In the pantheon of great literary friendships – Kerouac and Ginsberg, Emerson and Thoreau – Gabriel García Márquez and Fidel Castro isn’t a wildly popular pair. What does the master of magical realism have to chat about with the Cuban president? And who said Castro is literary, anyway?
Well … Márquez did. “It may not be widely known that Fidel is a very cultured man,” he told Playboy. “When we’re together, we talk a great deal about literature.” And when they met for the first time in 1977, Castro and Márquez discovered another shared bond: They were both seafood fiends. What began as a diplomatic exchange about Angola turned into a lengthy conversation about lobster recipes. The same thing happens when my family starts talking politics at the table; we end up retreating to a common ground and asking what’s for dessert.
It was the beginning of a culinary kinship. Over the next few years, they rhapsodized over shrimp. Their dinner menus were odes to the sea. When a Cuban chef who frequently cooked for the high-powered pair published a book, he included the recipes he associated with them: turtle soup for Castro, and lobster for Gabo.
Although Castro’s fondness for spaghetti threatened to eclipse his shellfish infatuation (“Fidel is still doing spaghetti,” Márquez sighed in an article in 1985), he knew what he wanted where seafood was concerned. “It’s best not to boil shrimp and lobsters, because the boiling water weakens the substance and flavor and makes the meat a little bit tough. I like to broil them in the oven or grill them. … For condiments, just butter garlic and lemon. Good food is simple food.”
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When I’m buying lobster (and particularly when I’m looking at my bank statements afterward), “simple” isn’t the word I would use. It was a taste that raised eyebrows in 1970s Cuba, too, when typical monthly rations consisted of rice, beans, and ground chicken. The Cuban writer Miguel Barnet called Márquez “the great hedonist,” a moniker that might have had something to do with those many evenings spent cracking lobster claws.
But with great ingredients, the less you need to make them shine. There are no special effects in this recipe – just straightforward food the way Márquez would like it. Simply accompanied by Castro’s favorite condiments—garlic, butter, lemon—it’s a meal that treats lobster the way shellfish experts like these two require.
(Inspired by this recipe over at Cook’s Illustrated)
1 pound spaghetti
4 lobster tails (about 8 ounces each)
5 tablespoons butter, divided, plus more to taste
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/2 cup dried bread crumbs
3 garlic cloves, minced, divided
1/4 cup fresh basil, chiffonade
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 teaspoon red chile flakes
1/3 cup dry vermouth
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Add spaghetti and cook until al dente, about 8 minutes. Reserve 1/2 cup cooking water. Drain remaining water but do not rinse pasta. Set aside.
2. Prepare lobster tails: Preheat broiler and set oven rack 4 to 6 inches from heat. With sharp scissors or kitchen shears, cut the back of each shell down the middle, until you reach the fins. Push the tail meat through the incision, keeping it connected at the fins, and let it sit on top of the shell.
3. In a small microwavable bowl, melt 4 tablespoons butter and combine with paprika. Brush tail meat with butter mixture. Set lobster tails on a foil-lined roasting pan and broil 8 to 10 minutes, or until meat is opaque in center.
4. While lobster is in the broiler, melt remaining 1 tablespoon butter in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add bread crumbs and toast until golden brown, about 3 minutes. In a small bowl, combine bread crumbs, 1/2 teaspoon garlic, and the basil. Set aside and wipe skillet clean.
5. In the same skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add red chile flakes and remaining garlic. After 2 minutes, add vermouth, reserved pasta water, salt, and pepper. Cook 1 minute more.
6. In a serving bowl, toss pasta with sauce. Just before serving, add bread crumb mixture and toss well. Serve with lobster tails – sprinkle the whole thing with lemon juice and additional melted butter to taste.