As November approaches, comfort food reigns once again at the dinner table. Whether the setting is a fine-dining restaurant or the family kitchen, dishes that are warm, hearty and filling are the go-to choices in colder weather. Here we feature two recipes, from chefs at Restaurant Award–winning restaurants, that explore comfort food through different approaches to a fall favorite: a savory pie, fresh from the oven. Michael Mina's, below, is a luxurious, complex seafood entrée that can be served family-style. Greg Zanitsch's appetizer (see the full interview and recipe here) wraps fall fruit in an enticing package that manages to be both rustic and elegant.
Lauded chef Michael Mina’s lobster pot pie fulfills that stick-to-your-ribs craving while impressing guests at holiday get-togethers with its elegance and luxury. The dish, which has remained on menus in some of Mina’s restaurants for more than 20 years, debuted as one of his first creations at Aqua, the San Francisco restaurant originally helmed by chef George Morrone. When that closed, Mina moved his signature restaurant, Michael Mina, into the space, where it has earned a Best of Award of Excellence for its wine list since 2011.
The lobster pot pie was the result—as many good things are—of a man trying to please a woman. Mina and his wife were hosting a dinner party. “We had 20 people coming over, and my wife was like, ‘I want a lobster dish,’” remembers Mina with a laugh. “I said, ‘I’m not going to sit and break lobsters and do this for 20 people.’” He instead experimented in the Aqua kitchen and found the solution in a giant roasting pan. “We made this giant lobster pot pie, put it on the table and let everybody go crazy.”
The pie is a multistep recipe best saved for special occasions, but can be made more approachable with a few shortcuts. The key to success is the lobster cream sauce. Mina strongly advocates against buying ready-made lobster base—“I’ve never been able to find a good one,” he says—but it is an alternative for those short on time, as is premade dough for the piecrust. To fortify the sauce, home cooks can use leftover shrimp shells from a previous meal (saved in the freezer) to enrich the flavor.
In addition, preparing the lobsters—blanching, cutting and cleaning them—can be done a day ahead of time. Mina points out that, with most lobster dishes, the chef can only do so much before the guests arrive. “You’ve still got to cook everything and plate it, but with this, you don’t have to do anything. When the guests get there, you just put it in the oven.”
When the pie is done baking, it should be taken straight from the oven to the kitchen table. Hungry guests are rewarded with a rich aroma as the cook cuts into the steaming pie. The only thing left to do is enjoy what Mina calls “that magical first bite of the really flaky, beautiful pie dough.”
With a successful wine match, comfort food can become downright decadent. To complement the lobster pot pie's flavors of baked pie dough, brandy, creamy lobster base and seasonal vegetables, Michael Mina suggests white Burgundy as "the absolute best" pairing. "You get that nice crisp acidity that’s going to cut through [the dish], but also buttery notes that match up really nicely with the lobster." He notes that pairing is relatively straightforward because the dish doesn't rely heavily on spices.
Below, Wine Spectator recommends seven rich white Burgundies that have scored 88 points or higher.
Recipe excerpted from Michael Mina: The Cookbook by JoAnn Cianciulli and Michael Mina (Bulfinch). Copyright © 2006.
For the lobster tails, claws and knuckles:
Note: Have your seafood monger kill the lobsters for you and prepare the bodies for cooking by removing the tails, claws and knuckles and packaging each body part separately.
To prepare the lobster:
1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Boil tails for 5 minutes, quickly remove and plunge into a large bowl of ice water to halt cooking.
2. Bring the water back to a boil, boil the claws for 3 minutes and plunge in the ice water.
3. Remove lobster pieces from the water.
4. Working with the claws first, hold them flat on a cutting board and gently tap the shell with the blunt end of a kitchen knife until it cracks. Gently remove the claw meat from the shell and set aside. Use kitchen scissors to cut along the side of the knuckles. Carefully remove the meat from the shell.
5. Working with the tails 1 at a time, spread the tail out flat on a cutting board. Using a serrated knife, make 3 cuts between the tail joints so that you have 3 equal sections, plus the tail fan, and remove the meat. Reserve all the lobster in the refrigerator until ready to use.
For the vegetables
To cook the vegetables:
1. Place the pearl onions, baby carrots and potatoes into separate pots of cold water that have been seasoned well with salt. Slowly simmer the vegetables until al dente. (The cooking time for each item will vary depending on the size and type of vegetable.) Strain and lay them out on a baking sheet to cool.
2. Sauté the mushrooms, zucchini and squash in separate pans over medium-high heat. Add 1 tablespoon of butter to each pan. Cook vegetables 1 layer at a time, seasoning with salt and pepper, and sautéing until tender, about 3 to 4 minutes. Cook until slightly caramelized, then lay out on a baking sheet to cool.
