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Nov 27, 2009 05:58 AM

SOS ; what is the purpose for adding WHITE VINEGAR into the water where lobsters will be "STEEP"ed for roughly four mins?

i have the french laundry cookbook by tomas keller. he recomemend adding white distilled vinegar when "steep"ing the lobster in boiled water.
but he didnt explain whe he recommended that. or maybe i didnt read yet the reason of doing that in the cookbook.
could anyone explain why should i add either white vinegar or other types of vinegar when partially cooking lobsters?

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  1. i answered this in your other thread.

    a court bouillon, which is water, herbs and an acid, is the traditional cooking liquid for shellfish and fish. the acid, whether vinegar, wine or lemon juice, heightens and brightens the flavor.

    it's a very fundamental cooking technique which is why keller probably didn't feel the need to explain it.

    11 Replies
    1. re: hotoynoodle

      ok! i got that it heigtens the flavour of lobsters. but how about the effect to the STOCK of the lobsters? IS IT STILL OK?

          1. re: hotoynoodle

            hey! hotonynoodle. in some recipe, it says that a half cup of white distilled vinegar per 8 quarts of fresh water for cooking seafood such as lobster. what if i substitute lemon juice for white distilled vinegar? do you think the right ratio of the pure lemon juice per 8 quarts of fresh water is similar to or diffrent from that of the distilled vinegar?

            1. re: hae young

              Yes, you can do substitute lemon juice for vinegar, but it may alter the flavor of the court bouillon just slighty, although 1/2 cup lemon juice in 2 quarts of water is quite diluted; lemons are not as cheap as white vinegar; this may or may not be an issue for you.

              I personally prefer lemon to white vinegar in my court bouillon. I find it imparts a fresher flavor than the neutral vinegar.

              White vinegar is a neutral flavor acid used in court bouillon, as hotoynoodle wrote about upthread. White vinegar, lemon juice, white wine are all good choices for brightening the flavor of shellfish poached in the broth.

              Use about the same ratio of lemon juice to water as vinegar/water. The average ph of lemon juice is 2.3, the average ph of white vinegar is 2.4.-3.4 with lemon juice at 4-6% acidity and vinegar, depending on what type, at 4-8% acidity. Close enough to be used interchangeably in court bouillon.

              1. re: bushwickgirl

                bushwickgirl!. do you think white distilled vinegar can be consumed in diluted form with about 8 quarts of water as a stock for later use?
                the reason i change from white disttiled vinegar of the brand such as heinz to lemon juice is that i heard from some that white distilled vinegar can be used for purpose of cleaning or laboratory working.

                1. re: hae young

                  Yes, vinegar is completely safe for human consumption, given that there are no underlying digestive issues, and the court bouillon can be strained, frozen and reused. It is sometimes used for a sauce base, but I find that the best application for court bouillon is just for poaching fish or shellfish.

                  The use of white vinegar for cleaning is due to the acidity level in the vinegar; used full strength, can eliminate certain types of common bacteria, as well as being very useful for general cleaning and deoderizing jobs around the house.

                  I don't know what function white vinegar has in laboratory work. In a laboratory setting, it very well may be used in a much stronger % of acidity, not available to consumers. I don't know.

                  It's perfectly safe for human consumption and in cooking, and used either full strength or diluted, makes a great natural cleaning product for many applications, is environmentally friendly, cheap and readily available:


                    1. re: Phurstluv

                      Yes, it is and aside from it's remarkable and versatile cleaning abilities, it's great for pickled things. I had a dream last night about making pickles, probably prompted by this thread!

                      1. re: bushwickgirl

                        could you make pickle with lemon juices aslo?

      1. I think it's actually to soften the shells to aid in removal of the meat. None of Thomas Keller's books have used distilled white vinegar for anything other than mechanical purposes.

        8 Replies
        1. re: AndrewK512

          Vinegar, lemon, white wine, beer, mirepoix, as well as salt should be added to the water for boiling lobster, and is there simply to add flavor. The addition of these ingredients to add flavor is a fundamental technique used for poaching seafood.

          Thomas Keller's "steeping" technique is for easy removal of raw lobster meat from the shell, not for preparing boiled lobster.

          Keller's technique of steeping the lobster in boiling water with a small amount of vinegar for 2-3 minutes, depending on the size of the lobster, will cause the meat to shrink from the shell for easy removal of the essentially still raw lobster meat, and the meat can be finished in other preparations without fear of overcooking, including Keller's butter poaching method. If you've ever tried to remove raw or briefly blanched lobster meat from it's shell, you know how difficult to impossible it is to do. The small amount of acid and the heat in the boiling steeping liquid will cause the proteins in the meat to denature, coagulate, then contract and pull away from the shell, without actually cooking anywhere near completely. This method does not "soften" the lobster shell, rather, it causes the meat to shrink away from the shell, as is what happens when the lobster meat is fully cooked. The salting of the water and amount of vinegar in the very small ratio of vinegar to water Keller uses will also prevent loss of flavor through osmosis.

