Lobster Boil, Napa Style
By Susie Heller
Casual entertaining is the norm at my house, even more so when the guests become participants. I particularly love to entertain outside during the summer and fall and there’s nothing more fun than a boil, especially when the guests don’t know what to expect.
I learned this New Orleans style boil from Emeril Lagasse. Over 25 years ago I was culinary producer for Julia Child and went to New Orleans to visit the not-yet-famous Emeril. The decision was easy, Emeril would make Julia a crawfish boil on her television series. This was a new experience for Julia and she was smitten, eating with her hands, no plates, just sitting with Emeril at a paper-lined table filled with shellfish, corn, artichokes, potatoes, lemons, onions, celery. It seemed fitting to have a boil to honor what would have been her 105th birthday.
Lobster was the star this time (although when they are in season, I always include crab) plus shrimp, clams, mussels and the same vegetables Emeril used. We heated up two 80-plus gallon boil pots (with inserts) and seasoned the water with boil spices (Zatarains is my favorite), some Old Bay and handfuls of Kosher salt. We added lemons, heads of garlic and onions for more flavor. After that simmered for a while, artichokes went in first since they took the longest, followed by potatoes. Then lobster, and when they were almost cooked, the remaining shellfish. Meanwhile, we grilled some andouille sausage. It’s often added to the pot, but I prefer it grilled.
Your choice of guests matter. My friend Jorge is always there to help with cooking and providing real muscle power at serving time. Thrilled that my long-time friend Thomas Keller came, and I was happy to step aside and let him cook the boil (I’ll be his prep cook anytime!). It’s hard to describe his knowledge and precision, knowing when to add each ingredient so that they were all perfectly cooked at the same time. As soon as the boil was poured onto the table, the grilled andouille was added to the top. Chairs were pulled up, warm baguettes were passed around and the eating began. The corn was incredibly sweet and the artichokes and potatoes soaked up the flavors of the broth. Everyone had melted butter, garlic aioli and cocktail sauce for dipping.
For me, the best part of any party is the memories you create and this one will last a lifetime.