Lobster Newburg: The Creamy, Elegant Dish Invented By A Sea Captain

Lobster Newburg in puff pastry
Lobster Newburg in puff pastry - Foodio/Shutterstock

Succulent lobster meat in an indulgent cream sauce with just the right touch of sherry served in a delicate puff pastry shell sounds like culinary bliss, right? This tasty dish is now so celebrated it has a special day of its own: Monday 25 March is National Lobster Newburg Day. But it wasn't too long ago that elite diners dismissed lobster in any form as more suited to servants' tables and fishing bait than society dining rooms. That perception began to shift in the late 1800s with the opening of the first-ever lobster pound in Vinalhaven, Maine. This innovation meant live lobsters could be stored while being held for sale. With fresh lobster at the ready, high-end restaurants in Boston and New York began to introduce refined preparations of the formerly dismissed crustacean to their menus.

At about the same time, a seafaring captain named Ben Wenberg was plying the trade route between New York city and Cuba. When in the Big Apple, Wenberg was a regular at Delmonico's. Fresh off a trip in 1876, the captain headed straight to his favorite restaurant to share a recipe he had picked up during his most recent voyage. Although the exact location of Wenberg's inspiration has been lost to history, the dish he shared that day became a classic. Charles Delmonico, who ran the venerable dining institution, declared the lobster recipe delicious and put it on the menu, naming it lobster a la Wenberg. You read that right -- Wenberg, not Newburg.

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One Question Leads To Another

Lobster Newburg in puff pastry
Lobster Newburg in puff pastry - thesuburbansoapbox / Instagram

Regardless of its name, Wenberg's convention-breaking lobster preparation became a favorite among Delmonico's diners. The reason for the name change, though, remains unclear. By some accounts, Wenberg and Delmonico had a falling out. The story goes that to spite Wenberg, Delmonico banished the dish from the restaurant's menu, but loyal patrons weren't having it. Protestations became so prevalent that Delmonico eventually succumbed to demands and reinstated the elegant lobster dish. Still, he refused to acknowledge Wenberg. Instead, he renamed the dish lobster Newburg. But why?

This is where the story gets, well, fishy. Lesser known tales say there was never an argument. By some accounts, Delmonico came up with the alternate moniker by transposing the "w" and "n" in Wenberg to spell Newberg. Other reports say that Wenberg just didn't want his name on the menu, so the friends agreed to switch it up. Unfortunately, neither story accounts for the "e" in Wenberg versus the "u" in Newburg (although the alternate spelling, Newberg , is fairly common) — but that's the least of our concerns.

To further complicate matters, a hotel restaurant in Milford, Pennsylvania also lays claim to the debut of lobster Newburg almost a decade before it showed up on the menu at Delmonico's. In an interesting twist, the owner of Hotel Faucher, the elegant summer retreat with ties to lobster Newburg, was none other than Louis Fauchere, a master chef who had previously been affiliated with Delmonico's. A coincidence? Maybe.

Read the original article on Tasting Table.