          1. re: bushwickgirl

            Very useful informatio bushwickgirl; thank you. I always struggle with the lobster when making lobster ravioli; as you said, removing partially-cooked lobster meat is very difficult. I usually roast the lobster in a hot oven for a few minutes (after killing it). I should try the par-boil technique the next time.

            After I remove the lobster meat I use the shells to make a bisque, which I use as a sauce for the ravioli. I wonder if the vinegar would affect the taste.

            1. re: souschef

              I know that the recipes in the French Laundry cookbook only use the lobster bodies and call to discard the rest of the shells. I don't know if this is because they've been affected too much by the vinegar or that there is not much point in them. The stock made from just the bodies is quite flavorful.

              1. re: AndrewK512

                I always crack the large claws as well as the bodies for stock but discard the rest. Not much flavor concentraton in those knuckles and little legs.

                The vinegar is the Keller ratio is a 1/2 cup of vinegar to 2 quarts water, I doubt whether you would taste it in the shells after a two minute steep, but I wouldn't use the steeping liquid for anything more than it's original purpose.

                1. re: bushwickgirl

                  i've used the steeping method in keller's book for lobsters and used the bodies and even the claws for a reduction sauce. the vinegar in the steeping liquid is not apparent in the final product.

                  i didn't use the steeping liquid for anything else though. the vinegar isn't very strong but the steeping liquid wasn't all that "lobster-ish" anyway.

                  1. re: jeniyo

                    did you use steeping liquid for lobster broth? i once contacted the frtench laundry via email. they sugest add new fresh water instead of adding steeped water. but i eventually use it for base of stock with rest of shells.

                  2. re: bushwickgirl

                    i think probabbly 1/2. cup per 8 quarts

                    1. re: hae young

                      Yes, sorry, it is 1/2 cup vinegar to 8 quarts of water. I was thinking about something else, obviously and didn't notice the typo. That will lead to no discernible vinegar flavor on the shells.

          2. Jeesum crow bub! We just throw them lobbers in a little sodium chloride di hydroxide, aka the ocean, and let 'em burl for a bit and call 'em done. good 'nuff. They're only bugs, ya know. You city folk sure are strange.

            11 Replies
            1. re: Passadumkeg

              I was kinda thinking the same thing, but you put it so much more eloquently than I would! LOL! ;))

              1. re: Phurstluv

                Tthe lobster steeping business is only for removing the virtually raw meat from the shell easily. It's a restaurant technique for having the meat ready to use in other dishes without overcooking it. I wouldn't bother for just boiling lobsters, believe me. I just do what Passa wrote so eloquently.;-))

              2. re: Passadumkeg

                So we should just end their (lobbers) lives in where they were borned? A last wish granted or poetic justice served?

                  1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                    Poetic justice? What did dem poor lobbers do to you dat you consider terminating their existence justice ?

                    1. re: souschef


                      Nothing really. Just curious about Passadumkey answer. I thought it is humorous to cook lobbers in actual sea water.

                      Since you mentioned it, it is not about what the lobbers did to us, but what lobbers did to other small creatures in the ocean. Afterall, justice is not about personal revenge. Justice is bigger than all of us (or so we hope). A judge does not put out a prison sentence because the suspect did something to the judge rather to others.


                  2. re: Passadumkeg

                    i think lobsters are quite salty creature. and briny sea water is very salty for me too.
                    could the cooking lobsters in sea water significantly increase saltiness of lobsters and especially the liquid base for the purpose of the stock?

                    1. re: Passadumkeg

                      Everyone I know who lives in lobster country says to boil them in sea water. Something you can approximate in your kitchen with tap water and salt.


                      1. re: Davwud

                        For making a stock, I find that shrimp heads make the best stock, more flavorful than lobster shells. The stock also gets a nice pink color too. Just toss the heads broken off head on shrimp in water, and simmer...you can add whatever seasonings you want.

                        1. re: EricMM

                          Came across this thread from a recipe that required shrimp be cooked in vinegar and had the same question. Found 'On Food and Cooking' by Harold McGee that suggested that seafood muddiness is caused by chemical compounds geosmin which apparently breaks down in acid conditions, which is why traditional recipes include vinegar and other acidic ingredients. So it looks like any type of acid would work to cut the fishiness or muddiness encountered in seafood or shellfish.

                          1. re: tln4122

                            the only "muddiness" i ever have encountered in fish has been in crap farmed fish so it's one of many reasons i no longer eat it.