Lobster «Fra Diavolo»

Lobster Fra Diavolo

As regular readers will know, it’s become a traditional here at Memorie di Angelina to feature an Italian-American dish every Columbus Day weekend. This year’s entry is Lobster Fra Diavolo, or “Brother Devil’s Lobster”. A distant cousin to Southern Italian seafood and pasta dishes like spaghetti allo scoglio, its pairing of what would be, in Italian food culture, a second course with pasta—a kind of seafood version of spaghetti and meatballs?—not to mention its combination of seafood with tomato sauce heavily seasoned with prodigious amounts of chopped garlic, oregano and red pepper flakes, gives away the New World origins of this dish. It’s another example of the rough-and-ready exuberance of Italian-American cooking.

Ingredients

Serves 4-6

  • 400-500g (14-16 oz) spaghetti or linguini

For the initial searing of the lobster:

  • 6 small lobster tails, split down the middle  lengthwise (or two whole lobsters—see Notes)
  • 1-2 cloves of garlic, slightly crushed and peeled
  • Salt and pepper
  • Olive oil

For the tomato sauce:

  • 4-6 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 1 large can of crushed tomatoes
  • A pinch of oregano, to taste
  • A pinch of red pepper flakes, to taste
  • Salt
  • More olive oil, if needed
  • A small jar of clam juice or, if using a whole lobster, a ladleful of lobster broth (optional)

Directions

Put a large pot filled with water on the boil for the pasta. When it comes to rolling boil, add a generous amount of salt and the pasta, and cook very al dente.

While the water is getting ready to boil, prepare the lobster and tomato sauce:

In a sauté pan large enough to hold the lobster and pasta later on, sauté the crushed garlic in the olive oil until it just begins to brown and discard it. Add the split lobster tails and sear them on both sides, seasoning them generously with salt and pepper. As soon as the shells  turn a bright red color and the meat should begin to turn an opalescent white, remove the lobster pieces from the pan. You should not cook the lobster through at this point.

Fra Diavolo (Prep 1)

Add more olive oil to the pan if needed. Add the chopped garlic and sauté until very lightly browned. Add the crushed tomatoes, a pinch of oregano and a pinch of red pepper flakes, and, if using, the clam juice or lobster broth. Simmer until the sauce is well reduced.

About 5 minutes or so before the pasta is done, add the lobster back into the sauté pan and let it simmer in the sauce until just cooked through. Remove from the pan again and keep it warm.

Fra Diavolo (Prep 2)

Once your pasta is done, drain and add it to the sauté pan, along with a good ladleful of the pasta cooking water. Let the pasta simmer in the sauce, mixing it well and making sure every strand is nicely coated with the sauce. (Add more pasta water if things get too dry—you want to the pasta to ‘slither’ around in the sauce.)

Pour the pasta on to a serving bowl and top with any remaining sauce in the pan and the lobster pieces.

Notes

While lobsters tails are a great convenience, the dish is traditionally made with a whole lobster. The thing about whole lobsters is, you have to kill them before you cook them. There are various ways to dispatch a lobster, the easiest (if not necessarily the most humane) being a quick dip in boiling water. For this dish, though, you need to take another tack: place the lobsters in a freezer for about 30 minutes, which will put them to sleep, then deliver a decisive cut between their eyes, which will kill them instantly. Cut off the tails, then split them in two lengthwise, then, if the lobsters are large, into two cross-wise as well. Cut off the claws and bang them with a meat pounder or the back of a skillet to crack open the shells. Proceed to use them as indicated for the lobster tails above.

The great advantage of using whole lobster is that you also get the carcass, from which you can get some wonderful lobster broth. Just simmer the carcass in water to cover seasoned with some sliced onion, celery, a sprig of fresh parsley,  a bay leaf and a good pinch of salt, for about 30 minutes—or longer if you want a more concentrated broth or fumée. Strain and use about a cupful as indicated for the claim juice. (Extra broth is great for cooking a seafood risotto.)

The dish has any number of variants.  Some modern recipes call for adding onion or shallots along with the garlic, for a more ‘refined’ taste. Taking things even bit further, some have you add some cognac and flambé the dish before serving. Some recipes call for adding a spoonful or more of tomato paste to the tomato sauce, which, to my mind, just makes things a bit too ponderous. Not all recipes call for the clam juice or lobster broth, but I find it adds a certain depth of flavor. Some recipes omit the initial searing and have you add the lobster meat directly to the sauce to simmer until done but, again, the initial searing in seasoned oil adds another layer of flavor. To make for easier eating, some recipes have you shell lobster meat and cut it into bite-sized pieces. The pasta can also vary, although long pasta seems to be a sine qua non, angel hair, fettuccine and thin spaghetti all being common choices.

