of Audresselles, France.  These lobsters are considered by some to be superior to even the lobsters from the region of Bretagne, Brittany. This is known as the terroir of the sea; terroir is a long story and will have to be a separate post.  Suffice to say true gourmets have labeled these lobsters unique.
 Audresselles is a small fishing village and tourist-centric commune in the department of Pay-de Calais, the region of Nord-Pas de Calais. It is famous for all its seafood and fish. Audresselles is  25 km (16 miles) from Coquelles, the first stop on the train from England when it exits the Channel tunnel on its way to Paris.  I have heard of those who come to France with Audresselles their first and only stop in France. They get off the train from London in Coquelles and rent a car, or take a taxi, to a previously chosen restaurant in Audresseles. A few hours later they return to London on another train; that is this lobster’s power of attractions.  If you love lobster, this is where you may check out the very best that France has to offer.
Homard aux Aromates – Lobster with aromatic herbs; at least that is the direct translation. However, this dish is much more than just lobster prepared with aromatic herbs.  The lobster in this dish will be cooked in white wine, together with shallots, butter, leeks, green beans, carrots and then the herbs are added; crème fraiche will be added just before serving. Originally this dish would have been flambéed at your table.
 Homard Canadien Grillé – Grilled Canadian lobster. The North American two-clawed lobster will be on quite a few French menus. It does not matter whether it was caught in Canadian or US waters when imported to France it becomes the Homard Canadian, the Canadian lobster. This name, instead of calling the lobster a Maine lobster, is a traditional show of support for the French-speaking part of Canada.

Homard Mayonnaise - Lobster served with Mayonnaise.

Homard Canadien Froid avec Mayonnaise The Canadian lobster served cold with fresh mayonnaise. Fresh French mayonnaise is wonderful and together with cold lobster an unbeatable combination.  Umm!
Seared Crab Cakes
Avocado puree with wild arugula, oven-dried tomato & shaved fennel salad
 Homard Thermidor – One of France’s most famous lobster dishes; now in its second century on French menus.
The original recipe is the meat from a European two-clawed lobster prepared with white wine and Madeira or port and flavored with shallots and herbs, especially tarragon. All is then cooked in a sauce béchamel prepared with mustard.  Before serving the lobster meat it is replaced in the original shell and served gratiné, that means it is browned under the grill usually with a little cheese.
 Homard Thermidor was created by the chef Leopold Mourier or his sous chef Tony Girod at the now closed, but still famous, Café de Paris in 1891.  The dish was named after an ongoing hit play called Thermidor that was being performed at the Comédie Française.  The Comédie-Française was founded in 1680 and continues today; it is a very French theatre. The play was written nearly one hundred years after the French revolution when the 11th month in the French calendar was Thermidor. The French revolutionary months had 30 days and were named after particular seasons.  The month of Thermidor began round about the 20th of July in today's calendar and indicated the hot month. Thermidor comes from the word thermos in Greek, which means heat.

The month of Thermidor, in 1794, saw the end of the terror and mass executions ordered by Robespierre. Thankfully, among the last to be guillotined that month was Robespierre himself and the terror was over.  Emperor Napoléon I ended the use of the revolutionary months, in 1805, and returned France to the Gregorian calendar.

 When dining on Homard Thermidor, or even a less expensive Langouste Thermidor raise a glass to the idea of Fraternité, Liberté, and Égalité.  Brotherhood. Freedom and Equality. That ideal from the French revolution remains as France's "raison d'etre," its reason for being. It is an ideal much like the USA  Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.
Homard Thermidor

