The Lobster Roll is a bit of an anomaly in the world of sandwiches for reasons of price, ingredients, philosophy, and origin. The majority of sandwiches are affordable in nature, with a basic version being available for $5 to $10, and higher quality implementations ranging from $10 to $25. The most famous Lobster Roll in the world is the one served at Red’s Eats in Wiscasset, Maine. Prices begin (in 2014) at $17, which absolutely sets it apart from the rest of the sandwich world. If it were to cost the average consumer $17 to buy a cheeseburger, it is highly likely that we would see a very different landscape in sandwiches than we do today.
The main ingredient in a Lobster Roll is, of course, lobster. Lobster is by no means cheap, but it possesses a certain texture and flavor that is very difficult to find elsewhere, making it irreplaceable. The primary factor that distinguishes excellent lobster from terrible lobster is the freshness. In general, when preparing a Lobster Roll, your primary ingredient goes from being a living creature to a sandwich ingredient in a short space of time, which is very different from the construction of most other sandwiches.
Once you have properly cooked your lobster, you have a very short window of time before the lobster cools to decide where you stand on the rest of the ingredients. The true Lobster Roll that fostered the reputation they have so rightly earned contains nothing more than luscious drawn butter, a firm roll, and lobster. Other recipes will throw in fascinating additions like mayonnaise, lemon, tarragon, or celery, which allow some to add their own twist on an already perfect configuration.
Bread is key. It is very important that the bread has a firm and chewy texture, or it will simply be relegated to “delivery mechanism for lobster”, resulting in a total sandwich failure, since at that point you might as well just eat the lobster plain. The optimal bread is similar in size and appearance to a hot dog roll, but much heftier. It goes without saying that you ought to butter and brown the bread before applying the lobster and devour it within minutes of finalizing assembly.
- 1 whole lobster
- 4 long brioche rolls
- 1 stick of drawn butter
- 4 tablespoons of mayonnaise (optional, but if choosing this route, make the Rich Mayonnaise)
- 2 teaspoons of minced tarragon (optional)
- 2 quartered lemons (optional)
- Zest of ½ lemon (optional)
- Pinch of ground black pepper
Drawn butter is a fairly simple process used in many fancy dishes that isn’t complex enough to warrant a dedicated recipe. Essentially you take butter, melt it in a saucepan over medium-low heat until small bubbles begin to form. Remove the butter from heat and all of the milk solids should collect at the top of the butter. Using a spoon, delicately remove the milk solids and throw them away. Then, slowly pour the butter into a separate dish and ready your lobster.
Cooking the Lobster:
You can either boil or steam live lobster, but steamed lobster is generally more tender and delightful in Lobster Rolls. It does require a steam rack, however, so if you don’t have one, boiling works just fine. The average lobster in the US is about 1 ¼ pounds, which has a boil time of ten minutes and a steam time of twelve minutes. This number scales to approximately eight minutes per pound for boiling or nine minutes per pound for steaming, if you’re dealing with multiple lobsters. You can tell that they are done when the lobster shell turns bright red and the internal temperature is above 135° F.
- Steaming: Add two inches of water with 2 tablespoons of salt in it to the bottom of a pot and bring to a boil. Add your steam rack, place the lobster(s) on it and cover for the recommended time.
- Boiling: You really need enough water to cover your lobster completely, which is often quite a lot. You also will need to add about a half cup of salt to the water and stir it in well. Drop your lobster(s) in headfirst and cook for the recommended time based on your lobster weight. After cooking, remove from the water and let sit for about five to ten minutes to cool before handling.
It is easiest to just chop up the lobsters with a cleaver, and pull out the meat, making sure to avoid taking any shells with you. Ambitious chefs may seek to pull out the claw in one clean piece, but this is a novelty, and probably not worth the effort for most. Use a fork to lightly shred the meat into half-inch to one-inch chunks.
If you’re a purist, at this point you’re essentially done. You would take the brioche rolls, split them like a hot dog bun, place the lobster inside, and generously top with drawn butter.
However, if you're including the optional ingredients:
- Using our Rich Mayonnaise recipe from earlier, which you hopefully made before preparing the lobster, mince your tarragon, cut the lemons in half and zest one half of one lemon. Stir the lemon zest and tarragon into a small bowl with the mayonnaise and set aside.
- In a pan or on a grill, split and toast your brioche rolls with a bit of drawn butter. The goal is just to give a nice crisp to the outside, so use high heat for a short period of time.
- Spread a teaspoon of lemon tarragon mayonnaise into each of the interiors of the split rolls. Add the rest of your mayonnaise to the prepared lobster and evenly coat the meat.
- Fill your lobster rolls, and squeeze one-quarter lemon onto each lobster roll. Cover with drawn butter, add a pinch of black pepper and eat, making sure to provide the other quarter lemon to each person so they have the option to add more lemon if they choose.