Ginataang Lobster: Coconut Oil-Poached Lobster Tails in Sous-vide, with Coconut Milk and Lobster Head Sauce

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Like the Filipino term “adobo,” the word “guinataan” (also spelled “ginataan”) refers to a method of cooking rather than a singular dish. Where adobo requires cooking something (fruit, vegetable, protein) in a mixture of salt (and/or soy sauce), vinegar, garlic, bay leaves, and black peppercorns, guinataan simply requires cooking something (fruit, vegetable, protein) in coconut milk.

Seems simple right? Well, yes and no. Simple in the sense that guinataan as a cooking method is pretty straight forward: simmer something in coconut milk. But like adobo, and Filipino food in general, variations on the theme are infinite—and no, I’m not exaggerating when I say infinite. As I’ve said before in many spaces and in many places, every cook in every household in every province of the Philippines has their own special way of cooking a particular dish. And it is this variety that makes Filipino food so goddamn special.

When making my own variation of guinataan, I usually opt for shrimp (I even have a recipe for Shrimp cooked in Coconut Milk in my cookbook, The Adobo Road). But for this particular blog post, I decided on lobster as the main ingredient. And considering the premium nature of this ingredient, I took things a few steps further than simply simmering a whole lobster in coconut milk (which wouldn’t be a bad thing BTW).

What I actually ended up doing was cooking 3 different parts of the lobster 3 different ways to arrive at one cohesive final dish: I poached the lobster tails in coconut oil under sous-vide, I steamed the claws, and I split the lobster heads in half and simmered them in coconut milk to create a rich lobster sauce to tie everything together. Voila, Guinataang Ulang: Lobster cooked in Coconut Milk (more or less).

Before cooking anything, you have to first kill and disassemble a couple of live lobsters. Prior to the dispatching of said live creatures, you must keep one thing in mind: once a lobster dies, the enzymes, bacteria, and digestive mechanisms within his head/carapace begin to eat away at his insides like a zombie, or a flesh-eating virus, or a zombie flesh-eating virus. So if a dead lobster is left uncooked for too long, the meat inside becomes a mushy mess—especially the tail meat closest to the head. And this is precisely the reason why you always find either live lobsters at the market, or frozen lobster tails, but never whole frozen lobsters.

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2 Live Lobsters

While dropping a whole live lobster into a pot of boiling water may be the easiest and quickest way to dispatch of the creature, and to ensure its own insides don’t eat its own insides, that isn’t in the cards for this recipe. Since everything is cooked in parts here, killing the lobster via another means is necessary.

Besides boiling water or steaming, the next quickest way to kill a live lobster is to simply insert a knife into its head and split it down the center between its eyes. Yikes. It sounds pretty horrible, cruel even, but this knife through the brain trick is supposed to be quick and painless for the lobster since you are essentially severing his brain and pain receptors.

Even after you’ve cleaved the lobster’s head, be prepared for his tail, legs, and claws to flail and twitch about. Don’t worry, he’s not alive or in any pain, that’s just his soul leaving his body and floating to heaven. All lobsters go to heaven, no? Yes. All lobsters go to heaven. That is, unless he gets a hold of me with his claw and gives me a good pinch. In that case, I hope he burns in hell.

Doesn’t that make you feel better about killing a lobster? Me too.

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If it weren’t for these rubberbands,
this guy would probably be on his way to hell.

OK, now that you’ve properly steeled your nerves by impaling a lobster brain, you’ll have no problem separating the lobster tail by twisting and pulling the still-writhing appendage away from the head/carapace. And do the same with the claws and legs too—twist them away from the head/carapace. Since there may be spines underneath the tail and on the legs, it’s best to use a kitchen towel, or even rubber gloves, to protect your hands when disassembling the lobster.

After you’ve pulled the tail, claws, and legs away from the head, you can now split the head completely in half lengthwise, continuing from the initial cut you made to kill the lobster. Inside the opened carapace, you’ll notice some green goo and other innards—that’s what’s known as the lobster tomalley. Also, if your lobster happened to be female, you may be lucky and find some bright orange/red eggs in the carapace as well. The lobster tomalley and roe are all delicious, so those lobster heads will be simmered in coconut milk along with some ginger, garlic, shallots, and fish sauce to make a very rich and flavorful lobster sauce.

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Lobster head insidez

As for the claws, those will be steamed until cooked through. And although the tail will ultimately be cooked under sous-vide, the tail must first be steamed for a minute or two as well. Why? Quickly steaming and par-cooking the lobster tail will make it easier to remove the tail meat from the shell. Once we’ve removed the tail meat from shell, then we can get to the sous-vide.

