For years I took issue with lobster rolls. They seemed too easy to eat—no need for metal crackers to fracture the claws, or long pointy forks to dig out fragments of pink meat from shell-bound knuckles. There is no eruption of saline lobster juice from sucking on the skinny legs. Worse yet, with a lobster roll, there is absolutely no chance of lucking into a sweet coral prize of lobster roe if you happen upon a female.
Two things happened to change my mind.
The first was that I started eating lobsters a little more frequently once I heard that they were one of the few reasonably sustainable sea foods out there. So I didn't feel the need to be as much of a lobster purist as I had in the past.
And secondly, I finally had a lobster roll that was so packed with big, sweet chunks of meat (as opposed to the bland and scantily-filled rolls I'd had before), and so richly dressed with homemade mayonnaise (rather than jarred mayo or not enough melted butter) that it made me hungry for more. So I made more. And more.
Now they are a regular part of my summer rotation — the perfect food to make you feel like you're sitting on an Island off the coast of Maine, enjoying the ocean breeze…even if it is just the fan of your home air conditioner that's ruffling your hair, the steam from the pot approximating salty sea air.
My lobster roll is more fragrant and lemony than most thanks to zest in the homemade mayo. It's richer too, because not being able to choose between a dressing of melted butter and mayonnaise, I opted to use them both. You can make this with purchased, cooked lobster meat. But for the most succulent lobster roll experience, try steaming it yourself, at least once.
For the Mayonnaise:
1 large organic egg yolk, room temperature
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice, more to taste
¼ teaspoon fine sea salt, more to taste
½ cup grapeseed oil
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
¼ teaspoon finely grated orange zest
Pinch cayenne pepper
For the Lobster Rolls:
2 (1 1/4 to 1 1/2-pound) cooked lobsters (see below)
2 small tender, inner celery stalks with leaves
4 hot dog rolls, split
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
Sliced scallions, for serving
Celery leaves, for serving
Flaky sea salt, for serving
Aleppo pepper, for serving (optional)
1. To make the mayonnaise: In a small bowl, whisk together the egg yolk, lemon juice, and salt. Whisking constantly, slowly drizzle in the oils until completely incorporated. Whisk in the lemon and orange zests and cayenne. Season with more lemon juice and salt if needed.
2. Remove the lobster meat from shells and dice into bite-sized chunks. You should have between 2 and 2½ cups of lobster meat. Finely chop the celery stalks, saving the leaves for garnish. Add ¼ cup of the chopped celery stalks to a bowl with the lobster and fold in 6 to 8 tablespoons mayo, depending upon how mayonnaise-y you like your lobster rolls and how much lobster meat there is (I usually use it all). Season with more salt and lemon if needed. It should taste lemony.
3. Preheat the broiler. Place the hot dog rolls on a baking sheet; toast, split side-up, until golden, about 1 minute (watch them closely to see that they do not burn). Brush cut sides with butter.
4. To serve, divide lobster mixture among rolls. Top with scallions and celery leaves; drizzle with butter. Sprinkle with flaky salt and Aleppo pepper if desired.
(Guiltlessly) Preparing the Lobster for the Steaming Pot
These days, the questions and ethics of cooking live lobsters are more complicated than when I was a kid. When I was growing up, my parents herded the flailing beasts in the bathtub while they heated up a few inches of water in the bottom of our biggest stockpot. In went the near-black crustaceans, claws clanging noisily against the sides of the metal pot until everything eventually went deadly silent about 10 minutes later.
When the shells were red and the innards (a.k.a. the tomalley) bright green, they were ready for deconstructing at the table, one lobster and one bowl of melted butter per person. Let the sucking and gnawing and dipping and dripping begin.
No one ever thought about how the lobster might feel about this. And it wasn't until my adulthood that I became uncomfortable with the idea of steaming anything while it was still alive.
There is, however, a better way to dispatch a lobster. And I recently learned about it from lobster maven Trevor Corson, author of The Secret Life of Lobsters.
He writes that the most humane way to kill said crustacean is to freeze it first for 15 minutes to numb it, lay it on its back, then plunge the tip of a knife into its soft white belly, and quickly slice from the top of the tail to the head. (Note: this is different from and more efficient than the classic French technique of slicing the lobster's head between the eyes). It will die instantly and painlessly, and then you can steam it in a basket over boiling water for about 15 to 20 minutes (until the shell turns red and the tomalley turns green), or grill or sauté it as you please.
The freeze-and-stab method is a little more hands-on and grisly than the drop-in-the-pot-and-run-away method of yore. But worth the effort for guilt-free seafood.