“I really believe that in many cases you don’t choose a career, it chooses you,” said Bill Bracken.
And if the stars are in alignment, the career that chooses you is one that complements your very being. That, happily, is the case for Bracken, executive chef at the Island Hotel Newport Beach in California, where he heads up culinary operations, including the Palm Terrace Restaurant & Lounge.
An award-winning chef who describes himself as just “a simple guy from Kansas,” Bracken developed a love of food at a young age while cooking with his mother and grandmothers. The result is a culinary style that’s honest and full of integrity. He explained, “I grew up in a world where food was real and pure, so freshness and flavor always come first for me.”
Pan-roasted Maine lobster in lobster sauce with potato gnocchi, butternut squash and black trumpet mushrooms
4 11⁄2-pound live Maine lobsters
3 to 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4 tablespoons sweet butter Salt and freshly ground white pepper, to taste
30 potato gnocchi, blanched (recipe follows)
Bring a very large pot of salted water to a boil. Place the lobsters in the boiling water, being sure to keep the water boiling. Cook for about 2 minutes; remove and plunge lobsters into icecold water immediately. (If necessary, cook the lobsters one at a time.) When the lobsters are cold, remove the tail, arms and claws from the body of each lobster. Carefully split the tail down the back, using scissors to cut down the middle if necessary, and remove the meat. Use scissors to split the arm down one side and remove the meat. Using a knife, crack open the claw and remove the meat. Reserve all the lobster meat, as well as the shells and bodies for the lobster stock, in the refrigerator until ready to use.
Heat a large, heavy sauté pan over medium heat. Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil and the lobster meat in the pan. Sauté lobster meat on one side until bright red, about 3 minutes. Turn the lobster over and add half the butter and the chopped parsley. Continue to cook and baste with the butter in the pan. Season with salt and white pepper. When cooked through (approximately 3 minutes on each side), remove from the pan and place on a paper towel to drain.
For the gnocchi:
2 large russet potatoes 1 cup flour1 egg yolk
2 to 3 tablespoons grated Parmigiano-Reggiano Salt and freshly ground white pepper, to taste
6 ounces black trumpet mushrooms
6 ounces butternut squash, diced
Place the potatoes in a pot of water and bring to a simmer. Cook until fork tender (approximately 30 minutes, depending on the size of potatoes) and remove from the water. When just cool enough to handle, pass the potatoes through a ricer or food mill and place in large mixing bowl or on a cutting board. Form a well in the middle and add the egg yolk, Parmigiano-Reggiano and half the flour. Season with salt and freshly ground white pepper. Carefully mix by folding the potato mixture over and in as you would a pie dough. Continue to mix carefully, to avoid developing the gluten too much. Add flour as needed until you have a tender, yet incorporated dough. Allow to rest for 10 minutes. Divide the dough in half and roll into two long cylinders, each with the diameter of a quarter. Cut the cylinders into 1-inch pieces. Run a fork along the dough to create small lines on each piece. Allow the gnocchi to rest in the refrigerator for 2 hours. Drop the gnocchi into a pot of boiling salted water and cook just until tender, about 3 to 5 minutes. Cool in ice water, drain well and keep in the refrigerator until ready to serve. The gnocchi can also be stored raw in the freezer for several weeks until ready to use.
While the lobster is cooking, heat a medium nonstick sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add a tablespoon of olive oil and a tablespoon of butter to the pan. When oil is hot, add the blanched gnocchi and cook until golden brown on one side. Turn over the gnocchi and add the mushrooms and butternut squash. Continue to cook for about 2 minutes until the gnocchi is browned on both sides. Toss well and continue to cook for another minute or two until the squash is al dente. Season with salt and ground pepper.
For the sauce:
11⁄4 cups lobster stock (recipe follows)
1 tablespoon diced green basil
1 tablespoon chopped chives
1 tablespoon butter
1⁄2 cup heavy cream, whipped Salt and freshly ground white pepper, to taste
8 micro pea tendril leaves, for garnish
Place the lobster stock in a small saucepan and simmer, reducing the stock by about one third. Add the basil and chives, and season with salt and white pepper. Using a whisk, blend in the butter. Add the whipped cream and stir well; bring to a gentle boil until the cream rises.
For the lobster stock:
3 tablespoons olive oil Lobster bodies and shells from the 4 lobsters, broken apart
1 small carrot, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
4 garlic cloves, whole
3 to 4 tablespoons tomato paste
2 Roma tomatoes
2 ounces brandy
2 ounces ruby port wine
4 ounces dry white wine
3 cups chicken stock (use water and chicken base, if needed)
1 small bay leaf
2 sprigs tarragon
2 to 3 sprigs parsley
8 to 10 white peppercorns
In a large stockpot, heat the olive oil until smoking hot. Add the lobster bodies and shells and cook until bright red. Add the carrot, onion, celery and garlic, and continue to roast over high heat until the vegetables are a light golden brown. Add the tomato paste and Roma tomatoes and cook for another 5 minutes. Add the brandy and port wine, and simmer until almost dry. Add the white wine and reduce to a thick syrup. Add the chicken stock and herbs, and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook until the stock is reduced to approximately 11⁄4 cups and a good strong lobster flavor is acquired. Strain through a fine chinois and cool. Store in the refrigerator until ready to use. Stock can be made a day in advance.
PRESENTATION: Divide the gnocchi mixture into the middle of four large soup plates. Divide the lobster and arrange neatly on top of the gnocchi mixture, putting the tail meat down first and then the arms and claws on top. Spoon the sauce over the top of the lobster and around the plate. Toss the pea tendrils with a drop of olive oil, salt and pepper and garnish the top of each serving with a couple of pea tendril leaves.
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