Let it Roll, Baby, Roll

It was Nat’s idea, and a good one at that.

“Let’s make lobster rolls on Sunday,” he said on Wednesday over margaritas at our house. “Let’s invite ourselves over to the Glynn’s house and go swimming and do it there.” This was my kind of spontaneous inspiration!

Nat would buy the lobsters, I would do the cooking, and they would host. (Coincidentally, as it turned out, our friends, “the Glynn’s” — Aaron and Britt — had been planning on inviting us all over that very day, so they were amenable to the announcement that they would be hosting a party.)

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Nat got online to order the crustaceans, and I leapt from my chair. “Hold on, hot dog!” I said, “That’ll cost you $75 in shipping! Have you tried the 99 Ranch Market?” Our semi-local Chinese supermarket had sea creatures you’ve never even seen before and some of the best prices around. He was worried about the quality, but I pointed out that the Chinese love their lobsters big and fresh. He called the store and argued with a surly Chinese woman whom he couldn’t understand, and hung up more confused than before. “I think I just need to go check it out.”

A couple days later, two days before the event,  I received the following text: “New favorite market.” Nat had gone to the 99 Ranch, where Maine lobster were $6.99 a pound, and picked up eight.

It was time for me to hop online and do some research. When Nat first brought up the lobster roll idea, I pictured something like an egg roll. But lobster rolls, it turns out (to this native Californian more familiar with Dungeness crab and Asian influences), are a common favorite on the Eastern Seaboard — toasted bread rolls of various kind, adorned with miscellaneous condiments depending where you are, and stuffed with fresh fluffy lobster meat. Regional versions vary, with New England rolls favoring simple buttered lobster meat, while Maine versions might contain mayonnaise and celery. A fan of mayo paired with shellfish, I opted for the latter — although I would of course add my own signature touches.

Saturday afternoon, the day before the feast, and the phone rang. It was Nat. “Hey man, these lobsters aren’t looking too good.” Could we still eat them if they died? I asked. He didn’t know. After a brief bit of online research, we decided they were probably okay to cook, since the dead ones were newly dead.

(l to r) Nat, I and Aaron get picking!

(l to r) Nat, I and Aaron get picking poolside!

Over at the Glynn’s at the appointed hour that Sunday afternoon, we got to work. While the girls gossiped and drank pink wine, the men gathered around the pot and picked lobster meat from claws, knuckles and tails. We drank IPA, talked of manly things, and sucked lobster meat from the tiny legs. Then, covered in lobster juices and bits of shell, we tumbled into the pool.

Earlier in the day, I’d been at home making  two of the traditional accompaniments to lobster rolls — potato chips and cole slaw. I fried batches of thinly sliced russet and sweet potatoes until crisp and lacy, and dusted them with kosher salt. The slaw was a tart, spicy affair made with pickled jalapeños, pickle juice and a few dashes of hot sauce. I’d picked up a dozen soft rolls at a local market — I sliced a thin layer of the tops off, buttered them and threw them on the grill to crisp up.

The lobster meat itself I cut into chunks and tossed with mayonnaise, chopped tarragon and a healthy sprinkling of Old Bay seasoning. This was piled onto the grilled rolls and dressed with oak lettuce leaves.

Chips, lobster roll, cole slaw

Chips, lobster roll, cole slaw

I’m not a New Englander, and the closest I’ve been to Maine was an unexpected four-day layover on the Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia beginning on 9/11, 2001. But if I was to stumble on this sandwich in a seaside shack in Cape Cod or Bar Harbor, I would not be disappointed.

The children were neutralized with a movie upstairs, more beer was drank and wine opened, we laughed and drank and ate our lobster rolls, with extra left in the kitchen for those who were still hungry to forage on afterward.

Driving the short distance down the mountain home, we were quiet and full, our pillows beckoning — slumber and happy dreams fueled by dismantled crustaceans awaiting us. Our culinary adventure in one of the iconic foods of the East Coast, prepared just up the road from the shores of the Pacific, was deemed a success by all. And to all, a good night.

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Lobster rolls
serves 6

6 lbs. live lobsters, or 4 lbs. lobster meat
2 tbsp. mayonnaise
1 tbsp. chopped fresh tarragon
1 tsp. Old Bay seasoning
salt & pepper to taste
6 soft rolls
2 tbsp. butter

If using live lobsters, place them in the freezer for 30 minutes to put them to sleep. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, and drop the lobsters in. After the water returns to a boil, cook for 20 minutes, and remove from water to cool.

Twist off lobster tails and use kitchen shears to cut down through the center of the tail shell. Remove meat from tail (it should come out in one piece). Using your kitchen shears, a lobster cracker or nutcracker, remove meat from claws and knuckles. Continue until you’ve removed all the meat. Rinse lightly under water and check for rogue bits of shell.

