Memorial Day Seafood Grilling: Lobster, Clams and White Bordeaux

Jeffrey’s in Austin, Texas, crafts a velvety shellfish risotto accented with saffron butter, plus 12 creamy, vibrant white wines to match
Memorial Day Seafood Grilling: Lobster, Clams and White Bordeaux
Annie Whitehead Chef Mark McCain's shellfish risotto works well with butternut squash in winter months, shown here, but this summer, opt for greens like English peas and baby spinach.
May 22, 2018

For Memorial Day weekend, fresh grilled lobster served with buttery risotto sounds pretty darn good—and even better with a balanced, bright white wine that’s a good value. But then, says Jeffrey’s chef de cuisine Mark McCain, one of the best things about the Austin, Texas, restaurant’s shellfish risotto is that it makes diners happy year-round.

The dish reflects the values of the Best of Award of Excellence–winning restaurant, which McCain describes as “American-French” in style, fondly referring to its “old-school” approach that is a throwback to a different era—sophisticated, minus the stuffiness. The kitchen always uses fresh seafood and frequently swaps out ingredients to draw on what's new for the season. Fall might find the rice studded with butternut squash, while this early summer version incorporates English peas for sweetness and baby spinach, folded in just before serving.

At its best, this is a traditional meal that McCain describes as a “soulful, home-cooking dish.” It works well for a group that wants to share entrées—or a hungry family after a day on the beach.

McCain, an Austin native, learned his cooking skills from chefs in Germany. “I was supposed to stay for three months and ended up staying a little less than a year. We just cooked like crazy. I was 22 at that time.” He then worked at one of Ohio’s most prestigious restaurants, the now-defunct L’Auberge in Dayton, and later at Naha in Chicago for almost nine years. Faced with the decision of cementing his career in Chicago or trying something new closer to his family, McCain moved back to a city whose dining scene is booming, joining a restaurant considered one of Austin’s essentials.

Annie Whitehead
Austin native chef Mark McCain joined the team at Jeffrey's in January 2017.

“I come from trying to keep things simple and really showcase the product, so there’s nothing too crazy going on here,” McCain says of the risotto recipe. “We don’t overload the dish with too much rice. It’s very velvety and lays flat across the plate as a nice palette to just scoop up the seafood and all the juices that come out from the wood fire-roasted shellfish.”

The type of seafood can change depending on the catch of the day and personal preference, but you can’t beat fresh lobster. The kitchen at Jeffrey’s uses live Maine lobster, occasionally adding local catch like red snapper from the Gulf of Mexico. When cooking the lobster, it’s a good idea to group the tails and claws separately on the grill and watch them closely. “Most people don’t realize that lobster claw takes about twice as long to cook as the tails,” as they are thicker and denser, McCain explains.

Before grilling, crack the claws and cut a line down the side of the tails. Leaving the shells on until the very last moment helps protect the delicate lobster meat while cooking and retains more flavor. After grilling, if you’re including shrimp in the mix, it’s better to peel those before adding them to the risotto. But for the claws and tails, let the diners have a go at picking the meat out themselves.

The risotto is currently served at the restaurant with uni butter, but for those who can't find or aren't accustomed to cooking with sea urchin, there’s an easier way to add a similarly luxurious touch.

“Bloom saffron in a little bit of white wine and then mix that into softened butter, let it chill and then mount your risotto with that at the end,” suggests McCain. (When shopping for saffron, which can get pricey, be sure to look for threads that are vivid in color and not dusty or broken into smaller pieces.) The saffron butter will keep in the fridge for weeks. “You can even dice it, once it’s cooled down, and freeze it, and you could add that to all kinds of great things—pasta, whatever you have around the house.”

For the pairing, Mark Sayre, service director of the McGuire Moorman Hospitality group that owns Jeffrey’s, looks for a wine with the weight and creaminess to match the dish, balanced by a “nervy backbone of bright citrus” to complement the seafood. He points diners to one with a bit of age—the Château Smith-Haut-Lafitte Pessac-Léognan White 2006 a barrel-fermented, lees-aged, Sauvignon Blanc-based blend from Bordeaux.

