If you’ve never had the sweet-and-delicious, warm-and-buttery, cold-and-crunchy experience of biting into a succulent, decadent lobster roll, it may not be your fault. You could have grown up on the West Coast, like me, and the lobster roll is clearly a New England-type treat. However! If you do not attempt to make one of your own at least once after I’ve told you how, you clearly do not like nice things and I am judging you. Ahem. Just kidding.
I had my first lobster roll shortly after moving to Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts, and we fell deeply in love and have lived happily ever after ever since. I literally had one every day one summer for my shift meal when I waitressed at the (now defunct) Seasons Eatery and Pub.
So what is a lobster roll? At its best, a lobster roll is simply chunks of lobster, dressed with a little mayonnaise and accented with a little chopped celery, piled into a top-sliced hot dog bun that has had its sides buttered and toasted. Kiss it with salt, pepper, and lemon, and you’re on your way to heaven. Simple.
It’s actually my favorite way to eat lobster, even better than eating a whole steamed one dipped in butter (because bread, mayo, and toastiness), which is good, because it’s also a more economical way to eat lobster. Three two-pound lobsters, as is, will serve three people (or more if they share, but that’s awkward and can lead to “accidental” stabbing). But I took three two-pound lobsters this weekend, and made about 15 lobster rolls (yield from six pounds of live lobster: about two-and-a-half pounds of lobster salad).
Let’s get real: it’s still expensive to make lobster rolls. And it can be a pain to find live lobsters (and crack them). But I estimated that the per-roll price of the lobster I used (estimating 2.5-3 oz each) was about $5.30.
It’s also not for the faint of heart. To get fresh lobster, you have to purchase them live, and then kill them. Take a minute to absorb that. That’s because the meat will go bad if you keep it in the shell. The other way to get lobster meat is to buy shelled fresh meat (if you live on the East Coast), which is incredibly expensive, or bags of frozen lobster meat, which I imagine is expensive, and I’m not interested. Because if we’re doing this, we’re going whole-hog (whole lobster?). We . . . are . . . going . . . all . . . the . . . way!
Large stockpot or canning pot
Steamer insert (I use one of those fold-y metal vegetable ones)
Seafood pick (or skewer or crochet needle, in a pinch)
Kitchen towel that can get dirty
Medium mixing bowl
KitchenAid mixer or large bowl and elbow grease
Pan for rising/baking
With today’s increasingly globalized society, it’s cool to realize there are still regional foods. For example: the top-sliced hot dog bun. I had no idea these existed before I moved to the East Coast, and now I have no idea why they haven’t taken over the world. It’s a long bun, sliced straight down the middle, instead of sideways. Not only is this configuration neater to eat (you’re holding the filling together with bread on either side!) but it enables you to butter and toast the sides, which is awesome.
After the dough has risen, I measure out 3 oz portions (I’m a little nuts), shape them into logs, place them in a buttered roasting pan or Pyrex dish, and let rise. Using the full recipe, I filled an 11″ x 17″ pan and a smaller Pyrex (about 7″ x 12″). I space them so the finished size is about 1.5″ wide and 6″ long, and they rose about 2″ high. I then baked them at 400 degrees for about 15 minutes.
When I use them, I actually separate the rolls by slicing them with a serrated knife–the flat sides are much easier to toast evenly. I also shave off the long sides of the rolls at the edge!
Live lobsters, preferably the two-pound size (I find the shells of larger lobsters are really thick and difficult to deal with): I estimate about four to five lobster rolls per lobster
Best Foods or Hellman’s mayonnaise
Chopped celery to taste
Salt and pepper to taste
Check around to see where you can get live lobsters in your neighborhood. I go to ABC Seafood, an Asian fish market that always has a tank full of them. I’ve also spotted them at Costco and even my local supermarket (usually around major holidays like New Year’s or in the summer).
Keep your lobsters in the refrigerator–it will keep them sleepy and slow–and kill them within a day or two. Place your steamer insert in your pot, add water to the level of the steamer, cover, and bring to a boil. Put on an oven mitt and grab your first lobster by the body, above the tail (I tend to do them individually, because that’s fits best in my pot). While the claws should be fastened with rubber bands, you can still get pinched by that spiny tail–watch out! Place it in the pot, cover, and steam for 15 minutes. Feel a little guilty.
Remove the steamed lobster, again using your oven mitt, and set aside to cool (I keep mine in a clean sink). Repeat until all of your lobsters are cooked. Let cool (don’t burn yourself–hot water can get trapped in the shell).
To remove the meat: twist the tail off, rinse it, and flatten it on a cutting board. Using your chef’s knife, cut it lengthwise from the top, break it in half, and remove the meat. Chop it in 1/2″-3/4″ inch pieces, and place in a bowl. Note: if your lobster is a female, you will see a quantity of bright-red roe. This is a delicacy: scoop it out, chop it up, and add to your salad.
Next, remove the claws and “arms” by twisting them at the “shoulder.” This is the trickier part. The “arms” (referred to as knuckles) can usually be broken apart with your hands. (Use the tip of your knife to puncture the joints if needed. Use your seafood pick to draw out the meat. Chop, if needed, and add to your bowl.
The little legs also have a little meat if you want to suck it out. Cook’s treat!
For the claws, I’ve found the best and fastest way to do it (without hurting my hands) is to just use a hammer. First, break off the “thumbs” and use your pick to remove the meat. Then cover your claw with a kitchen towel (in case shards of shell shoot out) and hit it hard, in the center, until it cracks. Turn over the claw and repeat. Break off the shell, and remove the meat, using your hands and pick. Chop it all, and add to your bowl.
Add enough mayo to bind it together, but not so much that it overwhelms the meat–start slow! Then add celery to taste. Think about how you like your tuna salad. Then add salt and pepper to taste. Then taste it. Your lobster salad is awesome. Put it in the refrigerator to chill.
Putting Together the Lobster Roll
You’re going to want to work quickly and serve these as soon as they’re ready, so you can enjoy the contrast of the hot, buttery, toasted bun and the cool, creamy, briny lobster meat, so get all your materials together: buns, butter, lobster meat, lemon wedges, serrated blade, frying pan or electric grill, a spoon, and plates.
Heat your pan or electric grill over medium-high heat. Butter the sides of your rolls and use your serrated blade to slice them lengthwise, down the middle, about halfway down. Toast until nicely browned on both sides. Then stand it on your plate, gently (don’t break the roll!) open the roll, and add lobster meat by the spoonful (again, gently) until filled. Don’t go crazy–it’s like a burrito or sushi roll, you don’t want to overstuff it and have it fall apart.
Serve with a lemon wedge on the side. Then eat your lobster roll. You are very welcome. You can show your thanks by buying me lobsters.