Spiny tail lobster, Florida lobster, rock lobster, bugs, or as the Conchs say Crawfish – these are all names for our delicious little friend! Not really comparable to their northern cousin the Maine lobster. To me they are both very different and unique in their own ways.
I can remember absolutely loving lobster since a young boy. An after school tradition, my friends and I would ride our bikes to our secret spot just off the side of the road, and put on our mask, snorkel and a pair of gloves made of socks. We would be in the water and in no time have a tail or two per person.
We would then race them to my friend Mikey’s house throw them on the grill with butter, key lime, salt, and pepper. What an amazing after school snack. Over the years I have prepared crawfish (lobster) many ways but this is one has always been one of my favorites.
Another Cuban-Conch traditional favorite of mine is “Enchilado de Langousta” the Cuban name for the dish, or “Chilao” the 2 syllable Conch term for the dish. One thing you have to know about Conchs is that if a name of a person, place or a dish is a mouthful we will just rename it whatever we want! Chilao is a tomato based stew made of beer, sofrito, and a tomato sauce that has a beautiful aroma of fresh shell fish. There are different variations made with stone crab, shrimp, crawfish, some are served with yellow corn meal (polenta), served over white rice, or simply with a loaf of Cuban bread. Whatever you decide to call it, you will definitely call it delicious!
- Lobster Shells
- Onion scraps
- 2 garlic cloves
- 2 bay leaves
- Salt and pepper
Put all ingredients in a 1 gallon pot, bring to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes. Strain, and save liquid content for later use. This is going to provide tremendous flavor for your Chilao.
- 1 large onion, diced small
- 1 large green pepper, diced small
- 5 garlic cloves minced
- 2 tablespoons ground cumin
- 1 tablespoon oregano
- 4 bay leaves
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 cans of tomato sauce
- 2 beers of your choice
- 2 cups red wine
- Fresh ground pepper
- ¼ cup chopped culantro (not cilantro)
- 2 tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce
- 3 key limes cut in half
- 6 lobster tails large dice (removed from the shell and save the shells aside)
Method of preparation:
Heat a 1 gallon pot on the stove top at medium high heat. Then start your cooking by sautéing the garlic in olive oil for about 1 minute. After your garlic is sautéed, add your onion and cook until they are translucent in color. Repeat the process with the green peppers. Once the green peppers are soft add your spices, salt, pepper and sauté for about 1 minute. At that time add your beer and wine and simmer for 5 minutes. After simmering add your lobster stock about 4 cups, tomato sauce, and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper once again. You’re going to let this simmer for about 30 to 45 minutes occasionally stirring. Once the flavors have married together and the sauce has thickened a bit add your lobster meat and Worcestershire sauce and simmer for another 5 minutes. At this point your Chilao is finished.
Garnish with minced cilantro, and a squeeze of Key Lime served over white rice or a simple loaf of Cuban bread for dipping. I hope you enjoy!
Every year thousands of people come down to the Florida Keys to get their plunder of our local delicacy and try to take as much as they possibly can. Let’s be sure to respect the fishery and take only what is of legal size, no egg bearing females, and only your daily amount. Oh yes I have seen it all! As a native Conch all I can ask is for everyone to abide by the regulations so we can continue to enjoy this delicious fruit of the sea.