Lobster Newberg is a savoury dish featuring chunks of lobster tail meat.
The lobster meat is sautéed in clarified butter. Cream and egg yolk are then added to the pan to make a sauce, then Madeira (some use Sherry) for flavouring, then cayenne pepper (some sustitute paprika.)
Lobster Newberg was reputedly invented by Charles Ranhofer, a chef at Delmonico’s restaurant in New York City in the second half of the 1800s. He gives the recipe in his book, The Epicurean. (Page 410, recipe 1037). He also gives recipes for other seafood prepared in the same method, such as Terrapin (Turtle) à la Newberg (page 423, recipe 1086, ) and Oyster Crabs à la Newberg (Page 403, recipe 1005.)
The dish was, we are invited to believe, first named after a Ben Wenberg, a successful and wealthy man in the shipping business importing fruit from Cuba to New York.
Reputedly, Wenberg described a dish he’d had in South America (some say on a pleasure cruise), and asked Ranhofer to reproduce it. Some elaborate the story, and say that Ranhofer called for all the ingredients to be brought to Wenberg’s table, and that he assembled it in a chafing dish under direction from Wenberg. Yet another version says that Wenberg came into the kitchen, and they did it there.
Ranhofer put it on the menu, and named it after Wenberg, “Lobster à la Wenberg.”
Wenberg, though, was later banned from the Demonico’s restaurants, after being in a brawl in one of them. Another version says that Wenberg argued with Ranhofer over something (no details are provided.) Whatever the cause, Ranhofer struck Wenberg’s name from the menu by renaming the dish to Lobster à la Newberg or sometimes, Homard à la Newberg.
Sadly, there doesn’t appear to be any actual proof that it ever was actually called “Lobster à la Wenberg.” Everyone loves the story so much that there hasn’t been much actual critical research done into it.
The year usually given for its creation is 1876. During the first 8 months of that year, Ranhofer was at the Delmonico’s Restaurant on East 14th Street. The “creation” then would have had to occur between January and August of that year: on 11 September 1876, Delmonico’s closed that location, and Ranhofer used to the opportunity to retire (for the first time) and return to France that fall.
Occassionally, creation of the dish is linked with Louis Fauchère, who also worked at Delmonico’s, but much earlier, in the 1850s.
Literature & Lore
Lobster à la Newberg or Delmonico (Homard à la Newberg ou à la Delmonico)
“Cook six lobsters each weighing about two pounds in boiling salted water for twenty-five minutes. Twelve pounds of live lobster when cooked yields from two to two and a half pounds of meat and three to four ounces of lobster coral. When cold detach the bodies from the tails and cut the latter into slices, put them into a sautoir, each piece lying flat and add hot clarified butter; season with salt and fry lightly on both sides without coloring; moisten to their height with good raw cream; reduce quickly to half and then add two or three spoonfuls of Madeira wine; boil the liquid once more only, then remove and thicken with a thickening of egg-yolks and raw cream (No. 175). Cook without boiling, incorporating a little cayenne and butter; warm it up again without boiling, tossing the lobster lightly, then arrange the pieces in a vegetable dish and pour the sauce over.”
— Charles Ranhofer. The Epicurean. New York: Charles Ranhofer, Publisher, 1894. Page 410, Recipe 1037.