Rather than poaching the lobster tail meat in butter, I figured I’d play off of the whole ginataan/coconut milk theme and instead poach the tail meat in coconut oil. I simply placed my par-cooked lobster tails, along with a couple tablespoons of solidified coconut oil, in a sous-vide bag and vacuum sealed them, then cooked them at 130 degrees Fahrenheit for 12 minutes in my SousVide Supreme machine. The results? The opposite of rubbery and tough, these lobster tails were incredibly tender and rich. With the lobster tails done, all you have to do is remove the claw meat from the shells, then plate everything with the coconut milk and lobster head sauce, then serve with rice. Enjoy.

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Ginataang Lobster: Coconut Oil-Poached Lobster Tails in Sous-vide, with Coconut Milk and Lobster Head Sauce

Ingredients

  • 2 live lobsters (about 1-1.5 lbs. each)
  • 2 tablespoons, plus 1 tablespoon coconut oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
  • 1 shallot, peeled and minced
  • 1-inch piece ginger, peeled and minced
  • 1.5 cups unsweetened canned coconut milk (chaokoh brand)
  • 1-2 thai chili peppers, split in half lengthwise
  • 1 tablespoon fresh calamansi juice, or lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon fish sauce, plus more to taste
  • Sliced green onions, for garnish

Instructions

    Note: Although there are many steps to this recipe, it isn't very difficult. Just take your time!
  1. Fill a large pot with about 2 inches of water, and place a steamer basket into pot. Bring water to boil over high heat, and cover pot.
  2. Prepare a sous-vide water bath to 130 degrees F.
  3. Prepare an ice bath by filling a large bowl with ice and cold water, set aside.
  4. Kill the lobsters by inserting a sharp knife into their head about 2 inches behind their eyes, then cut through the heads lenghthwise and down to the cutting board.
  5. Tear off claws and tail by twisting away from lobster body, using a clean kitchen towel to grip.
  6. Split the lobster heads completely in half lengthwise, continuing from your initial cut between the eyes. You should now have split lobster heads, claws, and tails. Set the split lobster heads aside.
  7. Place the claws and the tails into the steamer and cover pot. Steam the tails for 2 minutes only, then remove the tails from the steamer and place the tails into the water bath.
  8. Continue to steam the claws for 3-4 minutes more, for a total of 5-6 minutes total, then remove the claws from the steamer and place into the water bath. At this point, the claws are completely cooked through, while the tails are only par-cooked.
  9. Remove the tail meat from the shells, then pat the tail meat dry with paper towels. Place the 2 shucked tails into a sous-vide bag, along with 2 tablespoons solidified coconut oil, then vacuum seal.
  10. Place the sealed tails and coconut oil into the sous-vide water bath for at least 12 minutes.
  11. While the tails are in the sous-vide bath, remove the claw meat from the shells and set aside.
  12. Heat a wok, or large saute pan, over medium-high heat. Add the last tablespoon of coconut oil to the pan, then stir-fry/saute the garlic, shallots, and ginger for 30 seconds, stirring frequently. Add the split lobster heads, along with the coconut milk and chili peppers to the pan. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low, cover pan, and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring frequently.
  13. Scrape the tomalley from the lobster heads, making sure to stir and incorporate the tomalley into the sauce.
  14. If the sauce is too thick for your liking, thin it out with water as desired.
  15. Stir in the lime juice and fish sauce.
  16. Taste the coconut milk sauce, and season with more fish sauce if desired. Remove pan from heat and set aside.
  17. Remove the lobster tails from the sous-vide bags. You can choose to add the liquid from the sous-vide bags into the coconut milk sauce if desired, otherwise discard.
  18. Spoon some of the coconut milk sauce onto a plate, then place the lobster tails and claws on the plate. You can also plate the heads as garnish, or discard the heads.
  19. Garnish with green onions, and serve with rice with more of the coconut milk sauce.
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  • Julie July 3, 2014, 1:18 pm

    That looks so good! I just went back and read the other ginataang posts, and they just get more and more appealing. Not having a sous vide machine, I wonder if I could just poach that sucker in coconut oil as if it were butter.

    Reply
  • Richard July 15, 2014, 5:47 pm

    Looks awesome. Nice presentation. That definitely looks too good to eat.

    Reply
  • bagito September 11, 2014, 8:11 pm

    holy moley, i didn’t know that about lobsters, i mean the zombie/flesh-eating thing. i learned something new today! but that dish looks terrific. yum!!

    Reply
  • IslandangelAr Ofguam June 22, 2015, 1:44 pm

    Shared. Wowee. I love this!

    Reply

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