I am still very full from Colombia’s enormous national dish Bandeja Paisa, but it is time to continue the journey. Today we head back to Africa and the island nation of Comoros. Officially called the Union of Comoros, the name is derived from the Arabic word for moon, Qamar. To get there we sail east from Colombia across the Atlantic Ocean and south around the Cape of Good Hope. In the Mozambique Channel between Madagascar and Mozambique lies the tiny group of islands that make up the Union of Comoros.
Comoros is the southernmost member of the Arab league. The third smallest nation in Africa, it is also one of the most densely populated and poorest nations in the continent. The archipelago consists of 4 major islands, Grande Comoro or Ngazidja, Mohéli or Mwali, Anjouan or Nzwani, and Mayotte or Mahoré, as well as many smaller islands. The government has never administered the island of Mayotte, which France still administers as an overseas department.
Stability is the key by which most nations’ measure success and stability frequently has its roots in economic well being. The story of life in Comoros is one of poverty, subsistence farming, struggles for independence from France and coup after coup in post colonial government upheavals. In fact the coups come with such regularity that people often refer to the nation as “Coup-Coup Land”.
Agriculture is the largest economic sector in Comoros, employing 80% of the labor force and counting for 40% of the economy. The 3 F’s – Farming, Fishing and Forestry account for most of this sector. Comoros is the world’s leading producer and exporter of Ylang-Ylang as well as a major exporter of vanilla, similar to neighboring Madagascar.
In the past, before the construction of the Suez Canal, ships travelling westward had to navigate south around Africa to enter the Atlantic Ocean. Comoros was a stopping off and resting point for these ships. This transient nature influenced the degree of cultural diversity found in Comoros today. The flag seems to reflect this diversity with its many colors and its festive design.
You can taste this diversity in the food and see it in the vibrant colors and tropical nature of Comoros. Indian, Arabic, French and Sub Saharan African influences result in one of the most interesting and varied cuisines in the region. The national dish of Comoros is Langouste a La Vanille, or Lobster in Vanilla Sauce. This dish has its roots in France and is a wonderful hybrid of French technique and Comorian local produce.
The lobster of Southern Africa is not the same Maine Lobster we would typically catch on the east coast of the US. The local species is one of several clawless crustaceans known regionally as “Crayfish” or Spiny Lobster. It is some of the most highly sought after lobster meat on earth. Prized for its incredible sweet rich tender meat, the “Crayfish” is caught throughout the southern Indian Ocean including nearby South Africa and distant Australia and sells for approximately $30 USD per pound wholesale with retail prices reaching upwards of $75 USD! Fortunately for Comorians, it can be caught throughout the local waters by anyone with the patience to fish for it. Discovering and identifying these trends is the purpose of our journey. Cooking and eating them is merely a bonus, in this case a delicious one!
Warning: Lobster as well as other shellfish can be a deadly temptation for some people. Anaphylaxis caused by shellfish allergies can kill someone with a sensitivity to tropomyosin the protein that causes most of the allergic reactions to shellfish. On that note, I have devised a literary method to describe this dish to someone who is unable to eat it, further “rubbing in” their unfortunate condition. This dish is similar to nutty white chocolate with notes of caramel, citrus and seawater. I realize you cannot eat words, but perhaps the mind can satisfy what the body cannot tolerate.
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Appearance: 5 out of 5
Aroma: 4 out of 5
Flavor: 5 out of 5
Total: 14 out of 15
Roast Lobster with Vanilla Sauce
Served on a bed of Tender Wilted Spinach w/baby Vidalia Onions and Clover Sprouts
- 2 live lobsters, 1 1/4- to 1 1/2-pounds each
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 7 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons unsalted butter
- 3 medium shallots, peeled and finely chopped
- 1/4 cup white wine
- 1 1/2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
- 1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- Freshly ground pepper to taste
- 3/4 pound tender spinach, stemmed
- Baby Vidalia Onion bulbs sliced into coins
- Tender Clover sprouts (or other sprouts)
Place a roasting pan large enough to hold the lobsters in the oven and preheat to 450 degrees. With the tip of a sharp knife pierce lobsters between the eyes to sever the spinal cord. Crack claws using the blunt edge of a cleaver or a hammer. Place lobsters in the hot roasting pan, drizzle with oil and roast until red, about 15 minutes. Remove from oven, and set aside.
Melt 2 teaspoons of butter in a small sauce pan, add the shallots and sauté over low heat until soft and translucent, about 3 minutes. Add wine and vinegar, raise heat and cook at a moderate boil until the liquid is reduced to 1 tablespoon, about 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat, and whisk in 6 tablespoons of butter, about 1 tablespoon at a time until all is incorporated. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean into the sauce, stir to combine and strain out the shallots through a chinois (strainer) into a clean saucepan. Use a spoon or wooden spoon to gently mash the shallots in the chinois to squeeze out all of the sauce. Season with 1/4 teaspoon salt and pepper, and set aside.
When the lobsters are cool enough to handle, remove the meat from the claws. Detach the tails, and discard the heads. With a pair of scissors, cut the shell on the underside of each tail in half lengthwise, remove the meat and cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Loosely cover the meat with aluminum foil, and keep warm.
Melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a large pot, and add spinach and Vidalia’s. Stir until greens have melted down, and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the greens become tender, about 5 minutes. Season them with 1/4 teaspoon of salt and pepper.
To serve, reheat the sauce over low heat until warm, whisking constantly. Place a bed of greens on each plate, arrange the lobster meat on top and spoon the sauce over the lobster. Top with clover Sprouts. Serve immediately.
Other Sources: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spiny_lobster