Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Mixed Plate: Rumble in the Lobster Mac and Cheese Jungle

So here's a test -- which do you think is the frozen lobster macaroni and cheese, and which is the freshly-made, restaurant version?

Is it Door Number One?

Or is it Door Number Two?

Keep your guesses to yourself -- hey, no calling out the answer out loud! The answer will be revealed at the end of the post, so read on to see the method behind this carbohydrate crustacean madness...

Every once in a while, I'm contacted by food companies asking me to sample a product and do a review on the blog. Most of the time I politely decline because if it's not something I'd normally enjoy, I'm probably not the best candidate to give a useful review. But when I was offered the chance to sample a highly-touted, award-winning gourmet lobster macaroni and cheese that's frozen, I felt a food challenge coming on, along with the opportunity to indulge in the name of "research."

The folks at Hancock Gourmet Lobster Company in Topsham, Maine asked me to give their Port Clyde Lobster Mac and Cheese a try. The family-run company specializes in mail order live lobsters and frozen prepared foods like pot pies, salads and Wellingtons that feature the mighty-tailed ocean critter. Working with local Maine lobstermen and using local dairies for the cream, butter and milk in their dishes (because, really, is there no better BFF to lobster than butter?), their prepared items have won specialty food awards and they have had their products carried by food nerd-friendly businesses like Dean and Deluca, Williams-Sonoma and Sur La Table.

The standing champion to compare with Team Hancock is Washington's own Purple Cafe and Wine Bar, a local favorite whose sinfully rich lobster baked mac and cheese is weak-in-the-knees good.  Made with ruffled ribbons of campanelle noodles and chunks of lobster tail meat soaking in a creamy sauce of gruyere cheese, what's not to love? The light flavor of the gruyere makes the cheese secondary to the lobster, letting its own seafood flavors permeate the generous serving of the rich sauce. The use of campanelle pasta gives it an artful look, as well as more surface area to coat with creamy goodness. There's decent amounts of bite-sized lobster meat in the dish, and overall, it's a fitting fresh-made candidate to compare against its frozen challenger.

Weighing in at 9 ounces, wearing a black plastic container and plastic-sealed top is the Port Clyde Lobster Mac and Cheese, shipped frozen to your door. The baking directions on the box for the two mini casseroles are straightforward; once they were thawed, I made the choice to remove them from the plastic containers and place within ceramic ramekins for presentation, baked until bubbly, and then a couple of minutes under the broiler to give the top some extra color. Served with a fresh salad, it certainly held its own in terms of being camera-ready. But what about the taste??

The Port Clyde challenger uses a thick mascarpone and cheddar cheese sauce, tail and claw meat from the lobster, topped with a hearty crust of herbed panko and parmesan cheese. My first thought was -- will the noodles be mushy? The shell pasta was soft, but not overcooked. Soaked in the savory, slightly tangy cheese sauce, they retained a good bite after being fridge-thawed and reheated in the oven. The crispy topping helps add a pleasant crunch, plus they use just the right amount of sauce, so it's enough to coat, but not drown the ingredients, and it remains creamy after its oven reheat. The most notable thing is of course the lobster. There are mac and cheese dishes that happen to have lobster, and then there's LOBSTER mac and cheese. For the individual-sized casserole, it's surprising over the amount of lobster they fit into the portions, with large pieces of claw and tail meat being the feature ingredient.

My good friend, Ms. Shutterbug, joined me for the Port Clyde challenge -- coincidentally she's actually been to Port Clyde -- and we both came to the same conclusion that Hancock Gourmet Lobster Company's frozen lobster mac and cheese was just as good as a freshly-made dish, with their attention to quality ingredients and flavor.

So, of the two photos, which was frozen and which was fresh? Photo number one was the Port Clyde Lobster Mac and Cheese, and the second photo was Purple Cafe's baked lobster mac and cheese. In a challenge like this, honestly, everyone's a winner. OK, except maybe the lobster.

Frozen vs Fresh? In the end, it's all good, yo - Photos by Wasabi Prime

Much thanks to the Hancock Gourmet Lobster Company for sending out a supply of frozen goodies to the Prime for this food challenge.

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  1. They look equally good so I couldn't really tell. You're really good in presenting it.

  2. Um, can I have both? Please? It's 8am now and I'm craving Lobster Mac! What a great way to start the day. Well done Wasabi. Well done.

    Your photos are excellent, as usual, and I love the frozen vs. fresh twist. Thanks!

  3. I totally had them wrong!

  4. Hey, I wanna get a lobster mac and cheese shipped to my door. How come no one's contacting me? These both look great. Now the Wasabi must rise to the challenge and make her own...though lobster's a little pricey I suppose.

  5. They both look so tasty! Lobster mac and cheese...yummm!

  6. Both of them look oh so good you can help but to crave for them. I cannot make my own bake lobster mac and cheese at home, yes, lobster is a little pricey. But I wanted to have some delivered through my door. Ahuh-ahuh (nodding) :)

  7. Wow, frozen Lobster Mac and Cheese that taste as good as fresh made? That's awesome!

  8. Wow - I wish we could get this in Canada. I am not a huge pre-packaged mac and cheese fan but could be convinced by this. And really, you had me at "lobster"!

  9. I still shy away from any proceeded food always wanting to know everything I put into my family. Good Mac and Cheese is not that difficult to achieve so I think I'd use this as a flavor profile worth duplicating. That said on photo alone I'd try it as it does looks great.

  10. They both look really good on the photos - excellent presentations!

  11. Served straight from the tank or frozen, I believe that Lobster is the best anyway you have it, as long as it is edible though.

    Good thing about having it delivered, is that you can make it look much better.


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