One of my all-time favorite dishes to prepare is The Classical Lobster Thermidor.
In January 1891 the play Thermidor by Victorien Sardou opened in the Comédie-Française theatre. The play took its name from a summer month in the French Republican Calendar, during which the Thermidorian Reaction in 1794 occurred, overthrowing Robespierre and ending the Reign of Terror.
The recipe of Lobster Thermidor was possibly created at Café de Paris by Leopold Mourier, a former assistant to Auguste Escoffier, or it was created in 1894 at Chez Marie. Another source says it was created at Maison Maire, whose owner Mlle. Paillard sold the restaurant to Mourier. Maison Maire was a Parisian restaurant near the Théâtre de la Porte Saint-Martin. Paillard created the name of the recipe due to the play's notoriety. The play was highly controversial and was closed by the authorities, re-opening in March 1896.
The Lobster Thermidor at Maison Maire was served like homard Américain, which was made with tomatoes, cayenne, and brandy, but with the addition of English mustard. An early London recipe for Homard à l'Américaine referred to à la Thermidor as a version with the addition of English mustard. An early American recipe for Lobster Thermidor left out the tomatoes, cayenne, and mustard and added cream sauce thickened with Béarnaise sauce and a sprinkling of grated cheese. It can be served with Newburg sauce but is differentiated from Lobster Newberg by the addition of tomatoes.
My take on this classic recipe is listed below:
4 (4 ounce) lobster tails
3 tablespoons butter, divided
2 tablespoons minced shallots
1 ½ cups diced mushrooms (Optional)
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons cognac or brandy
½ cup whole milk
2 tablespoons creme fraiche or heavy cream
1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon
Cayenne pepper, to taste
2 teaspoons fine dried breadcrumbs
2 teaspoons freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
2 teaspoons melted butter
Cut bottom shell of lobster tails using kitchen shears along each side where it meets the top shell; do not remove the shell at this point.
Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a skillet over medium-high heat. Place lobster tails cut side down in the butter. Cook, covered, about 3 minutes. Turn lobster tails over (they are curved so will lean to 1 side); cover and cook 1 minute. Lean them to the other side; cover and cook 1 minute more.
Remove from heat. Transfer lobster tails to a bowl. Remove any shell pieces from the skillet.
Place 1 tablespoon butter in the skillet over medium heat; add shallots and pinch of salt. Cook and stir until pan starts to deglaze and shallots soften, 3 to 4 minutes. Add mushrooms; cook stir until golden brown, 5 to 6 minutes. Add flour; stir until mushrooms are coated and cook for 2 minutes. Pour in cognac; use a kitchen torch to flame cognac to burn off alcohol. This will take just a few seconds. Add milk; cook and stir until pan is completely deglazed and milk begins to thicken and turn bubbly, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in creme fraiche. Let cool.
Remove lobster meat from the shell, leaving top shell intact. Remove any bits of bottom shell from the meat.
Preheat oven to 450 degrees F (230 degrees C). Line a baking pan with crinkled up foil. Make 4 channel-like indentations in the foil to hold and stabilize the lobster tails as they bake.
Slice lobster meat down the middle and check for and remove any dark veins. Chop into 1/2-inch pieces. Transfer meat to a mixing bowl. Add cooled sauce, tarragon, pinch of salt, and cayenne pepper. Stir gently until well blended.
Divide mixture among the lobster tail shells; place in prepared foil-lined pan. Sprinkle each lobster tail with about 1/2 teaspoon breadcrumbs and 1/2 teaspoon grated cheese. Drizzle melted butter on the stuffed shells.
Bake in preheated oven until nicely browned and heated through, about 10 minutes. If you like, you can turn on the broiler and broil 1 minute until tops are golden and crispy.