Finally, you can make other types of shellfish using the same method: Shrimp Fra Diavolo, for example, may have become even more popular than the original lobster.  Clams and mussels also lend themselves to this treatment; omit the initial searing and add them directly to the reduced tomato sauce a few minutes before your pasta is done, just long enough to open them. Calamari can also be made this way;  you’ll need to simmer it for a fairly long time (30-45 minutes) until tender. And there are even recipes out there for Chicken Fra Diavolo for the piscatorially challenged.

The word “Fra”, by the way, is short for fratello, which means “brother” in Italian. In Medieval times, Fra was a title given to members of monastic orders, like Fra Filippo Lippi, the famous 15th century Italian monk and painter. I can’t help think of him whenever this dish is mentioned, even though the connection is tenuous at best. It is common in Italian cooking to name spicy dishes after the devil, but how the “fra” got tacked onto the name of this dish, I haven’t been able to discover. And, indeed, it seems that the origins of this dish are shrouded in mystery.

Related Posts:

Lobster «Fra Diavolo»

Rating: 51

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 30 minutes

Total Time: 45 minutes

Yield: Serves 4-6

Lobster «Fra Diavolo»

Ingredients

  • 400-500g (14-16 oz) spaghetti or linguini
  • For the initial searing of the lobster:
  • 6 small lobster tails, split down the middle lengthwise (or two whole lobsters—see Notes)
  • 1-2 cloves of garlic, slightly crushed and peeled
  • Salt and pepper
  • Olive oil
  • For the tomato sauce:
  • 4-6 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 1 large can of crushed tomatoes
  • A pinch of oregano, to taste
  • A pinch of red pepper flakes, to taste
  • Salt
  • More olive oil, if needed
  • A small jar of clam juice or, if using a whole lobster, a ladleful of lobster broth (optional)

Directions

  1. Put a large pot filled with water on the boil for the pasta. When it comes to rolling boil, add a generous amount of salt and the pasta, and cook very al dente.
  2. While the water is getting ready to boil, prepare the lobster and tomato sauce:
  3. In a sauté pan large enough to hold the lobster and pasta later on, sauté the crushed garlic in the olive oil until it just begins to brown and discard it. Add the split lobster tails and sear them on both sides, seasoning them generously with salt and pepper. As soon as the shells turn a bright red color and the meat should begin to turn an opalescent white, remove the lobster pieces from the pan. You should not cook the lobster through at this point.
  4. Add more olive oil to the pan if needed. Add the chopped garlic and sauté until very lightly browned. Add the crushed tomatoes, a pinch of oregano and a pinch of red pepper flakes, and, if using, the clam juice or lobster broth. Simmer until the sauce is well reduced.
  5. About 5 minutes or so before the pasta is done, add the lobster back into the sauté pan and let it simmer in the sauce until just cooked through. Remove from the pan again and keep it warm.
  6. Fra Diavolo (Prep 2)
  7. Once your pasta is done, drain and add it to the sauté pan, along with a good ladleful of the pasta cooking water. Let the pasta simmer in the sauce, mixing it well and making sure every strand is nicely coated with the sauce. (Add more pasta water if things get too dry—you want to the pasta to 'slither' around in the sauce.)
  8. Pour the pasta on to a serving bowl and top with any remaining sauce in the pan and the lobster pieces.
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18 Responses to “Lobster «Fra Diavolo»”

  1. betsy scotto
    9 May 2014 at 12:25 #

    Frank, I would like to make this with shrimp . . . .can I make a broth out of the shrimp shells and add a bit to the sauce?? Love your recipes!

    • 10 May 2014 at 12:44 #

      Thanks so much, Betsy! And yes, you can certainly make this dish with shrimp. Many prefer it that way to the original lobster dish!

  2. Von Model
    13 February 2014 at 14:41 #

    I ALWAYS cook the fra diavlo sauce the day before and I also remove the lobster from the tails/whole lobster,before cooking and adding the lobster and juices to my sauce,as well as much more than a pinch of crushed red cherry pepper.The lobster flavor permeates the sauce as well as the spicy heat,this dish requires.I also cook thermador ,within the shell as well as newburgh style,but the Fra Diavlo style has long been my favorite……when I don’t just steam or broil it.

  3. 19 October 2013 at 21:17 #

    You know I never tried anything “fra diavolo”? Have to fill this hole soon!

  4. Carolle
    16 October 2013 at 08:52 #

    Lobster Fra Diavolo looks & sounds totally yum, unfortunately lobsters are really expensive where I am & getting more so as we move into winter, however I’ve got some large prawns so I’m going to try it with those.

  5. 16 October 2013 at 02:58 #

    Frank – can I come over to eat with Marie? Seriously, you made a dynamite, elegant meal that I will recreate for a special occasion.

