How to Make a Perfect Lobster Roll
Lobster rolls can be a polarizing subject. These new England favorites have nearly as many variations as there are lobsters in a full trap, everyone has an opinion on who did it first and who does it best, and there is a lot of debate over proper assembly and garnishes or lack thereof.
Lobster rolls are an equally complex thing for me, because I don’t really like lobster, so when we are lucky enough to be in lobster roll territory, I dine almost exclusively on grilled cheese sandwiches. Happily so, since most decent lobster roll purveyors make exceedingly good grilled cheese.
However, I am married to a man who will eat his weight in lobster rolls if left to his own devices, so over the years, I have become pretty familiar in their assembly. The details below are about how to go about making your preferred lobster roll, not the best one in any universal sense, just best for you.
Let us begin, first and foremost with the lobster.
There is no shame in acquiring pre-picked lobster meat from a reputable fishmonger. But if you have acquired a live lobster, cook it like this. If you have purchased a whole cooked lobster, or have cooked your own, here is how to prep it for lobster rolls, according to my husband, who knows such things:
Extracting Lobster Meat for a Lobster Roll, by Stacey’s Husband
You will need:
- A cooked lobster cool enough to handle with your hands
- A small towel
- A large knife
- A bowl for holding the deliciousness
- Optional: Lobster cracker, skewer
- Separate the tail from the body by grasping the body with one hand and the tail with your other. Twist and they will separate.
- Put the body aside for now.
- The tail is likely to be curled. Lay it on its side on a counter and cover with the towel. Use both hands to press down until the shell cracks. Pick up the tail and hold it with flippers facing you and shell facing down. Place thumbs on opposite sides of the tail with your fingers placed under the shell. Push down with your thumbs using your fingers as leverage to finish cracking the shell
- Remove the meat. If it’s covered with green or reddish gunk run it under tap water until it’s clean. If there is a dark vein running down the center of the tail meat use a paring knife to remove it.
- Cut the meat into one-inch chunks. Place meat in bowl.
- Remove the claws and “knuckles” (two small sections connecting the claws to the body) by grasping one claw/knuckle where it joins the body with one hand while holding the body still with your other hand and twisting. Repeat with the other claw/knuckle.
- Twist to remove knuckles from each claw.
- Wrap one knuckle in your towel and place it on the counter. Push down with the heel of your hands to crack the knuckle, and remove the meat.
- Repeat with the second knuckle.
- Alternatively, you can break the knuckle into two pieces at the joint and push the meat out of one end using a skewer or the handle of a spoon.
- Place knuckle meat in the bowl with the tail meat.
- Take one claw and wiggle the smaller, hinged pincer side to side until it separates from the claw. Use a skewer to remove any meat.
- Use your towel to cover the remaining claw and place it snugly on the counter. Use the butt of your knife to sharply strike the claw 2-3 times on each side. Remove the meat, cut into one inch chunks and place in the bowl.
- Repeat for second claw.
- Any leg or body meat is too much trouble to extract for use in a lobster roll. But feel free to chew on them as a chef’s treat.
Dressing your Lobster
This is where things get tricky. Purists like the lobster meat lightly anointed with clarified butter and nothing else. These people will say that the addition of mayonnaise, or, god forbid, tartar sauce, is a travesty. Purists also tend to just want the buttered lobster and the bun and nothing else, no shredded lettuce or chopped celery. Perhaps a squeeze of lemon. And there is nothing wrong with this stance. Unless you are a person who likes things like mayo and celery, in which case, I say, dress the lobster however you like, it is your damned lobster roll. My recommendation, for what it is worth, is to dress the lobster with butter and add any mayo to the bread, for just a hint of flavor and creaminess, but without making a lobster salad. Any vegetation should be a topping, and not mixed in with the lobster. Not being a fan of lobster rolls, the best one I ever tasted was buttered lobster with a squeeze of lemon and finely shredded iceberg lettuce. It didn’t make me love lobster, but I appreciated the balance and liked the play of crisp lettuce against the soft lobster, despite the eye-rolling from my purist dining partner.
Lobster rolls tend to come, logically, on a roll. These rolls are often split top hot dog buns. The split top part is important because part of the joy of a lobster roll is the crispy buttery griddled bun, which is so much better when the griddled part is on the outside. If you use a side-sliced bun, the griddled part is in the middle where the lobster is and loses its crisp very quickly. Not, apparently, tragic or a deal breaker, but still, if you can find a split top bun, it seems to be the Platonic ideal. A notable exception is The Clam Shack in Kennebunk, Maine, where they serve theirs on a hamburger bun, which many people, my husband included, find a delightful change. Whichever you go for, you want a nice browned crispy toast, which is achieved by smearing softened butter on the sides of your roll and placing on a griddle or nonstick skillet until you have achieved excellent browning. This step is why I believe the lobster roll shacks are so good at grilled cheese, FYI. Do not use a baguette or crusty roll: You want something soft and pliable, or all the lobster is going to shoot out the back of your sandwich when you try and take a bite. Forewarned is forearmed.
Take your perfectly toasted bun, slather with some mayo if you are going that way, and pack it as full as can be borne with the dressed lobster without risking the structural integrity of the bun. The bread here is really a garnish. You should be able to safely put the meat of a one-and-a-quarter pound lobster into each roll, so plan accordingly. Top with any other garnishes you are choosing. Introduce it to your face.