My darlings, you can take a girl out of New England, but you can’t take New England out of the girl. That I can say with the utmost certainty.
It’s been ten years since I called myself a Massachusetts resident. After college I planted my roots in New York, and stubbornly, because New York wasn’t always the gentle and welcoming city to me (is she to anyone?) made sure, day by day, month by month, that New York and I got along. I courted her, patiently growing to appreciate different neighborhoods, seeing the beauty where most tourists saw squalor, walking her streets. We had a slow and steady courtship, but I was playing it for keeps. New York, finally, opened her heart wide to me, and I to her.
And yet, for the decade that I’ve lived here, New England tugs at my heart. I’ve maintained my Boston sports team loyalties. I prefer the Cape to the Hamptons or the Jersey shore, New England clam chowder to the Manhattan one, Maine blueberries over their New Jersey cousins. And then, of course, there are lobster rolls.
Lobsters, while can be purchased and eaten anywhere, are something special in New England, particularly in Maine, where the culture of lobster catching and eating reaches new heights. A lobster roll is something that is so ubiquitous to Maine you’d be hard-pressed to go there and not encounter them on practically every menu. Maine might as well rename itself as “Maine – Lobster Rolls Here” because they are abundant, delicious, affordable, and for reasons I’ve yet to figure out, taste better there than anywhere else.
A Maine lobster roll is served in a warmed, buttered hot dog bun, but the lobster meat itself is cold, lightly cloaked in mayonnaise, with a few slivers of celery strewn in between. The texture of slightly toasted, crisped bread, melted butter, and soft, salty-sweet lobster meat is enough to send most into paroxysms of joy.
There is also the Connecticut-style lobster roll, served with warmed, generously buttered lobster meat, and while I am hardly someone to turn away butter on anything, it is the Maine lobster roll that I will order, make, and pledge unyielding devotion to.
And while I’ve been making lobster rolls for awhile, it wasn’t until recently that I actually had to kill my own lobsters for the occasion. There I was, in a kitchen with boiling water and two very acrobatic lobsters who, I’m certain, were trying to karate chop me in their own way, fighting for their life. Finally, in a moment of decisive action, I lunged, grabbed one of the lobsters by its torso and shoved the poor crustacean, head first, into the pot. Its comrade quickly followed suit. The lid went on top and I sank to the floor, utterly traumatized by the process of taking a life with my own two (or in this case one) hands.
Some clanging and squeaking followed – and I was certain it was the poor lobsters screaming in agony for the lives. I held my head in my hands, certain that I will never eat a lobster again. Finally, the noises subsided and the kitchen was enveloped in a creepy silence. I didn’t hear “Lobster Killer” whispers in my head, but it felt pretty wretched all the same.
Later that day, while picking out the lobster meat from the shells, I learned from Melissa Clark that it is best, before you cook your lobsters, to freeze them for fifteen minutes. The cold puts them into a deep sleep, which makes them less acrobatic and martial arts-prone, and thus less aware of their upcoming demise.
And a week later, while talking to some lovely folks at the Lobster Pound, I learned that the sounds I heard were not screams, but rather the air escaping the lobster shell. Good tips, considering that there is most certainly more future lobster-cooking projects in my future, given it’s summer and no summer is complete, at least in my book, without some lobster rolls – I just hope that future lobster cooking will be far less traumatic.
Killing lobsters, or any living thing for that matter, is no easy feat and isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s hard to take a life and it does make you respect what’s on your place a lot more. Over at Gilt Taste, Melissa Clark gives you a good primer on what might be the best way to do the dirty deed (hers is well researched!). As I mention above, I also spoke about the trauma of killing a lobster with some lovely people at the Red Hook Lobster Pound, who suggested I freeze the beast 15 minutes prior to cooking. They also gave me one great morsel of information – those sounds you hear coming from the pot? That’s not lobster “screeching” per se, that’s air escaping the shell. Sort of made me feel more at ease with what I’m doing. Taking a life is not easy, I do it with a heavy heart. But you develop a newfound respect for those folks who get our meat to our tables, particularly those who opt for a small-scale, most humane approach. And lastly, a lovely lady by the name of Jacqueliene Church sent me this awesome link about 1- things you didn’t know about lobsters and the nerd that I am wanted to share them with you as well.