Different in style from the Sauvignon Blancs of the Loire Valley, California or New Zealand, the Bordeaux whites have "a unique power due to a warmer climate near the Atlantic, and being bolstered in the blend with round, fleshy Sémillon," Sayre explains. "Combine those elements with Sauvignon’s naturally racy acidity, and now you have a wine that’s built like great white Burgundy: a wine that is capable of high energy and freshness with age, and enough richness to stand up to a dish with copious amounts of both flavor and texture."

Below, Wine Spectator offers 12 recently rated white Bordeaux to top off the meal.

Shellfish Risotto with Saffron Butter

Recipe courtesy of Jeffrey’s in Austin, Texas

Annie Whitehead
This shellfish risotto puts the spotlight on fresh lobster, accompanied by clams, shrimp and an indulgent touch of saffron butter.

For the Saffron Butter:

  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 20 threads saffron
  • 4 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 1. Heat white wine in a small sauté pan on low heat and add saffron. Stirring slowly, allow the wine to cook down by 80 percent as the saffron infuses into the liquid and the alcohol cooks away. This should take about a minute or so.

    2. Add the butter to a kitchen processor and use a rubber spatula to scrape all the wine and saffron on top. Pulse the mixture until smooth, transfer to a bowl and set aside until the risotto is ready to serve. To reserve the butter, scrape into rubber molds and chill in the freezer.

    For the Shellfish Risotto:

  • 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup shallots, minced
  • 4 teaspoons garlic, minced
  • 2 cups carnaroli risotto rice
  • 2 cups, plus 2 tablespoons, white wine
  • 8 cups hot seafood stock, approximately
  • 4 tablespoons mascarpone cheese
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground white pepper
  • 2 lemons, juiced
  • 2 cups English peas
  • 2 cups fresh baby spinach, cleaned and chopped
  • 16 littleneck clams
  • 2 tablespoons chives, minced
  • 4 lobsters, divided into claws and shells (or 1 pound of lobster and crab meat, in the shell)
  • 16 large Gulf shrimp, peeled
  • 1. Heat oil in a large, heavy saucepan. Add shallots (reserving a pinch or two for later) and garlic, and sauté over low heat until soft. Stir in rice and cook briefly. Add 2 cups of white wine. Cook over medium-low heat until wine is absorbed, then gradually add seafood stock, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring constantly until rice is al dente but still creamy. Add the mascarpone and butter. Season with salt, pepper and lemon juice. Stir in any needed additional seafood stock to achieve a creamy, silky texture. Set aside and keep warm.

    2. To blanch the peas, fill a medium-sized pot roughly 2/3 full with heavily salted water and bring to a boil. Prepare an ice bath. Add the peas and cook for approximately 90 seconds. Transfer to the ice bath, drain and set aside.

    3. Over a grill, add clams, 2 tablespoons of wine and the remaining minced shallots to a large roasting dish. Cut down the side of the lobster tails and crack the lobster claws by bringing a large, sharp knife down perpendicularly over the top of each claw. When clams begin to open, add the shrimp and lobsters, putting the lobster claws on the hottest part of the grill, and add chives. Turn the lobster and shrimp once to allow the shellfish to fully cook while avoiding burning the shells. After 5 minutes, remove the shrimp. Cook the lobster for at least an additional 2-3 minutes, leaving the claws on for an extra minute or so if necessary. To check for doneness, the tails should be firm to the touch, and the meat in the tails and claws should have changed from translucent to opaque creamy white.

    4. Spoon the risotto into a large serving platter and gently fold in the peas and spinach. Peel the shrimp. To serve, top the risotto with the shellfish and add spoonfuls of saffron butter to taste. (You will likely not need to use all the butter from the recipe above.) Avoid putting too much butter on the lobster claws and tails, as this can make them slippery and make it harder to remove the meat. Serves 4.

