The traditional lobster roll, crafted by a heaping pile of buttered lobster meat crammed into a lightly griddled top-split hot dog bun, is the very essence of New England beachside culture. The explosion of delicately salted meat combined with a rich butter dressing immediately transports you to any one of the beautiful beaches lining the New England coast; inhale deeply and you can actually smell and taste the ocean. There is a reason this dish has gained widespread popularity outside the small northeast corner where it has been a beloved summertime dish for decades: easy to make, even more delicious to eat. While the traditional roll is commonly associated with Maine, the original was created in Connecticut. According to John Mariani’s Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink, it originated in 1929 from Perry’s restaurant in Milford. From there it likely travelled up north to Maine – as many ‘old-timers’ have reported consuming it after WWII – when it became a part of the local culinary lexicon.
The cold version, lobster meat doused in mayo with various seasonings and accoutrements, is what many think of when they hear the word ‘lobster roll’; however, this ‘lobster salad roll’ wasn’t created until the 1960s and not in New England at all: The Lobster Roll Restaurant in Amagansett, New York claims to have created the very first cold roll. While lobster salad has been known since the 1850s when fussy New England hostesses considered a whole lobster ‘too messy’ for elegant dinner parties, serving it on toast was first documented in 1908 from the New York Evening Post Cookbook; therefore, the combination of bread and lobster salad might (begrudgingly) belong to New York.** Nowadays in New England, many restaurants either serve both or cater to their clientele. While the cold lobster role is more popular (and more cost effective for restaurants let alone beach-side shacks), the traditional lobster roll remains king.
Traditional Lobster Rolls (Makes Two Overstuffed Rolls)
2 1.5 lb live lobsters, kept in fridge in an open container either wrapped in damp newspaper/ paper towel or with gel packs inside the container
2 top-split hot dog buns
enough salt so that the water is salty (as if you were cooking a lot of pasta); 2 bay leaves
200 g melted butter, plus extra for griddling buns
a large lobster pot (big enough to cover lobsters with water); lobster cracker (or cleaver), skinny metal skewer (or chopstick)
1. Fill the large pot with water, salt and the bay leaves; bring to a roaring boil. Plunge the lobsters headfirst into the boiling water (they will immediately begin turning red). When the water returns to a boil, cook for 10-11 min. The lobsters will begin to float to the surface when cooked.
Legs: twist off the legs from the body at the base, use a small fork to get the meat out or suck it out for a snack!
Claws and Knuckles: twist off the claws and use your cleaver or cracker to crack the side of the claw to expose the meat. Keep removing the shell until you can pull out the claw in one go. Don’t forget about the knuckles – use a small metal skewer or chopstick to coax the meat out.
Tail: bend the tail backward and twist to remove from the body; use a knife to cut down the underside of the tail and pull away the shell to expose the meat. Remove tail from shell. Cut down the centre off the tail with a sharp knife to remove the intestine.
3. Chop the lobster meat into large chunks; melt the butter in a small pot and add the chopped lobster meat to coat.
4. Brush butter on inside (and outside if desired) of split top hot-dog buns; griddle over high heat on the inside (and outside if desired) for 30-45 seconds until the bread is lightly toasted and crispy.
5. Stuff the griddled rolls with the buttered lobster chunks. Serve with corn grilled with olive oil, salt, pepper and paprika (or french fries) and a cold beer, preferably a Sam Adams.
** To make a cold lobster salad roll just cook lobsters and remove meat as above; mix with some homemade mayo, chopped tarragon and squeezed lemon to taste. Stuff the lobster salad inside a lightly griddled split-top hot dog bun and enjoy with a cold beer.