Jeff Tunks thinks globally. His three restaurants in downtown Washington reflect cuisines from the coastal regions of the United States (DC Coast), Southeast Asia (TenPenh) and Latin America and the Caribbean (Ceiba).
Determined to adapt one lobster to all those influences, he produced a trio of small plates: a classic lobster roll from New England, a seviche-style cocktail with a Latin flavor and a summer roll with Asian flavors. And he did it using elements many of us have in our pantries.
But a single 11/2-pounder doesn't add up to all that much lobster. So after breaking down the lobster, he carefully portioned it out: slicing the tail meat lengthwise for the summer roll, then dicing the rest of the tail as well as the knuckle and claw meat to divide between the New England-style lobster salad for the lobster roll and the seviche.
His lobster salad was no fuss -- a little celery, a little sliced scallion, half a lemon's worth of juice, a big tablespoon of mayonnaise, salt and pepper. "You could add fresh tarragon or chervil," he said. "But I like it simple. You want the lobster to be the highlight."
A lobster roll needs a classic toasted buttered roll, usually available only in New England, so he used a piece of potato roll (a hot dog roll is an acceptable substitute for the classic one) and coleslaw. For that Tunks added a little wine vinegar, sugar and finely julienned red onion to some of the slaw mix, then the cut-up steamed (and now cool) fresh corn. Then a little light olive oil ("the extra virgin would be too fruity," he says), salt and pepper, and a little celery seed.
Tunks's seviche-style cocktail united the American pantry and Latin flavors. To one portion of the mix of lobster meat he had set aside, he added diced jalapeno, lime juice and cilantro as well as some diced tomato, diced avocado (about the same size dice as the lobster), a little red onion and salt. For the sauce it would sit upon, he mixed V8 juice, ketchup and a Mexican hot sauce called Cholula.
For his lobster and mango summer roll, Tunks piled colorful layers of lobster slices, lettuce, fresh cilantro, mint and julienned mango on the bottom half of a soaked and drained rice paper wrapper, and then quickly shaped it. ("It might take a little practice," he said.)
Its accompaniment: a swiftly mixed dipping sauce of rice wine vinegar, honey, garlic, minced ginger, fish sauce and a little sliced Thai chili.
For a three-part dish like this, Tunks waited until he had everything ready before assembling any of the components. And the summer roll came last. "If you put them on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper, and cover then with a moist towel, maybe they'll hold up for two hours," he said. "But no more."
-- Judith Weinraub