For the Mayonnaise Dressing:
1/2 cup mayonnaise (or make your own)
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice, more to taste
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt, or to taste
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
Pinch Aleppo pepper or smoky paprika
For the Lobster Rolls:
2 (1 1/4 to 1 1/2-pound) cooked lobsters
2 small, celery stalks (close to the center of the bunch) with leaves
4 hot dog rolls, split
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
Sliced scallions, for serving
Celery leaves, for serving
Flaky sea salt, for serving
Hungarian paprika, for serving (optional)
1. Cook the lobsters. Freeze them for 15 minutes before cooking, and then stick them in a large pot with a few inches of boiling water and a steamer. Steam for 15 to 20 minutes, until the lobster shell and flesh turn red and the tomalley – green. Allow the lobsters to cool.
2. Remove the lobster meat from shells and dice into bite-sized chunks. You should have about 2 to 2 1/2 cups of lobster meat. Finely chop the celery stalks, saving the leaves for garnish. Add 1/4 cup of the chopped celery stalks to a bowl with the lobster and fold in the mayo. Season with more salt and lemon, if needed.
3. Preheat the broiler. Place the hot dog rolls on a baking sheet; toast, split side-up, until golden, about 1 minute (be attentive so they do not burn). Brush cut sides with melted butter.
4. To serve, divide lobster mixture among rolls. Top with scallions and celery leaves; drizzle with butter. Add a pinch of paprika and another drizzle of lemon juice, if desired.
Makes 4 or 5 lobster rolls – we were able to get 5 from ours.
I love lobster rolls! But cooking lobster in my own kitchen is something I still haven’t worked up the nerve to do…thanks for the tips!
This is great. I always wondered how to cook lobster. I mean I sort of did but now I have written instructions. I am not sure I will actually do this. This is not for the faint of the heart but it makes me feel better to know that there is air escaping from shell instead of lobster screeching. The sandwich look completely delicious and so does the roll with the blackened grill border. I bet you enjoyed these.
heather @ chiknpastry
these look amazing! I haven’t gotten around to killing lobsters either…. but I’ve heard the stories. the first thing on my agenda would be to get a pot big enough to hold them, so I should start there!
Fresh and Foodie
I’ve had a craving for lobster rolls for way too long that hasn’t been satisfied. These look excellent.
I feel the same way about Maryland crabs cakes.
You’ve answered questions I’ve long had about boiling lobster — not a favorite thing to do, but I am now craving a lobster roll. Time to go to the local clamshack!!
Gretchen @ flowercityfoodie.com
My independent study project in grad school involved hooking up wires to lobsters to monitor their heartbeats while I ran experiments on them. I learned a lot about lobsters that summer. It is true that freezing them for a bit sends them into a “hibernation” of sorts. But maybe the most comforting piece of advice I can give–they’re crustaceans and they don’t have complex brains (and therefore any karate acrobatics were just because they were out of water, not because they knew they were going to die).
Snippets of Thyme
The way you describe lobster rolls sounds similar to how I would write about Oyster Po-Boys from Louisiana. Isn’t it wonderful how something so seemingly simply can have so much flavor and emotion connection. These are being bookmarked because its the 3rd time this summer lobster rolls have been described so vividly!
Le Heirloom Tomato
I cooked lobsters for the first time recently too! So I totally understand where you are coming from!
I adore lobster rolls and stand firmly by Maine style rolls. It’s the one time I can say no to butter (other than on the toasted bun!) I’ve had the best rolls on Martha’s Vineyard…
Tuscan foodie in america
You should read, if you haven’t done so already, “consider the lobster”, by Foster Wallace. It is a very long essay about whether lobster feel pain or not when they get cooked. It sounds very non-interesting, but Wallace was capable to transform even a the lamest subject into the most fascinating topic…
PS: the conclusion of the essay, if I remember correctly, is that lobster are essentially bugs. Big sea bugs.
