What Makes A Lobster Roll Great?

Lobster rolls are a key element of Northeast seaside cuisine.

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August 31, 2017 4 min read

The lobster roll is a seaside tradition that’s spread far from its coastal origins to offer its delicious mix of flavors in areas nowhere near salt water, like Chicago and Denver. With current transport and storage methods for lobster, chefs across the country can prepare this dish. That means students in online culinary arts certificate programs should develop a little familiarity with the lobster roll, no matter where they’re located.

Humble beginnings

Often seen as an expensive, high-class dish, lobster once had a much less impressive reputation. The crustacean was looked at as a cheap and plentiful food source due to its abundance on the beaches of the northeast U.S. It was often used to feed children and servants as well as in institutional food service, as History.com pointed out.

By the late 1800s, lobster’s reputation started to improve and it began to see more appreciation among trend-setters and taste-makers. When the 1920s hit and the first lobster rolls came about, this saltwater creature was often looked at as a symbol of refinement and high class. What better way to tie into its more modest roots than to serve it on a bun with a dill pickle and side of chips or fresh French fries?

What is a lobster roll, exactly?

There are two major preparations of a lobster roll, hot and cold. Both share many common elements, including a New England-style hot dog bun. The buns are slit on top and baked close together, meaning the sides remain light and fluffy instead of developing a crust. That’s critical for the common step of lightly toasting the buns on a griddle with butter before they’re filled. Other buns are used as well – including other types of hot dog buns and round rolls – but for some traditionalists, the New England-style bun is key.

Despite their similarities, differences in preparation of the two types result in distinct final products. Each version is often only called a lobster roll in areas where they’re prevalent, although they have a few other names as well.

The hot, or Connecticut, lobster roll

The hallmarks of a hot lobster roll are chunks of meat served warm and with melted butter, either used as a medium to heat the chunks of lobster or drizzled on afterward.

Aside from the use of salt, pepper and lemon juice to delicately flavor the lobster meat, there aren’t any other common ingredients in the hot lobster roll. The entirety of the flavor comes from the lobster, butter, light seasoning and griddled bun. Serious Eats offered a sous vide recipe for this version of the roll, sometimes identified by its likely origin along the Connecticut coast. Another version to consider comes from the Food Network, which takes the more traditional step of boiling the lobsters to prepare the meat inside.

The cold, or lobster salad, lobster roll

Cold lobster rolls involve a lobster salad – usually little more than a light coating of mayonnaise and sometimes chopped celery and chives, tossed with the meat – and the griddled bun. The main difference from a hot roll is letting the cooked meat cool and mixing the salad before placing inside the roll or bun. This variation has a similar but noticeably different flavor due to the presence of the mayonnaise.

Some versions of the cold lobster roll eliminate the salad as a mixture, along with the celery and chives, and instead spread mayonnaise along the insides of the bun. Bon Appetit featured a classic approach to the lobster salad roll, noting you can prepare the salad a day ahead of time if desired. Food & Wine’s variation adds a bit of heat to the mix with a pinch of cayenne pepper.

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