It used to be that to have a luscious seafood roll, you had to travel to New England for this regional seashore specialty. Nada no mas. A lobster roll is a simple thing: it is the seafood culture street food of the rocky Maine coast where there is an abundance of lobster — cold lobster lightly coated with mayonnaise stuffed into a warm white-bread hot dog bun and found everywhere from cookhouses and seafood shacks to food trucks, at supermarkets and gas stations, to fast-food chains and in home kitchens. It can be good. Or it can be a revelation, depending on what level you play at with your sandwiches. It is one of the American icons of regional food. It is a sandwich that has become chic and now you can have it in many sandwich shops around the country. It certainly is the taste of summer.
The white bun varies, of course, although I haven’t seen it in whole wheat yet. Wonder bread is known as pan bimbo in Mexico, which describes it perfectly. But it has to be fresh. No chewy ciabatta roll here. The salad varies slightly, but is always held together with mayonnaise. The salad stuffing, in the manner or crab or tuna salad, may contain a dash, no more, of scallion or diced celery. It may be flavored with citrus or lettuce. It is topped with a pickle and served with french fries or potato chips, or both.
The meat, ideally a mix of knuckle and claw, with maybe a little bit of tail, must be picked from the bright red shells of freshly cooked lobsters, not leftover or dead ones. With the advent of warehouse shopping, big bags of cooked lobster tails are as easy as 1-2-3 and this sandwich can be had any season, any region. I keep this real simple, as the lobster is the shining star, bound together with some mayonnaise and lots of crunchy celery. I use two baby tails per person; if it is the large lobster, you only need one per. I like lots of meat piled up, and leave it nice and chunky.
The real thing uses New England Style Top Sliced Frankfurter Rolls, which are a peculiar roll that will lie flat when grilling in the pan. Pepperidge Farm now makes these top sliced buns too. I am not sure they are marketed outside New England. I have seen mail order resources, which sounds funny thinking of getting Wonder bread anything shipped. At least they are light weight as far as bread goes. As a substitute, look for soft long rolls, also known as hoagie rolls, in the deli section of your supermarket, or else use soft hot dog buns, but of course they are side cut.
Choosing a Lobster: If you want to make your own Lobster Salad sandwich, you can buy already cooked fresh lobster meat, frozen tails like I do, or cook your own live lobster and make the simple sandwich a dramatic culinary occasion a al Annie Hall. The sex of a lobster only matters if you happen to like lobster roe, a delicacy that is only found in the female lobster. You can determine the sex of a live lobster by locating the small feelers behind the rear legs, right under the tail. On male lobsters, the feelers are hard, while on female lobsters, they are soft. You should plan on 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 pounds of shell-on lobster per person, which will give you two 4- to 5-ounce lobster rolls per serving.
Storing a Live Lobster: Live lobsters are very perishable, and require a controlled saltwater environment to remain alive. They do not generally live much beyond a day out of water. TV chef Sara Moulton recommends keeping them alive at home by refrigerating them. Cover lobsters with moist seaweed or a damp cloth to keep them moist. Never put them in plastic bags; they need to breathe. You want them live when you cook them.
Boiling Lobsters: You need a nice stock pot full of water brought to a rolling boil. When they are
cooked, remove with large tongs, then cool and remove the meat by peeling off the shell, then coarsely chop and chill the meat. You want to do this on the same day you plan to serve the sandwich. Average sized lobsters generally run about 1 1 /4 pounds each and will yield about 1 cup coarsely chopped meat per cooked lobster. Some cooks say boiling makes for rubbery meat and steam it or go for oven roasting at 500 degrees is better, but putting a live lobster in the oven, I don’t know if I could do that.
The length of time that they are boiled depends on the size of the lobster. They will turn red. For optimal tenderness and texture, lobster meat should come to around 135°F on an instant read thermometer. Here is a guide:
- 1 pound, 5 minutes
- 1 1/4 pound, 5 to 6 minutes
- 1 1/2 pound, 6 to 8 minutes
- 1 3/4 pound, 7 to 9 minutes
- 2 pounds, 8 to 10 minutes
- 2 1/2 pounds, 10 to 12 minutes
Makes 4 sandwiches
- 2 to 3 cups cooked lobster meat, coarsely chopped
- 2/3 cup light or regular mayonnaise, or soy mayonnaise substitute, or more to taste
- 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
- 2 ribs celery, finely chopped
- Salt and pinch ground white pepper or cayenne
- 4 soft long rolls, to-split down the middle
- 1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons butter
- 4 romaine lettuce leaves
- Coleslaw, potato chips, lemon wedges, for serving
In a medium bowl, combine the lobster meat, mayonnaise, lemon juice, and celery; gently stir together, coating all the meat. Season to taste.
In a heavy sautè pan or cast iron skillet, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Place the rolls in the hot butter, grilling the top, then the bottom until toasted and golden brown; do not toast interior, which will remain soft and warm up.
Pull open the split and line the roll with a leaf of lettuce. Spoon the salad into the warm roll, mounding it high. Serve immediately with the coleslaw, potato chips, and lemon wedges.
If you love this type hot dog bun, there is a special pan for it. It is totally cool and from the remarks on Amazon.com, it’s a winner. The USA Pans New England Hot Dog Pan is constructed of aluminized steel, the material of choice for commercial bakeries (and my kitchen) which allow for even heat distribution and maximum service life. Hot Dog Pan measures 15 x 6 x 1.5 inch with space to make 10 buns. This pan is not only perfect for hot dog buns, it’s also great for making hoagies and other sandwich rolls. You can use it with all types of doughs from the standard white to whole wheat, whole grain, even gluten free. Use dough from a recipe that uses 5 cups of flour (two 8-by-4inch rectangular loaves) and when shaping, do not over fill the molds (go for half full), as they will rise during the dough rise period to fill the mold, then rise more during baking.
Excerpted from Nor Your Mother’s Weeknight Cooking, by Beth Hensperger. (c) 2008, used by permission from the Harvard Common Press.
Text copyright Beth Hensperger 2015
Please enjoy the recipe and make it your own. If you copy the recipe and text for internet use, please include my byline and link to my site.