I officially declare the lobster roll the quintessential New England summer food. While I have a lot of experience ordering lobster rolls, I've never made them from scratch. In honor of the official start of summer I am going to scratch this off my to-do list.
Let's get cracking!
Lobster: The Basics
1) Stick to Maine:
Currently, Maine Lobsterman are bound to stricter regulations than most other states in the region. There are limits on the number of traps that can be set, a ban on catching lobster that are too small or to large or egg-bearing females. These strict guidelines assure that lobster aren't "overfished" or harvested in a way that is harmful to the ocean. Other states have taken similar steps, but Maine remains the standard bearer. Most restaurants, including Luke's and Rowayton Seafood, serve only Maine lobsters.
2) How do they look?
Maine native Holden suggests eyeballing lobster: "Be sure the lobsters are fresh by inspecting their antennae. Lobsters will eat each other, so if they are left in a holding tank for too long they will eat each others antennae down to nubs, so be sure they are nice and long before buying!"
The Restaurant at Rowayton Seafood uses one and a quarter pound lobsters. Smaller lobsters tend to have tail meat that is more tender.
Basically, you can steam or you can boil a lobster. Both have their merits. Boiling might be a bit easier for home cooking, but steaming may preserve flavor a bit more. This will come down to personal preference and comfort level.
If boiling, make sure the lobsters are completely submerged, using salted water. If steaming, Holden suggests two to three minutes for an internal temperature of 185 degrees.
For some, shucking a lobster is an art form, for me, not so much. I've sustained injuries and make a ridiculous mess. But since I was looking at shucking 4-6 lobsters for my rolls I thought I ought to streamline the process. For this I consulted Martha Stewart, My Martha Stewart's Cooking School cookbook, that is. (When overwhelmed by google results, always go with Martha). Here goes:
Snip claw tips right away (use good cooking sheers): Let lobsters drain and cool;
Twist claws at knuckle and pull each from body;
Grasp head and tail and twist to separate;
Use shears to slice down center of tail, then open and release meat;
Crack knuckles open and remove meat (may need small fork);
Break thumb from claw;
Whack claw to crack shell, twist and pull out meat (M.S. used the dull edge of a cooking knife).
Done. By the last lobster I was semi-pro. (Disclosure: I still made a mess, I just made better time).
The Lobster Roll: Connecticut vs. Maine
There are actually two lobster roll styles. Connecticut style uses butter and is served hot in the bun, while Maine is served chilled with a bit of mayo. I truly can't say I have a preference. Most experts (including my consultants) agree on one rule of thumb: easy on the fillers. Holden suggests little more than "..butter, lobster, fresh bread, a little mayo and a little celery salt." Rowayton Seafood differs only in their suggestion to add a bit of lemon juice.
My lobster rolls turned out great and I am very proud of myself. I divvied up the meat and made both the Connecticut and the Maine versions. I sustained only two small shucking injuries.
However, if I'm being completely honest with myself, I have to admit that it's easier, neater and safer to hit up Luke's or grab a window seat at Rowayton Seafood and let them do the dirty work.
Not a DIY-er?
Here some picks for top notch lobster rolls in and around Fairfield County, CT:
Luke's Lobster: Luke knows his lobster and has a great back story. Oh yeah---and the lobster rolls are simply amazing. (Also, he has eleven locations now and answered my email in less than hour, so I'm guessing he's nice too). Note: Luke's now offers DIY lobster roll kit that you can order online. Learn more here.
The Restaurant at Rowayton Seafood: Since our move to the 'burbs this charming spot on the 5 Mile River in Rowayton, CT is where we celebrate just about anything and everything. Mother's day, Father's Day, Birthdays...you name it. From the food to the view, everything is amazing and the lobster roll never disappoints. Bonus: They don't cringe when we walk in with the kids. Double Bonus: great Bloody Mary's.
Stew Leonard's: Ok, so they aren't on par with the two options listed above, but for a quick fix, they don't disappoint. You can get a duo for $10. Dressed with mayo and probably not as much meat as the other two, but at that price who can complain?