Tuscan foodie in america
PS: here is the text, original published in 2004 on Gourmet magazine”
Freakin’ Yum! Kim (wife) loves lobster and we will definately try these delish rolls!
Love the post – as a NH native, it’s easy to appreciate the beauty of a well-crafted lobstah roll. The only thing I would change in your recipe is to use a New England style hotdog roll. The additional surface area allows for extra buttery goodness.
Matt – a good suggestion, but after experimenting, I found that these brioche-like rolls (with a higher butter content and natural sweetness) complemented the lobster better. Try it and let me know if you agree :)
As long as something doesn’t scream, it’s certainly not as traumatic to kill it. And really all that matters is the trauma done to the cook, not the creature.
By the way, this post sounds a *lot* like the Julie & Julia movie. Almost too much, I would say.
Anonymous – thanks for your comment. If by *a lot* you mean the Lobster Killer reference – it was intentional. But otherwise, I’m lost as to the resemblance. Most people, when faced with taking a life, are somewhat traumatized; in the book (which became a movie down the road) the dish in question, I believe, was lobster thermidor, not lobster rolls. For all any other coincidences – it’s exactly what they are – coincidences. I don’t remember the movie all that well, and I never read the book. Lastly, since this is a public forum for discourse, there is no need to hide behind an “anonymous” nickname, unless you’re uncomfortable with what you have to say.
I loved reading this post! Could totally relate to everything from the New England cravings to the trepidation of boiling lobsters. And the recipe makes me homesick…hope I can get my lobster fix when I’m back in RI later this summer. If you have extra lobster meat (unlikely, I know!), here’s a recipe I developed for lobster salad that puts a California twist on my favorite New England ingredient:
I have always wanted to make a lobster roll (and fresh crab cakes) at home, but the thought of taking a life has plagued me. This post make me feel like I can stand up to the challenge–Thank you and thank you for your tips!
As a girl who grew up on the east end of Long Island, I just love the meaty sweet taste of fresh lobster rolls. I will admit to hiding chunky nuggets in the bottom of the “discard” container to then later stash in the back of the fridge for next day salad consumption. Loved the post, thank you.
Sadly as a former Marylander now living in Boston, I have an abundance of lobster dishes and a serious lack of crab cakes, softshell crabs, and steamed crabs. As good as lobster is, for me it will never surpass the combination of old bay, cold beer, and a bushel of steamed crabs in representing all that is good about summer. Either way, nice post, just reminded me of what triggers those feelings in myself.
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Jen @ Savory Simple
Ever since I saw Jacques Pepin make these years ago on PBS I’ve been in love. They’re so delicious!
Jen – I just saw the rerun a few weeks back! It was amazing!!
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[…] Lobster Roll – Sassy Radish […]
Living in Mass with a summer place in Maine I have always been blessed with great seafood. I have cooked Lobsters a few times in my life. LOL. Do put them in the water head first as they pass on to lobster heaven quicker with no pain. That is my feeling and I am sticking with it. LOL. Do not place them tail first they will splash you and you could get burned. I add a lemon that I cut in half. Squeeze it and place in the pot. It brings out the flavors of the lobsters. Hard-shells are best as they have more meat. Enjoy and can’t wait to try this recipe.
Julianne (Kitchen Ninja)
I just made these last night — they were wicked! I’ve recently returned to New England after 20 years and your recipe captured the flavor perfectly. Gave you a shout out on Facebook, too.
Chinese Soup Pot
Your lobster roll looks fantastic! I didn’t realize that the recipe was so simple. Thanks for writing about this. I miss the lobsters from Boston. They are indeed the freshest and tastiest in the US.
This looks good. I just wish I could get some good lobster here in Memphis. I’ll have to make this when I go visit my brother.
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