Classic New England Lobster Rolls Recipe


We wait a long time for summer here in New England, and, when it arrives, it is spectacular. Maybe it’s the longing for it that makes it so.

One thing is required when it comes to sunny summer days: The Lobster Roll.

Lobster Rolls: Classic Summer Feast

New Englanders are an understated lot, and you’ll see that reflected in this classic summer feast. Just a few ingredients: large chunks of lobster, mayonnaise, and celery, stuffed into a grilled hot dog bun and eaten on a dock near water on a sparkling day! That’s the essence of summer here, with or without the dock. Proust can have his madeleines. I will take a lobster roll.

There is something so comforting about eating a lobster roll on a hot dog bun. It screams summer. It says, “Nothin’ fancy here, folks.” If you want bells and whistles, then take your bacon and avocado and brioche lobster rolls to another table. Yes, New Englanders have attitude aplenty, too.

On Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day, and our two summer birthdays, our family abandons the burgers and hot dogs in favor of the long-yearned-for lobster roll. But it’s a cheater’s affair.

We rarely start with a live lobster. I mean, you could. You could also start a sandwich by baking bread from scratch. Don’t get me wrong, I might cook a lobster to eat it along with corn on the cob and a hot dog (another New England tradition), but the beauty of the lobster roll is its ease of preparation.

How to make lobster rolls with individual bowls of the lobster salad ingredients set on a table.

WHAT’S THE BEST LOBSTER FOR LOBSTER ROLLS?

If you are reading this from Minnesota, I apologize. Freshly cooked New England lobster meat purchased locally really is the best. Frozen or canned lobster meat just isn’t the same as freshly cooked lobster, but if that’s what you have access to, you can still make a tasty roll.

Here are three ways to get your lobster if you don’t live in New England:

  • Live Lobster: Typically, if you’re going to cook a live lobster, you want to dip it in butter, not put it in a roll. But if that’s the only way for you to have fresh meat for your roll, and you have the time (and money), then go for it. Check out our post on How to Boil and Eat Lobster.
  • Frozen: You can purchase precooked frozen lobster meat or uncooked frozen lobster tail at fish markets. Either one will do the trick.
  • Mail Order Lobster: If you don’t live in New England and don’t have access to freshly cooked meat or live lobster, but you want to be as authentic as possible, several Maine lobster companies such as Maine Lobster Now can ship fresh, frozen, or even live lobsters to you overnight. It’s pricy, but fresh lobster meat really is the best. I have plenty of local options, so I can’t vouch personally for the shipping companies, but I have faith in Mainers that they will treat you well.

When looking for lobster meat for a lobster roll you want a combination mostly lobster tails and claws. If you only have tail meat that’s okay, too.

For cooked frozen meat, just thaw in the refrigerator before using. For the uncooked frozen tail, the best way to prepare it is to thaw for 24 hours ahead of time and then steam it in salted water. The time will depend on how large the tail. A three- to six-ounce tail will take about four to six minutes.

How to Prep the Lobster for Rolls

A prized lobster roll has large, bite-size chunks of lobster; so don’t chop it too small. Some lobster rolls are made with just lobster, a little lemon juice, and salt and pepper. Now that’s true understatement.

WHAT IS A NEW ENGLAND STYLE HOT DOG BUN?

The New England style hot dog bun, also called a split-top or top-loading bun, was developed by Howard Johnson’s, a restaurant chain famous for its clam strip rolls. Clam strips, made from flattened large surf clams, were the standard for Howard Johnson’s clam rolls in New England. The best clam rolls, made from deep-fried whole belly clams like Ipswich clams, are also served in New England style buns, and lobster rolls followed suit.

Not only do these buns stand upright, but because they are baked in a special pan, they have “whitewall” rather than browned sides. Those sides can be buttered and grilled in a pan.

You can fashion a New England style bun from a regular hot dog bun by cutting a sliver of crust off each side of the bun to square it off, ready for buttering and pan-grilling.

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