Gourmet Mac and Cheese with Butter Poached Lobster is beyond any mac and cheese you’ve ever had before. Inspired by Thomas Keller’s dish from The French Laundry, is made easier and in a fraction of the time with a few tricks, I show you!
*this post contains affiliate links, read my disclosure here.*
When I was in culinary school (yeah, one of those stories), I took a class called Art Culinaire. It was a class in which we recreated some well-known dishes from Michelin Star and James Beard Award-winning chefs from around the world. One of them happened to be Thomas Keller and his lobster mac and cheese dish, which was served at his Napa Valley restaurant, The French Laundry, was the dish I needed to taste to let me know that he and I were soul foodies! I have wanted to meet him ever since.
While Thomas Keller is the genius behind the original dish, to make it more home-cook friendly, I took some liberty to adjust the recipe in ways that made it not only simpler to execute but a lot more cost effective as well. As my husband and I finished eating this dish, I was proud to know that I had stayed true to the flavor and technique of Thomas Keller, while also not breaking my very small piggy bank!
How to Make Lobster Stock
Now, the original recipe calls for making a lobster cream sauce from a homemade lobster stock. This stock was made from two whole lobster bodies and cooked for a few hours. It was then strained, reduced to a fraction of the volume and then cream and mascarpone was added to create a thick, creamy, and slightly cheesy lobster cream sauce.
As I thought about how I could make this much friendlier to home cooks everywhere, it occurred to me to make the lobster stock in a pressure cooker. I happened to have been gifted an Instant Pot for Christmas and thought this was a great idea because pretty much everyone in America has one; if you don’t, get with the program and get one with this link!
Because lobsters can be pricey, I did some searching on deals for lobster tails. Since I’m not making a batch big enough to feed a restaurant, and because I had a pressure cooking, tails would work just fine for me! I got a great deal on three lobster tails and used the shells for the stock.
Another creative license I took with this recipe is that the original called for chopped fresh tomatoes to be added to the stock. This is really common for seafood-type bisque’s and I thought that the best way to squeeze out as much depth of flavor as possible was to use canned tomatoes instead. Canned tomatoes have a rich flavor and an incredible color that would aide my poor-man’s lobster stock.
With those three alterations, just to the lobster cream sauce, I was able to recreate the phenomenal base for this dish!
IF, however, you wanted to do it the old school way, ignore the changes I made and continue on with the rest of the recipe.
What is Fish Roe (Caviar)?
There was another change I had to make the recipe and it was made out of necessity. In Keller’s original, he created a coral oil to be drizzled around the dish. What’s coral oil? Coral is another word for roe, or eggs. In particular, he used lobster roe. Making this oil would produce a phenomenal and colorful garnish to the dish but lobster roe is expensive. In order to be somewhat cost effective, you would have to make sure that one of the lobsters you used to create the stock was a female, so you could use those eggs. However, ain’t nobody got time for that, and I honestly didn’t want to run my blender on high for 20 minutes in order to create that gorgeous and vibrant colored oil. What did I do instead?!
I visited my local Asian Market and bought fish roe! I totally stumbled upon this by accident as I was just perusing the frozen fish aisle aimlessly but when I saw that they had fish roe for $3.49, I said “heck yeah!” and threw that tub in my cart. To see what I’m talking about, use this link here.
Using fish roe was such a better option for two reasons:
- Less expensive. MUCH much less expensive.
- This roe already had the coral color I needed to garnish the dish.
I added the roe to the lobster cream and to the finished dish as well! The roe has a slight texture but not something you’ll really notice. And if you’re concerned about a “fishy” taste… you’re eating lobster, you won’t notice. I promise.
What is Orzo Pasta?
Something that I thought was incredibly genius of Thomas was to use orzo for the pasta in the lobster macaroni and cheese. What is orzo pasta? Great question! It’s rice-looking pasta! Simple as that. In fact, random piece of trivia, some Italian families use orzo pasta when teaching their little ones to eat spaghetti because it’s much easier to eat than spaghetti noodles.
I love the look that the orzo gives this dish, instead of the rustic look that elbow macaroni noodles would have given. There’s nothing wrong with that, but for an elegant meal, orzo was the way to go; and I love that choice he made!
Now, when I was reading up the backstory on this dish, I read that Thomas Keller actually had a macaroni gratin at the French Laundry and was inspired to sort-of give this gourmet mac and cheese this gratin-feel by adding parmesan tuiles to the dish. Tuiles are super easy to make. You just use freshly grated parmesan cheese and create circles on a baking sheet with them and smooth them slightly. Bake for a few minutes and let them cool to harden. Easy peasy. I was an overachiever and shaped mine slightly by letting the tiles cool on my rolling pin.
