by Shari Randall
I have to admit that my favorite cooking utensils are the take-out menu and the phone. I do occasionally enjoy baking and I can follow a recipe like nobody's business. That's why I've been surprised to discover that some folks have categorized my mystery series as a "culinary cozy."
Cue laughter from my husband and kids.
I write a series set at the Lazy Mermaid Lobster Shack in mythical Mystic Bay, Connecticut. The Mermaid is owned by Gina "Aunt Gully" Fontana, a woman who has finally achieved her dream of owning a lobster shack. Lobsters are her life and foodies travel miles to eat one of her award winning lobster rolls, which are served topped with Lobster Love sauce. This sauce is basically lobster bisque. Yes, Aunt Gully pours lobster plus butter and heavy cream on lobster.
In the name of research, I've visited many lobster shacks and enjoyed the delicious treats they prepare.
But I've never cooked a lobster myself. This past weekend I decided to change that and tackle not just cooking a lobster, but also creating the delicious Lobster Love sauce that lures lobster lovers to the Lazy Mermaid lobster shack.
Could writing a character who is an excellent cook help me in the kitchen? I decided to channel Aunt Gully's expertise and cook a lobster.
(Full disclosure: All this cooking took a village, including my husband and fabulous sister-in-law, who is an even better cook than Aunt Gully.)
It started with steaming some lobsters, which we had to eat with clams casino, corn on the cob, and a lovely a bean salad my husband made because sometimes you have to make sacrifices for your art.
If you've read the books, you know that Aunt Gully sings to her lobsters as they make the ultimate sacrifice, so I hummed her signature tune ("Get Happy" from Summer Stock) as I put the lobsters in the pot.
Of course, the key to lobster bisque is the lobster flavor - and butter and heavy cream. Lots of butter and heavy cream.
How to get the lobster flavor? For my bisque recipe, we used the leftover lobster carcasses.
Preparing the carcasses is as much fun as it sounds – removing the "yucky stuff" (the intestinal tract and the sac behind the head), breaking up the shells, and sauteeing them in butter. This created a low-tide odor in the house that took two days to dissipate. Take my advice and always cook your lobsters outside on your grill.
We combined the carcasses with garlic, onion, carrots, tomatoes, herbs, and stock, simmered the resulting mixture, removed the shells, ran the mixture through a food processor, strained it, simmered it some more, added a lot of butter and cream, tasted the soup, added salt and pepper, and there it was. Aunt Gully's Lobster Love sauce.
It took hours to prepare, but the end result was worth it. I not only gained a beautiful bowl of bisque, I gained a whole new appreciation for Aunt Gully.
Have you ever tried to channel one of your characters? What are some of the things you've done in the name of research for your writing?
Shari Randall's latest Lobster Shack Mystery, AGAINST THE CLAW, will be published by St. Martin's Press on July 31.