Ravioli de Homard Bleu a l'Effilochée de Fenouils avec Escalope de RIs de Veau au Curry de Madras – Ravioli stuffed with the meat of the European lobster and served on strands of fennel with slices of veal sweetbreads flavored with Madras curry. This menu listing was taken from a family members’ dinner menu on the Orient Express when they took that unique train from Paris to Venice.  It is a French offering, in all its glory, from the blue lobster, and the veal sweetbreads, down to the Madras curry.   France, of course, still remembers and honors the Battle of Madras, India, when they defeated the English in 1746!
 Homard à la Américaine or Homard à la Armoricaine – Lobster in the American manner, or lobster in the manner of Brittany. The original recipe for this dish was created by the French chef, Pierre Fraisse in the 1850’s. After 170 plus years the dish is still on many menus, The sauce is made with butter, olive oil, white wine, cognac, garlic, lots of tomatoes, onions and shallots and herbs along with the coral, the roe, and the liver of the lobster; all served in the lobster’s shell.
Brittany’s ancient name is Armorica
This dish’s name has caused great confusion through the years as the chef and creator Pierre Fraisse had lived in America for a number of years. What name did he give this dish?  Arguments about the correct name and translation for this dish have broken up close friendships in the kitchen. That continues, despite the existence of a letter sent to Curnonsky, France’s most famous food critic. (1872-1956). Curnowsky’s copy of a letter from the chef gave the name Homard à la Armoricaine, lobster in the manner of Brittany. (Curnonsky also gave the name Bibendum to Michelin’s rubber tire man and founded the Confrérie de la Chaîne des Rôtisseurs.  This Confrérie, mostly just known as La Chaîne, is still the world’s largest international gastronomic society).
Where the names Bretagne, and Armorica come from.

 Bretagne, Brittany, is where most of the best French lobsters are considered to come from. Bretagne was originally called, over 2,000 years ago, Amor.  When the Romans settled the area they called it Amorica and the largest national park in Bretagne is today the Parc Naturel Régional d'Armorique. The Bretagne name came with the influx of the British Celts escaping the terror of Roman and Viking incursions among others. These were real Britains. That means that if you want real British food you can go to Bretagne. The Celts also brought the alcoholic mead of their Druid priests, Chouchen. You may buy chouchen in Brittany and celebrate with the French-speaking descendants of the British Celts and Druids.

Armorique has nothing to do with the origins of the name America that is down to the Italian explorer Amerigo Vespucci.  The website of the incredibly beautiful National Regional Park of Armorique is in French only but easily read with Google or Bing Translate:

 With France’s two-clawed lobster being so expensive.  It is no surprise that the wonderful Sauce Thermidor that Pierre Fraisse originally prepared for lobster is now changed somewhat and used with served with other shellfish dishes. These sauces are not made with the original ingredients; but some sauces, despite their difference, are tasty.

 Tartare de Homard et sa Gelée de Carotte et Sésame Noir, Aumonière aux Pinces de Homard - Lobster tartar served with a jelly made with carrots and black sesame. Accompanied by a small pastry purse holding the lobster claw.
Homard Grillé au Parfum de Citron et d’Aneth
Grilled lobster flavored with lemon and dill

Two clawed lobsters in France, as elsewhere, are caught in the wild. Farming lobsters is a work in progress. Lobsters grow very slowly and take five years to reach a half kilo in weight (1.1 lbs), and that is a very small lobster. A three-pound lobster, (2.4 kilos), is probably twelve years old.

The two-clawed European lobsters caught in France are not usually caught in the Mediterranean; they prefer the cooler waters of the Atlantic. On French Mediterranean menus, you will be more likely to find the langouste, the clawless spiny lobster or rock lobster; the owner of the lobster tail.  Some restaurants do import the two clawed lobsters on ice; but note the difference in costs for the lobster’s traveling expenses.

Lobster in the languages of France’s neighbors:
(Catalan – llamàntol and), (German –hummer), (Italian – astice europeo), (Spanish – bogavante (European) or lubigante and  bogavante Americano (American)).
The European two-clawed lobster in other languages:
(Bulgarian –oмарите), (Chinese (Mandarin) -  龙虾,  lóngxiā), (Danish – hummeren),
 (Dutch - kreeft or zeekreeft) (Estonian - Euroopa homaar), (Finnish - Hummeri  or euroopanhummeri ), (Gaelic – lumbrigante), (Hebrew – lobster - לובסטר), (Hungarian - európai homár), (Norwegian – hummar or europeisk hummar), (Portuguese - lavagante), (Russian - Wропейский омар ), (Slovanian - Evropski jastog  or jastog Evropski jastog ), (homer or Europeesk homer), (Polish - homar europejski), (Ukrainian – pакоподібні), (Latin - the European lobster is homarus gammarus and the American lobster - homarus americanus).For translations of some of these names, thanks go to Wikipedia with their Creatuive Cimmons Deed. 


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Bryan G, Newman

Behind the French Menu
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