If you opt to shape your tuiles, I would let them cool slightly, otherwise, it would be a soppy, stringy mess. I liked mine to be shaped so I could get a cool picture like this one below if I’m being honest! It’s also great for building height for a dish that would otherwise be kinda flat.
How To Butter Poach Lobster
Thomas Keller could have cooked his lobster anyway that he wanted to, but the man chose to poach it in butter. Can we just applaud him for appealing to the fat kid in all of us? Well done sir! Anywho, poaching lobster in butter is so super simple and probably the best way to cook it, in my oh-so-humble and fat kid opinion!
The best way to butter poach lobster is to create a beurre monte or an emulsified butter sauce. Don’t worry it’s a lot simpler than you think. I did a Facebook live video covering the how to, that you can watch here, but I can also give you a condensed version of the how-to.
To make a beurre monte, you simply add a bit of water to a small sauce pot. With cubed butter off to the side, you slowly add butter, while whisking, to the pot. Allow the butter to completely melt before the next addition. Continue with the rest of the butter and bam! Beurre monte made!
Cooking the lobster is as simple as putting the raw lobster meat in the hot butter for a few minutes and then straining it out of the butter. I like to put it on a paper-lined towel to soak up some of the excess butter.
Wow! This post is much longer than I anticipated. But it’s full of great information! Thomas Keller is a culinary genius and I would die to meet him and thank him specifically for this dish. This gourmet mac and cheese with butter poached lobster can easily be made in a quarter of the time than the original, making this perfect for a special date night!
For some other date night dinner ideas, check out these recipes:
- 2-3 lobster tails, meat removed. This also depends on the size of the lobster tails. If the tails are big, use two. If they’re small, use 3.
- 1 shallot, thick sliced
- ½ cup carrots, peeled and rough chop
- 7 ounces canned diced tomatoes
- 2 ounces fresh tarragon
- 1 sachet d’espices, cheesecloth filled with ¼ tsp peppercorn, 1 bayleaf, 1 bunch of parsley stems,
- 3 cups water
Lobster Cream Sauce
- 3 cups lobster stock
- ½ cup cream
- 3 tablespoons marscapone
Butter Poached Lobster
- Meat from lobster tails
- 8 ounces butter, cubed
- 2 ounces freshly grated parmesan
Putting it all together
- ½ cup orzo pasta
- 1 tablespoon fish roe
- ¼ ounce chives, sliced thin.
- If using an Instant Pot: turn Instant Pot on to saute and warm up a splash of olive oil in the bottom. Add shallot and carrots and saute until translucent. Add tomatoes and saute until most of the liquid has evaporated. Add tarragon and lobster tail shells to the pot, saute until the tails start to turn orange in color, about 2 minutes. Add water and sachet d’espices.
- Next set the Instant Pot to soup, close and lock the lid, making sure that the ventilation is sealed. Set the pressure to high and the timer to 7 minutes. Once the timer goes off, release the steam and allow the pot to cool slightly. Strain the stock of the shells and aromatics.*
Lobster Cream Sauce
- In a small sauce pot, reduce the lobster stock to about half its volume. On high heat this should take about 15-20 minutes. One stock is reduced, add cream and stir. Next add mascarpone cheese to the sauce and stir until completely incorporated. This will not be like a traditional cheese sauce. It will thicken but not like traditional Mac and Cheese.
Butter Poached Lobster
- With a splash of water in a small saucepot, heat the pot over medium heat. When bubbles appear in the water, add two cubes of butter to the water and whisk immediately. Keep whisking butter until completely incorporated. Add butter in small amounts, continuously whisking until melted. You should end up with melted butter that is still completely emulsified.**
- Dry the meat with paper towels and cut the meat from the lobster into bite sized pieces. Carefully add to the hot butter and allow to poach until firm but not overdone, about 3-4 minutes.
- Remove lobster with either a slotted spoon or a spider and allow to rest on a paper-towel lined plate to absorb the excess butter.
- Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a sheet pan with either parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.
- Place freshly grated parmesan on the baking sheet in mounds, leaving room in between as these will spread.
- Bake tuilles in the oven for about 5 minutes. Pull from oven and let cool. If you would like to shape the tuilles, allow to cool slightly before using a dish spatula to move them to a rolling pin.
Putting it all together
- Cook orzo pasta according to directions, about 7-8 minutes. Drain pasta and add to the lobster cream sauce. Stir until well combined.
- Spoon half of the “mac and cheese” into the desired serving dish. Next, top the pasta with butter poached lobster; garnish with chives, roe and Parmesan tuille.
*If you don't have an Instant Pot, you can still make this same stock! Just follow the same steps above but use a stock pot instead. This process will take a few hours to get the same intense lobster taste.
**If you don't know how to make a beurre monte, be sure to watch this tutorial.