Roughly chop the meat into large chunks, and place in a big bowl. Toss with mayo, tarragon and Old Bay. Add salt & pepper to taste.

Cut off a thin slice of the top of your rolls to expose the bread. Butter the exposed part and grill in a hot pan for about one minute, until golden. Slice rolls open, stuff with lobster mixture and add a couple leaves of oak leaf lettuce.

Serve with your favorite cole slaw and freshly made potato chips. IPA highly recommended.

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31 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. LFFL
    Sep 27, 2013 @ 01:41:40

    I can’t say I can do this. I admire people who can be near seafood. It’s a weird thing with me.

    Reply

  2. russianmartini
    Sep 27, 2013 @ 03:03:55

    My mom turned us on to the local Chinese market for seafood and we were kind of blown away, as well!

    Reply

  3. pal-O
    Sep 27, 2013 @ 09:55:54

    Is that your wood chopping cowboy hat? Lobsters seem to be in over abundance this year according to friends of mine from up there in the know. I like the thoughtfulness of putting them to sleep first!

    Reply

    • scolgin
      Sep 27, 2013 @ 14:18:16

      Yep, that’s the hat! Figure the least you can do if you’re going to eat someone is to lull them to sleep first, right?

      Reply

      • pal-O
        Sep 27, 2013 @ 17:59:01

        Like being lulled into a false sense of sobriety. In FLA our bugs don’t have the claw meat because our lobsters are sans claws. On another note I have found a place where you can find sea urchins as bountiful as acorns under an oak tree–The BVI and the next time I go I am going prepared with knowledge and tools on harvesting and safely opening them on boat or shore. I tell you Sean it was hard to snorkel as my mouth watered just eyeballing them through the mask. Thousands in every little cove! You can wear your cowboy hat sailing too if you want.

      • scolgin
        Sep 27, 2013 @ 18:15:52

        I want to wear my cowboy hat EVERYWHERE! I’m getting ready to take it back to it’s native homeland for a visit mañana — watch for LIVE posts from Mexico and see how I’m doing on my own urchin hunting! Our lobsters have no claws either. In fact, I think claws are pretty unique to New England. (My rabid know-it-all East Coast friends are welcome to correct me here…)

      • pal-O
        Sep 27, 2013 @ 21:48:35

        Saddle up Cowboy man! Can’t wait to hear about the urchin adventures. Chances are we will be in SoCal sometime around the 15th now.

      • pal-O
        Sep 27, 2013 @ 22:03:46

      • scolgin
        Sep 27, 2013 @ 22:25:44

        Very informative, brother Pal-o. Last time I kinda botched trying to get them open. Muchas gracias.

      • April
        Sep 27, 2013 @ 23:18:10

        In Wales the lobsters also have claws and they taste just like Maine lobsters. Perhaps it’s the colder waters. Anyhow, us rabid East Coasters don’t think those California lobsters should even be called lobsters. The flavor and texture is so different!

  4. rachelocal
    Sep 27, 2013 @ 15:54:56

    NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! Tarragon? OLD F&@$ING BAY???? Neither of those things, especially the Old Bay, are even close to New England. Old Bay is a Mid-Atlantic thing (think crabs, not lobster). I’m pulling my born and bred in New England card here and saying you would NEVER find this in any of the New England states. Buttered, toasted, hot dog roll filled with lobster dressed ever so lightly with mayo salt and pepper and perhaps a bit of celery is what I found when eating my way from Massachusetts to Maine this summer. And I had at least five lobster rolls along the way.

    BUT I am sure this was delicious and I would enjoy it immensely.

    Reply

    • scolgin
      Sep 27, 2013 @ 16:05:38

      Mine was better.

      New England’s lost the lobster roll, baby. They’re making it in California, up in Oregon and over in Hawaii, they’re sweetening it up down in Florida, and spicing it up in Texas. I bet they’re even eating it in Paris these days. With brie!

      Reply

      • rachelocal
        Sep 27, 2013 @ 16:23:57

        They are welcome to make it, but only New England will ever deliver an authentic one.

        I’m still REELING about the Old Bay. 😉

      • scolgin
        Sep 27, 2013 @ 16:29:10

        If I said I’d used paprika and celery seeds, you wouldn’t have had a conniption.

        My mouth got dry just reading about your “authentic” lobster roll.

  5. April
    Sep 27, 2013 @ 16:21:35

    I have to agree with Rachelocal! I grew up in Maine & Massachusetts and am generally a purist about lobster. Sean I am so incredibly happy that you posted this!! Did you know there’s a huge problem with lobster overpopulation due to global warming (and even cannibalism amongst them since they don’t have enough food!) but shipping prices remain outrageous. Lobster is cheaper than deli meats in New England but not here. I googled 99 Ranch and there are 2 locations in Irvine. Happy days 🙂 ps. I will admit that Chinois on Main does an incredible lobster (Shanghai style) with curry and crispy spinach, but generally messing about with lobster is sacrilegious.

