Mother-in-Law’s Birthday Dinner: Lobster with a Trio of Dipping Sauces; Cherry Tomato and Avocado Salad with Lemon Dressing

Melanie writes: Help!! Tonight we are hosting a birthday dinner for my really picky mother-in-law. Her favorite food is lobster so her husband is bringing them already cooked (amazing) but I am responsible for sides. I was thinking of a pasta to start. She only likes marinara on her pasta but I have only made a few marinara sauces and all were only mediocre. Can you suggest something that does not overwhelm the lobster but is good? I am also going to come up with a salad?! Thank you!!!

Tony’s take: I know Melanie and I know Melanie’s mother-in-law, so I get that this is a very delicate operation. The accompaniments for the lobster need to be slightly interesting and dressy (to show Melanie’s put in the effort to honor the occasion), but not so dressy that it’s open to ridicule (which tough mother-in-laws are wont to do). My suggestion is to make a trio of quick dipping sauces to go with the lobster: the marinara can go either with the lobster or with the pasta as you like. And then why don’t you try to make a warm infused butter with rosemary, lemon, and garlic. This is like a cross between the drawn butters traditionally served with lobster and the herb infused oils that you often see in restaurants for dipping bread. Round out the trio of sauces with a light soy-ginger dipping sauce whose tang will be perfect for the lobster. This last sauce might be the only thing that feels a little fancy, but not so much that your mother-in-law will think you’re putting on airs. And then for a salad, pick out things which go nicely with lobster: a nice lemon vinaigrette, some avocado, tomatoes, a little red onion, some greens (something assertive like arugula would be nice, though Boston lettuce might go over a little better).  Obviously the best thing you’ve got going for you, though, is those two beautiful boys who no doubt will smooth out any problems that she might have with the dinner preparation.

What you need:

Ingredients: Warm infused butter (Butter, fresh rosemary, lemon, garlic, crushed red pepper flakes, S+P) , marinara (whole canned tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, rosemary or thyme, crushed red pepper flakes), soy-ginger dipping sauce (soy sauce, sesame oil, rice vinegar, garlic, ginger, crushed red pepper flakes, scallion) salad and dressing (avocado, cherry tomatoes, Boston lettuce – 1 head – or 5 ounces baby arugula, red onion, olive oil, red wine vinegar, lemon, basil)

Equipment: Cutting board, chef’s knife, grater, 2 medium bowls (for the sauces and vinaigrette), medium pot (for the marinara), small saucepan (for the butter), whisk, wooden spoon

How to do it:

I’ll take on each one individually so you can pick out what you want to make:

Marinara: I actually shared a recipe for a large batch of marinara on Cook Angel a little over a week ago, so I’ve attached the link here: just halve the amount for tonight. The real trick to a great marinara is to infuse the oil at the start of cooking with big flavors (garlic, a fresh herb – like rosemary- and a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes). Use good canned tomatoes and you should be all set.

Warm Infused Butter: Set one 1 stick butter (1/2 cup) in a small saucepan along with a couple sprigs of fresh rosemary (just pull them off the stem), 2 or 3 smashed garlic cloves (use the side of a chef’s knife and press down), a sprinkling of crushed red pepper flakes, and a couple strips of lemon zest if you like (use a peeler to shave off 1-inch strips). Just before you’re about to serve the butter, set the saucepan over medium heat until the butter melts and the herbs and garlic become very fragrant, about 2 minutes. Season with a little salt and pepper to taste (remember, lobster is pretty salty to start with). Hold over very low heat until serving (this will allow the ingredients to keep on infusing their flavor).

Soy-Ginger Dipping Sauce: Peel a 1-inch knob of fresh ginger and then finely grate it using a microplane; or just mince 1 Tbs. using a knife. Mix this ginger with 1 small clove garlic (minced), 1/4 cup soy sauce, a splash of rice vinegar and sesame oil (about 2 tsp. and 1 tsp. respectively), a little brown sugar (about 2 tsp.) and 1 scallion (thinly sliced). Whisk well along with 1/4 cup water and add more of any of the ingredients above to taste.

Salad: Because ripe avocado is kind of delicate, I think it’s a good idea to add it after you’ve already dressed the salad.  In a large salad bowl, arrange the leaves of 1 head Boston lettuce (double this up if you want to serve more than 4) or 5 ounces of baby arugula (one of those large plastic containers at the market or go with two if you’re serving a crowd), 1 pint of grape or cherry tomatoes (halved), 1 small red onion (very thinly sliced – omit if these won’t go over well with your mother- in-law), and some torn fresh basil leaves (about 10 – just tear them with your fingers into small pieces). In a small bowl, whisk 1/4 cup olive oil with 1 Tbs. red wine vinegar and generous sprinkling of salt and pepper (about 3/4 tsp. and 1/2 tsp. each). Whisk well and then toss with the greens. Add a squirt of fresh lemon juice (about 1 Tbs.)  and then season to taste with more salt, pepper, lemon juice, oil, or vinegar. Top with 1 diced avocado and serve.

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