Lobster Fra Diavolo
January 07, 2021
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To me, lobster fra diavolo has always meant that this would be a special occasion, a special dinner.
Pasta, loaded with lobster and a spicy, garlicky, rich tomato sauce, served with lots of bread and, once I was old enough, red wine — rarely served in fancy French stem ware.
I grew up in New Jersey, close to the spiritual home of lobster fra diavolo, which translates as “Brother Devil’s Lobster” for the spicy hot peppers in the sauce. Most people believe that this dish is American in origin, and many point to either Patsy’s or La Grotta Azzurra in Manhattan as its birthplace.
Frank Sinatra ate it, as did many high rollers dating back to the 1940s. After all, in its traditional form, lobster fra diavolo includes an entire lobster, kinda-sorta broken into pieces you can kinda-sorta eat at a nice table while wearing a suit… if you have a bib.
As a kid, I’d eat it bent over the plate, inhaling the steamy aroma of tomato, lobster, garlic and pepper, deftly picking out tidbits of lobster from those half-cracked shells. The halves of the tail, the biggest part, I always saved for last even though I think the claw meat is better.
All this said, there are many truly Italian dishes that are similar, and I have several on this site, including puttanesca sauce, and a crab sauce for pasta I love dearly. A really great starter for any of these dishes is shrimp or scallop scampi.
The key with most of them is to use a little seafood stock, preferably homemade, in the sauce itself. That adds a bit of brine to the party. And you want to feel the heat, but not in a serious way. Remember that very little in Italian cooking is truly hot — if you are used to a truly spicy cuisine like Mexican, Vietnamese or Sichuan.
Garlic is up to you. I like using it in immodest amounts, but you can be more like Frank Sinatra and make yours a bit more demure.
Pasta choices are really only two, if you want to be remotely authentic: spaghetti and linguine. Sure, you can use whatever pasta you want, or even polenta. It’s a free country. But the real dish uses only these.
And yeah, I shelled the lobster here. Sue me. But the old school lobster fra diavolo ruined so many of my nice shirts that I had to modify the dish at least this much.
OK, so you don’t have lobster handy. I understand. Crawfish would by my second choice, followed by shrimp, then scallops. If you have crab, make that crab sauce I link to above.
Once made, this sauce will keep a couple days in the fridge, but it does not freeze very well.
Lobster Fra Diavolo
OPTIONAL LOBSTER STOCK
- Shells from 2 lobsters
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 yellow onion, chopped
- 1/2 fennel bulb, chopped
- 2 carrots, peeled and chopped
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 teaspoon anise seeds (optional)
SAUCE and PASTA
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 yellow onion, minced
- 5 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 to 3 fresh red chiles, like Fresno or jalapeno, chopped (optional)
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1/2 cup vermouth or white wine
- 2 cups seafood stock
- 1 teaspoon cayenne, or to taste
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 28 ounce can of crushed tomatoes
- Salt and black pepper to taste
- 1 pound lobster meat, cut into chunks
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil or parsley (or more to taste)
- 1 pound spaghetti
- If you're going to make the optional lobster broth, sauté the onion, carrot and fennel bulb about 5 minutes over medium-high heat, then add the lobster shells. Crush the shells with a potato masher or somesuch while they cook. Let them cook, stirring often, for about 5 minutes. Add the bay leaves and anise seed and cover with about 1 quart of water. Simmer this about 45 minutes, or until reduced by half. Strain and reserve.
- Get a large pot of water boiling and add enough salt to make it salty. Drop the heat to a simmer and proceed.
- To make the sauce, sauté the onion in the olive oil over medium-high heat until the onion is just starting to brown on the edges, about 6 to 8 minutes. Stir in the garlic and chiles and cook another minute or three.
- Stir in the tomato paste and let that cook for 2 minutes, stirring almost constantly. Pour in the vermouth or white wine and use a wooden spoon to scrape up any browned bits in the pan. Add the remaining ingredients (including the reserved stock), except for the lobster and the fresh basil. Bring to a simmer, taste for salt, and let this simmer 20 minutes.
- Now you want to boil your pasta. It'll be ready when the sauce is now.
- Add the lobster and let this cook about 10 minutes, just until the chunks are cooked through. Stir in the basil or parsley and, if you want, add some lemon. Serve over the pasta.
Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.
Can I double all the ingredients in this recipe for a larger crowd?
Susan: Yes, you can.
This recipe looks great, but it literally never tells you what to do with the stock. Do I just make it and throw it away when I’m done with the rest of my food?
The author was great but made the assumption everyone reading knew what he meant without saying it
Aaron: It’s in step four, “the remaining ingredients.” I will adjust the recipe to make that more clear.
Awesome. Sorry if I sounded salty about it. I went through like 30 lobster fra diavalo recipes and yours was the best, but I was like… what do I do with the stock? ?
Aaron: No worries. I try very hard to be as clear as I can, especially with expensive ingredients, so nudges like this help make the recipe better for more people.
So, are we cooking the lobster first and then adding cooked meat to the sauce, or adding raw lobster to sauce and cooking it then? Thanks.
Paul: Either works, but mostly you are adding cooked lobster at the end because you want the shells, etc., for the sauce.
Great recipe. I cook the lobster ahead of time and prepare it so it’s easier for dinner parties. I also cook sea scallops and clams and then add all three to the red sauce right at the end of the cook so they don’t overcook. I start with the onion, but also a small sliced fennel bulb and some shaved carrots and garlic. I purée that all with the immersion blender and then continue with the recipe.
One way to get more yield from the lobster is twist off all those skinny stringy legs. Lay 2 or 3 on a cutting board and use a rolling pin to crush them from the tip back to the base. Voila, a spoonful of lobster meat will be squeezed out of the 3 tiny legs. And it is tender sweet meat.
Once again, this recipe is a flavor bomb. And we were lucky enough to have Fresnos available at the market. Without hesitation, this will be our go-to red sauce. We used lobster tails and crawfish and fantasized about all the different additions we can make.
I made this last night with some leftover lobster meat I had in the freezer. It was fantastic! Just the right amount of spice (I used a whole jalapeño, and added some crushed red paper flakes because that it what I had, and I like it spicy). Only other changes I made were to add a splash of heavy cream to cut the acidity and I used small shells instead of spaghetti because, again, that is what I had. Oh, also, I used some leftover frozen clam boil broth instead of the lobster stock. This was really excellent, as are all of Hank’s recipes.
I need a lot of sauce … if I’m using two 28 oz cans of tomatoes should I double all of the other ingredients ?
What volume would you recommend if I needed to swap seafood broth for clam juice? Or do you have a better suggestion? It’s just what I have on hand :).
Katrina: About 1 1/2 cups, the rest water to make the 2 cups. Clam juice is very salty.
Very cool to see this recipe. In my late college days, and for a while after graduation, I worked at a small Italian joint owned by a couple Neopolitan brothers. Man, could they cook. One year my girlfriend arranged a surprise birthday dinner there and it was a whole (7#!) lobster cooked in the house marinara. Easily the most stunning meal I ever had, though I’ve certainly had more refined ones since. What a fun mess. Relevant to your story, the brothers told me that it was a traditional preparation for the Mediterranean spiny lobster (langostino), so perhaps a different variation on the origins of the dish than you offer above. They certainly made it spicy.
I’ve worked for years to bring my marinara to the level of theirs but, fuzzy as the memory may be (almost 25 years now), I think I’m pretty close. Still cook a few whole lobster in the sauce about once a year – takes a BIG pot and a lot of sauce. It was our family Xmas Eve dinner this year. The sauce, with all the lobster juices cooked in, is amazing straight (freezes well since no meat) but I’ll often add some shrimp to the dish when I bring out a jar.
Fabuloso. I personally love that you shelled the lobster. It may be prettier and fancier in the shells, but definitely a pain in the ass, unless you’re outside at a lobster bake.
My husband and I fish crayfish in in Sweden during August. I’m always looking for any preparation different than the traditional dill and salt water boil.
This will be a fun recipe to try.
Hank you’ve done it again with a recipe that sounds perfect for a cold winter day. We’re in Downeast Maine and eat most of our lobstas in the summer. But I’ve been craving some but wanted a recipe that fit the season. I’ll rate once I make it, but just reading the ingredients, I can already taste that first bite.
That is one killer lobster recipe.
Will be trying this recipe over the weekend.
Thanks and stay safe!