The weather is warming up, and the picnic season is upon us. My favorite picnic sandwich is the lobster roll—a toasted hot dog bun stuffed with plump lobster meat. I remember eating my first lobster roll with great fondness. One fall, my husband and I took a driving trip through New England to “leaf peep”. The first place we stayed was Bar Harbor, Maine, where we sat outside at a picnic table relishing autumn in all its glory and savoring lobster rolls.
Although the origin of the first lobster roll is a bit murky, Sally Lerman, author of “Lobster Rolls of New England,” claims it first appeared on the menu of the now shutter Perry’s Restaurant in Milford, Connecticut, during the Roaring Twenties. It became so popular that other restaurants began serving their version of this tasty sandwich, and lobster shacks popped up all over New England. There are two main types of lobster rolls—Maine and Connecticut. An authentic Maine lobster roll is served on a hot dog bun, center cut, that is buttered and toasted and stuffed with big chunks of cold lobster meat. The Maine version is tossed with mayonnaise, which makes it creamy; and celery and scallions are often added for some crunchiness. The Connecticut variety is warm—the lobster meat is cooked in butter. It is stuffed into warm, toasted New England-style buns, which are also center cut but have bread-like sides instead of a crust. Since the lobster meat is cooked in butter and not mixed with mayonnaise, Connecticut lobster rolls have a redder appearance.
Following is my re-creation of the lobster rolls we enjoyed in Bar Harbor, Maine. The lobster meat is cold, so it’s perfect for outings. If you are looking for a special sandwich for your next picnic, these are delicious!
Lobster Roll Serves 6
1 pound cooked fresh lobster meat, diced ½ cup mayonnaise, or to taste ½ cup celery, finely diced ½ cup scallions, finely diced 1 ½ tablespoons fresh dill, finely minced 1 ½ tablespoons fresh chives, finely minced 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice Salt to taste Freshly ground black pepper to taste 2 tablespoons butter 6 split-top hot dog buns
Using a sharp knife, cut lobster meat into ¾-inch pieces. In a large bowl, place lobster meat, mayonnaise, celery, scallions, dill, chives, and lemon juice and mix thoroughly. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Place a 12-inch sauté pan over a medium-high heat. Add butter. When butter sizzles, place buns on their sides in the pan and toast 2 minutes on each side, or until nicely browned. Remember you are toasting the outside of the buns not the inside. To serve: Divide the lobster mixture into each bun.
Tips on steaming lobster tails: Choose a kettle large enough to hold the lobster tails and large enough to allow steam to circulate around the tails. Place a steamer basket or an upturned colander in the bottom of the kettle. You do not want the lobster tails submerged in water. Fill the kettle with water to a depth of 2 inches.
Cover the kettle and bring the water to a boil over a high heat. When the water is boiling, place the lobster tails into the steamer basket and steam until the tails are cooked through. The weight of your lobster tails will determine the cooking time. See recommended cooking times below. You do not want to overcook your lobster tails. When you have reached the estimated cooking time, use a cooking thermometer to test for doneness. Lobster meat should be cooked to 140 degrees F. Using tongs, remove lobster tails from the kettle.
The following steaming times will work for cooking two to six tails at the same time:
Tips on removing the tail from the shell: Hold the tails so that the shell faces down. Place your thumbs on each side of the shell. Pull back on both sides to crack the shell open and remove the meat. Rinse the meat under cold running water to remove the green tomalley and pat dry with paper towels. You can also place a small knife under the meat, loosen it from the shell, and gently remove it.
Tips on buying lobster: Fresh lobster meat yields the best results for lobster rolls. You can use frozen or canned lobster, but your rolls will not be as tasty. I like buying uncooked frozen lobster tails when I make lobster rolls. Avoid buying lobster tails that have discoloration, black spots, or yellowing on their flesh. Check the label. If the tails have been soaked in sodium tripolyphosphates, pass. If the tails are gray, it may mean that the lobster was dead before it was processed, and it will not be good quality. Tails between 5 and 12 ounces in size will yield the most meat and have a better taste and texture.
Tips on quantity: You should plan on buying 5 lobster tails to yield one pound of cooked lobster meat. Tips on thawing frozen lobster tails: To thaw, place frozen tails in your refrigerator 24 hours before you want to cook them.
Carol Ann Kates is the award-winning author of cookbook, Secret Recipes from the Corner Market and Insider Grocery Shopping Secrets. She’s an expert in how to shop, select, and store produce for maximizing home cooking outcomes and minimizing time and money spent. As a former supermarket and deli operator, Carol Ann shares grocery-insider wisdom—the same expertise you used to receive when patronizing a mom-and-pop establishment. Contact her at CarolAnn@CarolAnnKates.com and explore her website, www.CarolAnnKates.com.