For the roux:
To make the roux:
1. Slowly melt the butter in a small saucepan.
2. Whisk in the flour and continue cooking on low for 3 to 4 minutes.
3. Cool and reserve.
For the lobster cream sauce:
To make the lobster cream sauce:
1. Clean lobster shells. (Wear rubber gloves to protect hands.) Grasp the lobster on the 2 sides (foot side and shell side). Gently pull the 2 sides apart. When all of the bodies have been separated, use a tablespoon to scrape off the feathery gills and clean out any roe and the innards from the underside of the shell. Coarsely chop the lobster shells and bodies.
2. Heat a large stockpot over medium-high heat until it begins to smoke. Add the oil, then the lobster bodies. Sear, stirring often, until the shells are bright red. Remove pan from heat and add in the brandy, careful to avoid flame.
3. Return pan to medium-high heat. Add in diced vegetables, stirring occasionally until the vegetables are cooked through and beginning to brown.
4. Add in the tomato paste and stir to combine. Continue cooking for 2 to 3 minutes or until the tomato paste begins to brown.
5. Add in the white wine and scrape the bits from the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. Continue cooking until all of the liquid is cooked out.
6. Add in the cream and the remaining ingredients (thyme, peppercorn, coriander seeds, bay leaf). Bring the pot to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes.
7. Strain cream sauce through a colander into another pot or large bowl. Use a wooden spoon or spatula to squeeze all of the juice out of the shells and vegetables. Discard what remains in strainer.
8. Return the lobster cream to a stockpot and return to a simmer. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Slowly whisk in 1 tablespoon of roux. Let mixture cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly. (When the correct consistency is achieved, the cream should just coat the back of a spoon.)
9. Blend using a hand blender.
10. Cool using an ice bath. Reserve.
To assemble the lobster pot pie:
1. Preheat oven to 400° F.
1. In each baking dish, place 2 each of the carrots, potatoes, pearl onions, green zucchini and yellow squash.
2. Divide the mushrooms evenly between the dishes.
3. Place the equivalent of 2 arm sections worth of lobster meat, 2 claws, 3 medallions and 1 lobster fan in each dish.
4. Ladle 3 ounces of sauce into each dish.
5. Garnish each dish with herbs and an optional drizzle of truffle oil.
6. Place a sheet of puff pastry (which should be 1 inch larger in diameter than the baking dish) on top of each baking dish. Gently press the dough to seal the edges.
7. When all the pot pies have been capped, brush the top of each very lightly with egg wash. Sprinkle lightly with salt, if desired.
8. Place into preheated oven for 15 to 18 minutes or until the top is golden-brown.
9. Serve immediately. Cut the crust of the pot pie off the baking dish and place onto a plate. Spoon the contents of the pot pie onto the crust and drizzle sauce over the top. Repeat for each individual baking dish. Serves 4 to 6.
Note:The following list is a selection of outstanding and very good wines from recently rated releases. More white wines rated in the past year can be found in our Wine Ratings Search.
DOMAINE CHANTEMERLE Chablis Fourchaume 2014
Oak treatment rounds out this white, adding a hint of vanilla to the apple pie, lemon and almond flavors. Rich and juicy, with a long, bracing finish. Best from 2017 through 2023. 1,000 cases made.
JOSEPH DROUHIN Pouilly-Vinzelles 2014
This is rich, with opulent peach, apple and lemon flavors, shaded by sweet, spicy oak. Open and inviting, yet with good underlying acidity. Drink now through 2020. 1,500 cases imported.
DOMAINE GILLES Noblet Pouilly-Fuissé La Collonge 2014
A balanced, succulent white, with lemon, white peach, apple and spice flavors in harmony with the smooth texture. Seamless from start to finish, lingering with a mouthwatering impression. Drink now through 2019. 5,000 cases made.
LES HÉRITIERS DU COMTE LAFON Mâcon-Milly-Lamartine 2014
Smoke and flint aromas lead off, backed up by ripe peach, apple and lemon fruit. This is rich, with fine acidity imparting focus and length. The mineral element returns on the finish. Drink now through 2021. 2,500 cases made.
MERLIN Mâcon-La Roche Vineuse 2014
A rich, spicy style, with a core of apple and melon flavors. Almost creamy in texture, presenting a lingering, juicy finish of spice and chalky, mineral accents. Drink now through 2018. 1,100 cases made.
LOUIS MOREAU Chablis 2015
Round, with vibrant, underlying acidity and abundant apple, melon and lemon flavors. Reveals hints of stone and seashore as the finish lingers. Drink now through 2018. 10,000 cases made.
CHANSON PÈRE & FILS Viré-Clessé 2013
Nutty aromas and flavors of peach, melon and bread dough show depth in this lush white, which has good acidity for balance and fine length. Drink now through 2019. 2,000 cases imported.