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Nov 23, 2010
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Wine With . . . Lobster and Potato Sauté Salad

by Paul Lukacs and Marguerite Thomas

One of the things we look forward to at the Baltimore farmers’ market every Sunday is the trivia question posted in front of the Salt River Lobster fish stand.  Get the correct answer and you are rewarded with a free lobster!   Because one of us is good at trivia, he has earned us a few succulent crustaceans over the years.  If you know the name of President Abraham Lincoln’s first Vice-President, you too would have won a free lobster a couple of weeks ago (and if you don’t know it, the answer is at the bottom of the recipe below). 

So there we were back home, wondering how to turn our prize into dinner.  In the past, we’ve steamed our lobsters, made lobster risotto and pasta garnished with lobster, but this time we wanted something a little more unusual.  With the holidays around the corner, we were hoping for an elegant dish that might work for entertaining. While looking for inspiration in Mark Bittman’s excellent recipe book, Fish--The Complete Guide, we were struck by his version of Jean-Louis Gerin’s Lobster Sauté.  You can enjoy the original dish at Gerin’s restaurant in Greenwich, Connecticut, but meanwhile, we offer you our interpretation, which indeed would make a delicious and elegant first course at a holiday dinner party

We’ve simplified the recipe slightly, with our main goal being  to make it as wine-friendly as possible.  With all the wine drinkers out there who refuse to drink white wine (you know who you are!), we even hoped that this obvious white wine dish might be compatible with reds -- which it turned out to be, to a certain extent anyway.

Lobster and Potato Sauté Salad

Serves four as a first course, two as a main course.

1 pound waxy, low-starch potatoes such as Yukon Gold, Idaho Gold, or Yellow Finn

¼ cup (½ stick) butter, preferably unsalted

1 shallot, minced

1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more for the salad

Cooked meat (tail and claws) from one 1 ½ - 2 pound lobster

1/3 cup white wine

1 head Boston or Bibb lettuce

1 lemon

Heat a 12-inch nonstick sauté pan over medium heat.  Peel the potatoes and slice them thinly, about 1/8 inch thick.  Place 3 tablespoons of the butter in the pan, and when it has melted and the foam has subsided, add the potatoes in a single, overlapping layer.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper and adjust the heat so the butter bubbles but does not burn. As the potatoes cook, press down on them from time to time with a spatula.  When they are nicely browned, turn them, dividing them into quarters (or in half) if possible.  Don’t worry if the mass breaks apart--just try to shove the slices back together as best as possible, and keep pressing them occasionally while they cook. 

Meanwhile, heat the oil in another sauté pan and add the shallots.  Cook until they have begun to soften.  Toss the salad greens with a small amount of olive oil (start with a scant tablespoon), a squeeze of lemon, and salt and pepper.  Taste it and add more oil or lemon juice if necessary, but the salad should be dressed very lightly, almost imperceptibly.  Divide it among 2 or 4 plates. 

Toss the lobster meat into the skillet with the shallots.  Cook it quickly, stirring constantly, until it has just heated through, then spoon it over the greens.  Add the remaining butter to the skillet and when it has melted pour in the wine.  Stir it over high heat until the wine has reduced by half; then spoon it over the lobster.  Place the potatoes over the top of the lobster and serve immediately.

(As you savor the salad, you can raise a glass in honor of the honorable Hannibal Hamlin, Abraham Lincoln’s first vice-president.)

  t   t   t

This turned out to be a somewhat tricky dish for wine pairing.  It’s rich, but at the same time fresh-tasting (due to the lemony dressing), and full-flavored without being at all heavy.  Some of the lighter-bodied wines we tried, including a German Riesling, an Italian Pinot Grigio, and a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, were overwhelmed by it, while some of the richer ones we tried seemed jarring.  The combination of lobster, butter, and sautéed potatoes make Chardonnay a fairly obvious choice, and we are recommending two wines made with that grape.  Both, however, show some restraint, and we rejected another made in a flashier, more obviously oak-influenced style; so even with this varietal, you’ll want to pay attention to style.  That seems true with other varietals too, as we very much liked a Sauvignon Blanc that offered fig and melon flavors rather than the citrus ones in the Kiwi rendition.  If you do serve this dish at a holiday dinner party, bubbly certainly would be a good wine to pour with it.  We tried one, and definitely liked it (see below), but suspect that an even richer, toastier wine would show even better.  Finally, we tried two reds.  One, a Malbec, was just too big and tannic, while the other, a youthful Pinot Noir, did okay.  We know lots of people who insist on drinking only red these days.  If you do also, a glass of fruity Pinot will do just fine.



Approx. Price





Joseph Drouhin, Chablis (France) Domaine de Vaudon 2008

(Imported by Dreyfus, Ashby & Co.)




Making for an almost perfect match, this Chardonnay-based wine’s lean texture and ripe apple-like flavors echoed the dish’s combination of rich ingredients and crisp freshness.  It exhibits the chalky minerality that makes good Chablis so special, and those secondary aromas and flavors only gave the pairing added intrigue.   



Dry Creek Vineyard, Dry Creek Valley (California) Sauvignon Blanc Taylor’s Vineyard Musqué 2007







While a leaner, more obviously acidic Sauvignon proved too light, this richer and somewhat fleshier wine worked quite nicely.  Its flavors meshed well with both the lobster meat and the potatoes, and its acidic backbone enabled it to hold its own with the lemony salad.



Freemark Abbey, Napa Valley (California) Chardonnay 2009






Though showing some oak, this wine was in no sense dominated by it (unlike another Chardonnay we tried).  Instead, in part we suspect because it was crafted without malolactic fermentation, bright, fresh fruit flavors play the leading role.  They seemed especially lively when set alongside the rich, buttery flavors in this dish.



J Vineyards & Winery, Russian River Valley (California) Brut Rosé, NV






Showing red berry flavors with a hint of buttered toast, this fresh, vibrant sparkler cut through the richness of the lobster sauté salad, making the dish seem lighter than it did otherwise.  At the same time, as often seems to be the case with sparklers, it did not at all clash with the salad’s citrusy dressing.



Rodney Strong, Russian River Valley (California) Pinot Noir 2009

Rodney Strong, Sonoma County (California)




We’re not recommending this wine just to include a red.  The match did work, in large measure because this particular Pinot is youthful and juicy, with bright cherry fruit flavors and hints of spice, but no earthy or leather-like undertones.  Its freshness was what enabled it to pair successfully with a dish that overall certainly is better suited for whites.