    12 White Bordeaux

    Note: The following list is a selection of outstanding and very good white Bordeaux wines from the most recently rated releases. More wines rated in the past year can be found here in our Wine Ratings Search.

    CHÂTEAU DOISY DAËNE Bordeaux White 2015 Score: 93 | $24
    This bristles with tarragon, verbena and chamomile notes, while white peach, citrus peel and yellow apple fruit forms the core. A stunning quinine spine takes over on the finish, letting the flavors play out while leaving a mouthwatering echo. Sauvignon Blanc. Drink now through 2024. 2,750 cases made.—James Molesworth

    CHÂTEAU OLIVIER Pessac-Léognan White 2016 Score: 92 | $31
    Lovely, with streaming verbena and chamomile notes pulling straw, white peach, yellow apple and gooseberry flavors along with them. The long salted butter finish has lovely tension. Drink now through 2021. 2,500 cases made.—J.M.

    CHÂTEAU GUIRAUD Bordeaux White Le G 2015 Score: 91 | $20
    Lovely yellow apple, mirabelle plum and apricot notes burst forth, quickly harnessed by acacia and verbena threads, which provide focus and cut through the flattering finish. Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon. Drink now through 2020. 15,000 cases made.—J.M.

    CHÂTEAU LATOUR-MARTILLAC Pessac-Léognan White 2015 Score: 91 | $35
    Alluring, with a lemon curd and creamed yellow apple profile enhanced by notes of chamomile and honeysuckle. Shows a butter brioche note on the finish, adding to the lush persona. Drink now through 2021. 3,333 cases made.—J.M.

    DOMAINE DE CHEVALIER Bordeaux White Clos des Lunes Lune Blanche 2015 Score: 91 | $22
    Very flattering mirabelle plum, white peach and yellow apple fruit flavors are backed by a hint of anise on the juicy, forward finish. Lovely hedonism here. Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc. Drink now. 5,833 cases made.—J.M.

    CHÂTEAU PUYGUERAUD Francs Côtes de Bordeaux White 2016 Score: 90 | $14
    This has a nice, chiseled feel, showing chive, sweet pea, mâche and chamomile notes that streak by, with a flash of lemon peel through the finish. Small in scale, but with terrific purity and cut. Drink now through 2020. 1,833 cases made.—J.M.

    CHÂTEAU SUDUIRAUT Bordeaux White 2016 Score: 90 | $29
    Creamy in feel, offering flattering yellow apple, pear and peach flavors lined with light coconut and macadamia nut notes. A very light twinge of mirabelle plum at the end keeps this honest. Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc. Drink now through 2020. 1,833 cases made.—J.M.

    CHÂTEAU CARBON D'ARTIGUES Graves White 2016 Score: 88 | $15
    Lively, with lemon pulp, white peach and chamomile notes that maintain a brisk pace through the finish. Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc. Drink now. 2,900 cases made.—J.M.

    CHÂTEAU GREYSAC Bordeaux White 2016 Score: 88 | $22
    Features a lightly toasted brioche and wet straw frame around a core of pretty lemon curd and white peach flavors. A verbena note chimes in on the finish. Sauvignon Blanc and Sauvignon Gris. Drink now. 2,000 cases made.—J.M.

    DOMAINES DES JUSTICES Bordeaux White 2016 Score: 88 | $14
    Enticing, with a very prominent apricot and nectarine profile, lined with light anise and orange peel notes. Idiosyncratic but fun. Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon. Drink now. 1,250 cases made.—J.M.

    CHÂTEAU DE LAGARDE Côtes de Bordeaux St.-Macaire Cuvée Prestige 2015 Score: 88 | $20
    A plump and friendly style, with orange curd and yellow apple notes mixed with fennel, honeysuckle and salted butter notes. A crowd-pleaser. Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon. Drink now. 1,250 cases made.—J.M.

    MICHEL LYNCH Graves White Reserve 2016 Score: 88 | $20
    Fresh, with jicama, honeysuckle, lemon peel and white peach flavors that align nicely through the focused finish. An understated, well done style. Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon. Drink now. 3,000 cases made.—J.M.

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