    Reply

    • scolgin
      Sep 27, 2013 @ 16:28:08

      Nobody asks the lobster how they prefer to be cooked!

      I used to be buddies with the chef at Chinois, and I would sit at the bar in the back, and he would just make me things. And one day he pulled out a live lobsters, sliced it down the middle, threw it in a pan and handed it to me, topped with crispy spinach. You’re right, pretty darn good. Try THAT in a roll, Rachel!!

      Oh, you silly east coast purists.

      Reply

    • rachelocal
      Sep 27, 2013 @ 16:29:40

      THANK YOU, April. We New Englanders are a stalwart bunch.

      When I was in Maine this summer, lobster was only $3.99 a pound! Hard to believe.

      Reply

      • scolgin
        Sep 27, 2013 @ 16:37:28

        I think “stagnant” was the word you were looking for, perhaps?

        I’m surprised we can get it here for $6.99! Even the Dungeness crab from Northern California which is $4.99 a lb. up there somehow becomes $10 or $12 a lb. after the short trip south.

        We took a client to a restaurant in Santa Monica the other night called “The Lobster,” and they were charging $55 for a 1.5 lb. Maine lobster! I guess this year’s prices hadn’t trickled down to them yet. I ate octopus instead.

      • rachelocal
        Sep 27, 2013 @ 16:47:20

        If you’re not from New England, you just don’t understand, Sean. We are loyal through and through.

      • scolgin
        Sep 27, 2013 @ 16:50:27

        I know, I know. Go Red Sox, etc.

      • rachelocal
        Sep 28, 2013 @ 01:02:38

        You DO understand.

        I heart Tom Brady.

      • scolgin
        Sep 28, 2013 @ 01:14:36

        Oh brother…

  6. Susan
    Sep 27, 2013 @ 18:48:45

    Thanks so much for the awesome post Sean! This is Nat’s sister Susan and I live in Maine. Happy to hear that you told him about a great place to buy lobster in CA. It sounds like you all enjoyed a wonderful meal together. Rachelocal I admire your loyalty and my favorite is still traditional light mayo and lemon, but I do think there is room to enjoy other varieties. Eventide Oyster Bar serves lobster on steamed buns with brown butter. The lobster roll food truck, Bite into Maine, offers about 4-5 different rolls, one variety even has wasabi. Many ways can be delicious!
    And yes…Go Red Sox!

    Reply

    • scolgin
      Sep 27, 2013 @ 19:05:55

      Hey Susan, great to hear from you!!! We’ve spent so much time w/ your brother (leaving for Mexico w/ him and family tomorrow, in fact!) and gotten to know your parents really well… now we just need to meet YOU!!!

      Thanks for all the first-hand lobster info from the source! I do understand how Rachel feels, though — we feel the same way about people screwing with Caesar salad — no grilled chicken, no @%#Iing shrimp!!! Steamed bun w/ brown butter sounds to die for. I’m gonna try to find some lobsters on the rocks outside our house in Mexico and see if I can do a Mexican “torta” version with lime, salsa and pickled cabbage!

      Umm, and sorry, but… GO DODGERS.

      Reply

  7. April
    Sep 27, 2013 @ 19:28:28

    Oh Sean! Being a purist about lobster isn’t being stagnant. It’s about the fact that Maine lobster, at least in my humble opinion, is naturally one of the most incredibly delicious foods on this great earth & anything that takes away or covers up it’s innate deliciousness is pure blasphemy! Case in point, one unfortunate encounter with a lobster roll at Blue Plate Oysterette in Santa Monica – it was like eating a putrid cool ranch dorito chip and you couldn’t taste the lobster at all. Horrifying that anyone should think that’s what a lobster roll should taste like. Rachelocal – if you’re in LA there’s a new restaurant that is the real deal – http://www.connieandteds.com. Michael Cimarusti is pure unadulterated genius with any kind of seafood and aside from Connie & Teds, you cannot get steamers like this outside of New England. LOVE LOVE Michael & of course you too Sean!! 🙂

    Reply

  8. glennis
    Sep 29, 2013 @ 03:07:29

    When we visited London this last Christmas to see Max, he was eager to take us to the Mayfair branch of the hot new restaurant chain, Burger & Lobster, where we ate lobster rolls and steamed lobster – all the Brits were into it!

    Reply

  9. Trackback: Lobstah Rolls, Baby — Skinny Girls Roadshow LIVE from Bar Harbor, ME | skinny girls & mayonnaise

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