  6. Sue Germain
    14 October 2013 at 18:42 #

    Frank, this will sound like a stupid question but I just want to get it right. I can use lobster broth with the tails instead of clam juice, right? I think
    the fish market sells it and they make it fresh.

    Thanks Sue

    • 14 October 2013 at 22:52 #

      There is no such things as a stupid question, Sue! But anyway, sure, if you can find ready-made lobster broth, that would be even better than clam juice. Didn’t know they sold it!

    • 14 October 2013 at 22:52 #

      There is no such things as a stupid question, Sue! But anyway, sure, if you can find ready-made lobster broth, that would be even better than clam juice. Didn’t realize they sold it!

  7. Sue Germain
    14 October 2013 at 18:26 #

    Thank you so much Frank, you are the best. For Italian I only Google
    you Frank. LOL. The problem with the ones I made was I used frozen
    Spinach, no eggs, no nutmeg. My spinach balls were kind of bland
    compared to hers. When I purchased the ones from the market they were uncooked,
    and the chef told me to cook them on 350 for 15 minutes. As they
    were cooking I noticed the Parmagian was bubbling up from the center of the balls as if she had poked a hole in the middle and put cheese in but their was no visible hole. Her balls had a flat bottom, so I think she mixed all the ingredients together, put them in a cupcake tin, poked a hole for extra Parmagian, and covered the hole with the mixture. I am going to try them your way and I know they will be better. Thanks again Frank.
    Sue

    the ingredients together and made a

  8. Fabrizio
    14 October 2013 at 10:57 #

    I should point out that someone named “Fra Diavolo” actually existed, even though I don’t know whether or how this dish would reference him http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fra_Diavolo

    • 14 October 2013 at 12:24 #

      Aha! I bet he was the inspiration for the name. So many Italian-Americans have Neapolitan roots. And there was even a Washington Irving story named after him. Thanks Fabrizio!

  9. 14 October 2013 at 03:23 #

    Frank, Can I come over for dinner?

    • 14 October 2013 at 12:22 #

      Any time, Marie!

  10. 14 October 2013 at 01:33 #

    A question about the lobster — actually two questions. When you explained how to make this with the whole lobster, you said nothing about having to remove any of the entrails. Isn’t there some sort of “poisonous” sack near the head? (Excuse my ignorance — I never cooked lobsters before.) My second question: what are lobsters in Italy like, as compared to our Maine lobsters?

    • 14 October 2013 at 12:37 #

      As you probably know, there are two types of shellfish in Italy that correspond to the English word “lobster”: astice, which is quite similar to American lobsters in appearance, and aragosta, which lacks claws. Both tend to be smaller than your average American lobster and the meats I find rather sweeter—like most Mediterranean vs. Atlantic seafood.

      To be honest, I’ve never heard of that poisonous sack. And since you would use the carcass (where the head is) for the broth, not to eat directly, no need to worry about one. There is sometimes green gooey stuff inside the carcass, a little gross to look at but actually quite delicious, called the tomalley. I forgot to mention that you can add it to the sauce. And maybe that’s the poisonous sack, since I read in Wikipedia that it absorbs toxins like PCBs in the water the lobster was swimming in and can cause poisoning if eaten in excess.

  11. Sue Germain
    13 October 2013 at 21:00 #

    UtHi Frank, some time ago I asked you for a recipe for spinach balls. As I explained i p.rchased some at my favorite Italian market and my husband and I loved them. I finally ask the chef the ingredients and she told me spinach, ricotta, and Parmagian but she would not offer the quantities of each ingredient. I winged it and they came out good but not as good as hers.
    I would appreciate it if you would send me your recipe for spinach balls. I know you
    have been busy with the website and it is great.
    Thanks a bunch
    Sue

    • 14 October 2013 at 12:51 #

      Sue, Apologies for not getting back sooner! It’s been crazy busy around here lately. I’ve been meaning to blog about those spinach balls soon, so look out for a post in the near future. In the meanwhile, you typically use equal amounts of spinach and ricotta (by weight, that is, say a pound each). Very important to drain the ricotta so it is quite dry, and to squeeze the spinach as dry as you can after you blanch it as well. The spinach is then finely chopped and mixed with the ricotta. You then add your parmesan, at least 100g/4 oz but as much as you want to get the taste, really, plus two eggs. Season generously with salt, pepper and a bit of nutmeg. If you want, you can also add a few spoonfuls of flour, which holds them together and gives a firmer consistency. (Many folks will scoff at flour for the very same reason.) Roll them up into balls and flour them lightly until you need them.

      If you tell me what you didn’t like about the way yours came out, I might be able to offer you some tips.

      The spinach balls are usually called *ignudi* or *malfatti* or *gnocchi verdi* in Italian, by the way, if you wanted to Google some recipes while you’re waiting for mine…

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