Butter Poached Lobster by Thomas Keller

Did you know that Thomas Keller invented butter poached lobster?  In 1994, Thomas Keller began serving a butter poached lobster dish at his infamous French Laundry.  In 1999, he shared the recipe with the rest of us when he published the French Laundry Cookbook.

”I wanted to find a way to cook lobster gently, so it wouldn’t be tough,” Mr. Keller said. ”I don’t remember seeing it done anywhere else, and this made perfect sense to me. Who in America hasn’t had lobster with melted butter?”

Butter poaching a lobster follows a critically important first step: par-cooking, which lets the chef remove the lobster from its shell. It is impossible to extract raw lobster from its carapace, Mr. Keller explained, but a very brief blanching, enough to kill the lobster without actually cooking it, frees the flesh.

”Most of the time they tell you to boil a lobster so many minutes depending on the size,” he said. ”But it can toughen, and even if it doesn’t, you can forget about trying to reheat the meat without it getting rubbery.”

Mr. Keller pours boiling water with a little vinegar over his lobsters. Other chefs blanch them in boiling water for just a minute or two. Treated this way, lobster meat can be kept refrigerated for as long as several hours, until just before serving time. The final cooking takes minutes.

The process, Mr. Keller wrote in the cookbook, ”loads the flavor of butter into the meat and cooks it so slowly and gently that the flesh remains exquisitely tender — so tender some people think it’s not completely cooked.”

I recently had butter poached lobster for the first time in several years and, frankly, it was so stunning and delicious that I could almost rate it as my favorite lobster experience.  The butter enhances and complements the lobster and creates a tango of taste on your tongue.  I almost fell off my chair because my eyes rolled back in my head so hard.  Yes.  THAT good.

So … since we are surfing and turfing this week with the #HGEATS Surf and Turf Chat on Wednesday and since The Hungry Goddess stalks Thomas Keller, we are sharing Chef Keller’s infamous Butter Poached Lobster with Leeks, Pommes Maxim and Red-Beet Essence … with the potatoes and beets, should it count as Surf and Turf?


Adapted from ”The French Laundry Cookbook” by Thomas Keller (Artisan, 1999)

Time: 2 hours

1 pound unsalted butter at room temperature, in pieces

Salt and pepper

1 1/2 cups thinly sliced leek rounds

1/4 medium-size ripe tomato, peeled, flesh cut in small diamond shapes

2 teaspoons minced chives

1 teaspoon each finely diced carrot, turnip and dark green of leeks

Red-beet essence (see recipe)

Par-cooked meat from 3 lobsters at room temperature (see recipe)

Pommes Maxim (see recipe).

1. Place 2 tablespoons water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to very low, and whisk in butter piece by piece. Continue adding until all butter is emulsified. Set aside, and keep warm (the best way is in a thermos); do not allow to boil.

2. Bring a 3-quart pot of water seasoned with 1 tablespoon salt to a boil. Have a large bowl of ice water ready. Add leeks to boiling water, cook 5 minutes until just tender, drain in a sieve and place sieve with leeks in ice water until leeks are cool. Drain, and transfer to a small sauté pan. Place over low heat to reheat. Add tomato, chives, diced carrot, turnip and leek greens. Stir in 1/3 cup emulsified butter. Season with salt and pepper, and cover to keep warm.

3. Place beet essence in a small saucepan. Whisk in 3 tablespoons emulsified butter, and cover to keep warm.

4. Heat oven to 300 degrees. Place lobster pieces in single layer in a large saucepan or sauté pan. Add remaining emulsified butter. Lobster meat should be just about covered. Place pan over low heat, and cook 5 to 6 minutes, until meat is just heated through. Remove knuckle pieces, drain and fold into leek mixture.

5. While lobster cooks, place potatoes in oven 2 to 3 minutes to reheat.

6. To serve, place a spoonful of warm beet essence in center of each of 6 plates. Briefly reheat leek mixture, and spoon onto beet essence. Remove lobster tails and claws from butter mixture, draining well; place a tail piece and a claw on each plate, on top of leeks. Break potatoes in six pieces and place on top of the lobster. Serve.

Yield: 6 servings.


Time: 30 minutes

3 1 1/2- to 2-pound live lobsters

White vinegar.

1. Place lobsters in a container with tight-fitting lid. Cover with cold water, remove lobsters and measure water. Pour water into another large pot, and add 1 tablespoon vinegar for every quart of water. Boil.

2. Return lobsters to lidded container. Pour the hot water over them, cover and steep 2 minutes for 1 1/2-pound lobsters, 3 minutes for 2-pound lobsters. Remove lobsters. Reserve water in container.

3. Pull off lobster claws and knuckles, and return to hot water for 5 minutes. Twist off tails, and discard bodies.

4. Snip through bottom sides of tail shells with shears. Remove meat. Discard shells. Cut tail meat in half lengthwise. Remove vein running through top of meat. Place meat on a platter lined with paper towel, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.

5. Remove claws from hot water. Twist off knuckles, and reserve. Hold claw, pull down on small pincer and pull it off. Use heavy shears to snip shell at knuckle end enough to open it; remove meat in one piece. Add to platter with tail meat.

6. Use shears to snip through the knuckle shell, pry open and remove meat. Add to the platter.


Time: 1 hour 15 minutes

7 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 large Yukon Gold potato, about 9 ounces, peeled and sliced paper thin

Kosher salt.

1. Heat oven to 300 degrees. Place butter in a saucepan over low heat. Skim foam from surface, and discard. Slowly pour off clear golden melted butter into a bowl, discarding milky residue.

2. Toss potatoes in bowl with clarified butter. Arrange slices, overlapping, on a nonstick baking sheet, and sprinkle with salt. Bake 45 to 50 minutes, until crisp and golden. Set aside at room temperature.


Time: 30 minutes

1 pound red beets, peeled and juiced, or 1 cup juice from health-food store

1/2 teaspoon red-wine vinegar

A few drops lemon juice.

Place beet juice in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Slowly reduce to no more than 1/4 cup; it should be thickened to a glaze. Add vinegar and lemon juice, and set aside.

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2 Responses to “Butter Poached Lobster by Thomas Keller”

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  1. Mom says:

    I actually made the butter poached lobster for New Year’s Eve using a big tail & and made another tail my traditional way (broiled). Both were yummy, but Dad and I thought the poached was the best and easier. May have to semi retire my traditional method. Love you, Mom

    • The Hungry Goddess says:

      Hi Mom! And for our readers – My Mom is one of the reasons that the Hungry Goddess loves food! I agree – the poaching is delicious!

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