In the pantheon of American sandwiches, there is a special pedestal for the lobster roll. The lobster roll is the gem of any New England summer vacation and one of the finest proofs that simple foods are often the most delicious. And, it turns out, September 25th is National Lobster Day! So if you crave a roll like I do, then follow us as we discover what makes a truly great lobster roll and the temperatures you need to get it.
What makes a great lobster roll?
Lobster rolls are the very vanguard of simplicity, aptly demonstrating that a few high-quality ingredients, properly prepared and assembled, can punch well above their weight. For the uninitiated, a lobster roll consists of a split-top bun (absolutely essential) loaded to the gills with lobster filling, which is often seasoned with chopped celery and chives.
A high-quality lobster roll will have toasted sides on the split-top bun. The toasting gives the bun flavor as well as structural integrity. Better rolls will also have big, meaty chunks of lobster—not mangled, shredded lobsterslaw. The filling should focus on lobster—it should not be a celery salad with lobster garnish!
What the lobster filling entails is a matter of rather fierce regional debate. The Connecticut-style lobster roll includes no mayonnaise in the lobster salad, opting for warm lobster with plenty of drawn butter. This style often omits any seasoning or garnish except for butter—no chives, no herbs, no celery.
The Maine-style is perhaps better known, and is served chilled with mayo mixed in with the meat, but not so much that it is gloppy. It almost always includes celery and often chives. I personally tend toward the Connecticut-style preparation, myself, though I would hardly balk at Maine version!
In this post, we present a hybrid, with the cleaner flavor of a butter/lobster mayo-less filling, but we do add some chive, parsley, celery, and lemon juice. A little mayo on the bun is all we’re going to use, but you can modify the filling to suit your liking.
Properly cooking a lobster
While the mayo-to-lobster ratio may be contested across the North East, one thing never is: the lobster must be properly cooked, tender, and succulent. The key to that, of course, is temperature. Lobster is properly cooked at 140°F (60°C), and measuring that temperature can be a challenge without the right tools. But the right tools, like a ChefAlarm® and a Thermapen® Mk4 make achieving perfect lobster temperatures cinch.
To best measure your lobster temps, kill them immediately before cooking them by plunging a sharp knife into their head, right where the X is. Then insert the probe from a ChefAlarm in the tail meat through one of the slits in the tail armor. Set the high-alarm to 140°F (60°C) and steam your lobsters in a large steaming pot. When the alarm sounds, verify the temperature with a Thermapen Mk4. If you find a lower temperature than the reading on the ChefAlarm, adjust the probe position and continue cooking until the proper temperature is reached.
Once the lobsters are cooked, let them cool on a rimmed baking sheet until you can handle them for shelling. To learn how to master the art of shelling lobster, I recommend going to this article from LobsterAnywhere.com or this video from SeriousEats.com. It is not hard but it is complex.
Where do I get a live lobster?
It used to be the case that many grocers had tanks with live lobsters right there in their seafood sections. That has become a rarity, now. You can often find live lobster at a good Asian market where fishtanks still abound. Or, like us, you can have some flown in from the coast. There are a number of high-quality lobster shipping operations that you can order from online. We got our bugs from LobsterAnywhere.com and they were fantastic.
If you want a lobster roll and just cannot handle killing a large crustacean in your kitchen, you can buy pre-shelled meat or pre-cooked whole lobsters which you can shell. From some sources, you can even buy shelled raw lobster meat that you can simmer gently in butter to cook. But remember to check those temps with your Thermapen Mk4!
A note on seasoning lobster roll filling
Look, lobster isn’t cheap. You aren’t buying it to taste other things, you’re buying it for sweet, yummy lobster meat. Don’t overdress it. Chives are wonderful, but you don’t want too much of that oniony flavor, same with fresh parsley and celery. Go easy. But a little sprinkle of Old Bay won’t hurt anything, as long as you don’t overdo it.
Lobster Roll Recipe
We ordered some gorgeous lobsters from LobsterAnywhere.com, who also provides great info for handling and cooking lobsters correctly.
- 4 each 1 1/4 lb. live lobsters, killed by sticking a knife through the cross on the top of their heads
- Kosher salt
- 1 Tbsp chopped fresh chives
- 2 tsp chopped fresh parsley
- 1 stalk of celery, finely chopped
- 1 lemon, halved
- 1 tsp Old Bay seasoning
- 4–6 New England-style split-top buns
- 3/4 C unsalted butter
Prepare the filling and toast the buns
- Put 1/2 cup (1 stick) of the butter in a small saucepan and place over the lowest heat possible on your stove. Keep an eye on it, and if it starts to bubble or boil, kill the heat.
- In a very large pot, put 1 about 1 inch of water and a very large pinch of salt. Bring it to a hard boil.
- Pierce a lobster tail through one of the joints in the shell with the probe of a ChefAlarm. Set the high-alarm to 140°F (60°C) and place the lobsters in the pot.
- Lid the pot and cook, maintaining a steaming boil, until the ChefAlarm goes off. Verify the temperature with a Thermapen Mk4.
- Remove the lobsters from the pot and allow to cool on a rimmed baking sheet.
- While the lobsters cool, toast the buns by heating a tablespoon at a time of butter in a large saute pan over medium heat and placing the buns on their sides a few at a time in the melted butter and allowing that side to toast.
- Turn the buns to the other side, adding more butter if necessary, to toast both sides.
- Shell the lobsters.
- Chop the lobster meat into 1/2″ chunks.
- In a large bowl, place the lobster meat along with the chives, parsley, and celery.
- Squeeze in most of the juice from half of the lemon. Take 2–3 tablespoons of butter from the clarified butter you have made and add it to the bowl with the lobster. Toss to combine.
- Sprinkle in the old-bay seasoning and toss again to combine.
Assemble the sandwiches
- Spread the inside of each toasted bun with mayo.
- Spoon a heaping portion of lobster filling into each sandwich.
- Drizzle more drawn butter onto each sandwich.
- Enjoy with fries or potato chips!
In truth, there is precious little that can exceed the simple lobster roll in pure deliciousness. It is an American tradition that has earned well its place in our food culture, and with modern refrigerated shipping, you don’t even have to go to Maine to get one anymore! This National Lobster Day, properly cook some lobsters with the ChefAlarm and Thermapen Mk4 and treat yourself to the best lobster rolls, in the comfort of your own home.
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