Homard à l’américaine is a lobster dish.
There are some variations, but generally to make it, lobster pieces are sautéed in olive oil, then a sauce is added to the pan in the form of cayenne pepper, garlic, onions, tarragon, tomato, a splash of cognac and white wine. The lobster pieces then finish cooking by poaching. The pan sauce is thickened with butter or cream, and with the liver and roe from the lobster.
Homard à l’Armoricaine
Usually this is the same dish as Homard à l’américaine.
Armoricaine means “from Armor”, an ancient Celtic name for Bretany. From Bretany comes cognac, and excellent lobsters.
Some feel that Homard à l’américaine was renamed “Armoricaine” simply because some purists in French cooking couldn’t stomach what was clearly a French dish being called “American.”
Whatever the reason, to presume that a dish with olive oil, garlic and tomatoes in it might be a Breton dish is absurd.
Homard à l’américaine is usually credited to a chef named Pierre Fraisse who worked at a restaurant in Paris called “Noël Peters” on the Passage des Princes. Fraisse was from Sète in Languedoc, Provence. In 1858, Fraisse had worked for about a year at a restaurant in Chicago called “Café Américaine.” Back in Paris, he opened up his “Peters” restaurant. The story goes that he made it for some American customers who were in a hurry one night in the 1860s. They were in a hurry, and this method provided a faster way to cook up a lobster than some of the more classic ways in a court-bouillon, etc.. He named it Homard à l’américaine because it served it to Americans.
Homard à l’américaine reflects Fraisse’s Provençal origins more than it does any American origins. And oil, tomatoes and garlic indicate a Provençal origin, rather than a Breton one.
It is similar to Langouste à la Sètoise, made in Provence.
The dish was possibly served before this as “Homard Bonnefoy” by the restaurant called “Bonnefoy” in rue de l’Échelle as early as 1853 by a chef named Constant Guillot.
The restaurant Noël Peters was still extant as of 1908, when it was mentioned by a Lieut Col Newnham-Davis in his “The Gourmet’s Guide to Europe – 1908” for having reasonable prices, quiet service and excellent fish dishes.
Literature & Lore
“There is no well-established formula for lobster cooked a l’américaine. The method of preparation varies from place to place, but here is the simplest one, which I think the best and particularly easy to prepare. ….. Heat in a sauté pan 4 spoonfuls of olive oil and two of butter. Put in the pieces of lobster and sauté them until the flesh is well sealed and the shell has turned red. Add 2 finely chopped shallots, a few spoonfuls of good Armagnac and 2 decilitres of white wine; reduce the volume to half. Add 4 or 5 medium-sized tomatoes, peeled, seeds removed, and chopped; mash a large pinch of chopped parsley with a piece of garlic the size of a pea and add — alternatively add a pinch of chopped tarragon. Finish with 4 spoonfuls of meat jelly. Cover the pan and cook for 12 to 20 minutes at low heat. Meanwhile, mix the green intestines that were put aside with 4 spoonfuls for butter, the juice of half a lemon, and a dash of red wine. When serving, arrange the lobster pieces on a plate with the shells beneath and pour the sauce over.” — Auguste Escoffier (1846 – 1935) as quoted in: Escoffier: The King of Chefs by Kenneth James. London: Continuum International Publishing Group. 2006.
“I made the lovely homard à l’américaine — a live lobster cut up (it dies immediately), and simmered in wine, tomatoes, garlic, and herbs — twice in four days, and spent almost all of another day getting the recipe for that dish in good shape.” — Julia Child with Alex Prud’homme. My Life in France. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. 2006. p 83.
Kother, Jacques. Comment fut créé le Homard à l’Américaine. Le Petit Journal du Passé – 11/07/2007 – Le Guide des Connaisseurs.
Leigh, Rowley. A lobster with dual nationality. London: Financial Times. 6 July 2007.