I once read that you can tell when a recipe for a Maine lobster roll has been written by someone From Away, because it will have lots of “things” in it that aren’t lobster. An authentic lobster roll recipe shouldn’t have dill. It shouldn’t have celery. It shouldn’t have scallions. It shouldn’t have little bits of chopped up chives sprinkled on top. Why? Because lobster doesn’t need a thing to make it taste any better. It’s nearly perfect the way it is, and when you eat a lobster roll, you should be tasting lobster. If anything, it should be tossed with just a dab of mayonnaise (no, not blobbed on top, and no, not spread on the inside of the bun) to bind everything together, and if it is, that mayonnaise should be Hellman’s Blue Ribbon.
To me, a lobster roll is a celebration of texture and temperature, as much as it is flavor. That’s why it’s so important to use “New England Style” hot dog rolls. Brushed with butter and then lightly grilled, the combination of the warm, fluffy roll with the lightly crispy outside, and the cool, chunky lobster is simply heavenly. And, because we recognize that New England split-top hot dog rolls are a bit of a regional item that might not be available to everyone, we are going to make our own (it’s easy, but you’ll need this special pan).
The last thing a top-shelf lobster roll needs is a tiny bit of crunch to contrast with the chunks of lobster. That’s why you’ll often see a bit of shredded iceberg lettuce on many lobster rolls. Now, I recognize that this might be a controversial choice, but for our “From Away” version of this sandwich, we are going to swap out the lettuce for some potato chips. I know, I know, I know. But stick with me for a moment. Potato chips bring even more crunch to your sandwich. They even have about the same nutritional value as iceberg lettuce. And you often get them on the side with your lobster roll, anyway. I’m cutting out the middleman. I’m like a giant-sized version of that kid that’s smashing Ruffles into his brown-bagged tuna fish sandwich. Potato chips are delicious, and lobster is delicious; thus, potato chips on my lobster roll are delicious. If this step offends on any level, feel free to omit it, and get your crunch from stupid lettuce, instead.
You’ll need about one pound-and-a-quarter lobster per roll, steamed for about five minutes in an inch or two of boiling water. You don’t want to boil them; they’ll become waterlogged and lose a lot of their flavor. If you’re squeamish about cooking them, most fish markets and supermarkets will do it for you. Let them chill in the fridge for a little while, until they are cool enough to handle. Break the shells open and tear the meat apart with your hands; cutting the lobster with a knife can impart a metallic taste. You want big chunks, but not so big that you can’t bite them in a single bite. Nobody likes pulling huge chunks of lobster out of a lobster roll with their teeth.
Finally, a word about the Connecticut shoreline version of this sandwich, served warm and tossed in drawn butter, instead of mayonnaise: Um, that’s not a lobster roll. I’m not sure what you people are doing down there.
Signature Series: Lobster Roll
Makes 1 lobster roll, with 9 buns left over; adapted from a recipe by King Arthur Flour
New England Style Split-Top Hot Dog Buns:
- 3 cups all purpose flour
- 2 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1/4 cup nonfat dry milk
- 2/3 cup instant mashed potato flakes
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
- 2 tablespoons soft butter
- 1 large egg
- 1 cup lukewarm water
For each Lobster Roll:
- 1 one-and-a-quarter-pound lobster, steamed
- 3/4 teaspoon Hellman’s mayonnaise
- A few potato chips (optional)
- Shredded lettuce (even more optional)
- In a standing mixer, mix and knead all ingredients until dough is shiny and elastic, about 5 minutes or more. Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl, and allow it to rise for 2 hours, until doubled in size.
- Lightly grease New England hot dog bun pan. Punch down dough, and stretch out in pan, pushing the dough to the edges and corners as much as possible. Cover the pan with plastic wrap, and let the dough rest for 15 minutes.
- Remove the plastic wrap, and push dough all the way into the corners of the pan, leveling the top surface as best you can. Re-cover the pan, and let buns rise for 45 to 60 minutes, until approximately 1/2 inch from top of pan. While the dough is rising, preheat your oven to 375°F.
- Grease a baking sheet, and place it on top of the risen buns. Put the covered buns in the oven, and weigh the baking sheet down with something oven-safe (like a cast iron skillet), and bake the buns for 18 minutes. Remove the baking sheet and bake a few minutes longer, if necessary, to brown the tops of the rolls.
- Remove the buns from the oven and place the pan on a rack for 5 minutes. Turn the buns out of the pan onto a rack to finish cooling; make sure the top (rounded) side is up.
To assemble Lobster Rolls:
- When buns completely cool, slice each down the middle vertically, without cutting through the bottom; then separate into individual buns.
- Spread outsides of bun with butter, and toast in a skillet over medium heat until golden brown.
- Shred chilled lobster meat into bite-sized chunks, and toss in a medium bowl with the mayonnaise.
- Line a bun with potato chips or lettuce (if desired), and top with the lobster salad. Serve with more chips, and a dill pickle.