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End-of-Summer Delight: New England Lobster Roll

Another bumper crop is keeping this seafood delicacy an affordable treat

By Kathy Kingsley | August 28, 2013

It's déjà vu all over again. This summer, just like last year, lobster prices have taken a nosedive in a saturated market and have turned the extravagant treat into a bargain. Experts in the seafood industry believe that the crustacean glut is a result of warmer water temperatures this past winter and spring. Whatever the reason, supply is outstripping demand and once again consumers are on the winning side of the equation. 

The wholesale — or "boat" — price of lobsters has crashed from a peak of about $10 a pound in 2006 to just over $2.20 today, with retail prices for Maine lobsters around $5 to $8 a pound. (They are cheapest in New England because of lower transportation costs.)

One of the best ways to enjoy these succulent critters is by making New England lobster rolls. Traditionally, this classic dish is made by toasting a top-split hot dog bun, then stuffing it with chunks of fresh lobster meat tossed in a light mayonnaise dressing. It’s one of summer’s most savory indulgences — as well as the perfect meal for one (or two), since it’s just as easy to cook a single lobster as it is a large batch.
 
The key to success is starting with live lobsters and cooking them just before using. Precooked meat doesn’t absorb the dressing, but it will when it’s warm, and the tenderness and briny-sweet flavor is hard to top. And for some people — me, for instance — there’s a hedonistic pleasure in cracking the shells and picking out the meat. This can take a while, but I find it relaxing. If you can do it outdoors (it does get a little messy) on a warm, sunny day — perhaps while sipping a glass of wine — you might forget about time.
 
The great debate about cooking lobster is whether to boil or steam it. Some people swear that boiling robs some of the taste and that steaming preserves the natural juices. Others insist that salted water is the best way to bring out the meat’s flavor. After many years of cooking and eating lobsters (and being a New Englander), I must say that I prefer boiling. To me, it’s the quickest and simplest method and I’ve always found that the meat comes out more easily from the shell.
 
Take advantage of this season’s low prices and bumper crop, and treat yourself to this simple yet self-indulgent menu while everything is at its peak. The combination of fresh lobster, corn and blueberries is a New England taste trifecta.

(MORE: Poached Salmon in Ravigote Sauce)
  
Lobster Lore

  • A lobster can live to be 100 years old and grow to three feet in length.
  • Lobsters must be alive before they are cooked. When dead, they release a gastric enzyme that begins to deteriorate the meat.
  • Prime lobsters are called “selects.” A “cull” is a lobster that is not entirely intact — it may be missing one or two claws or the claws may be underdeveloped.
  • A large lobster is not necessarily the tastiest, since the meat can be tougher in a bigger specimen. A 1- to 1¼-pound lobster is usually your best choice. A one-pounder is also referred to as a “chicken.”
  • It takes five to seven years for a lobster to grow to legal size in the ocean (at least eight inches and about a pound in weight).

Menu
New England Lobster Rolls With Tarragon
Herbed Corn-on-the-Cob
Blueberry Turnovers
 
Wine suggestion: The fruity overtones of a well-chilled dry rosé from France's Rhône Valley or California's Sonoma County perfectly complements the briny flavor of the lobster.

(MORE: How to Drink More Wine — Smartly and Healthfully)
 
New England Lobster Rolls With Tarragon
 
This version of the New England classic is simple yet succulent. The lobster is showcased in a simple mayonnaise-based dressing with lime juice and fresh tarragon. As a salad, it’s delicious over greens.
2 servings
 
1/4 cup mayonnaise (lowfat okay)
1 tablespoon sour cream (lowfat okay)
2 teaspoons fresh lime juice
3 teaspoons chopped fresh tarragon or 1 teaspoon dried ground black pepper to taste
1/2 pound cooked lobster meat (from two 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 pound lobsters)
2 tablespoons finely chopped celery
1 tablespoon finely chopped chives
2 split hot dog rolls
  1. Combine the mayonnaise, sour cream, lime juice and 1 teaspoon of fresh (or 1/2 teaspoon of dried) tarragon in small bowl and mix well. Season to taste with pepper.
  2. Place the lobster meat (see note below for cooking instructions) in a medium bowl. Add the tarragon mayonnaise, celery, chives and remaining tarragon, and toss to blend.
  3. Lightly toast the hot dog rolls. Using a small spoon, fill the rolls with the lobster mixture, being careful not to break them, and serve right away.
Nutritional breakdown for the 4 oz. of cooked lobster meat in one roll (from the USDA and about.com):
  • 125 calories
  • .66 grams fat
  • 100 grams cholesterol
  • 350 grams sodium

How to cook the lobsters: Fill a large stockpot with water, adding a tablespoon of salt for every quart of water, and bring to a rolling boil. Plunge the lobsters headfirst into the water, cover and cook for 15 minutes or until the shells are bright red and meat is cooked through. Using tongs, transfer the lobsters to a platter. Let cool before preparing.

To remove the meat from the lobsters: Giving a twist and pull, break off the tails, then break off the knuckles and claws in one piece. Place one of the tails belly-up on a work surface and, using a sharp knife or kitchen shears, cut through the thin underside shell. Remove the tail meat and set it aside. Repeat with the remaining tail.

You need to use a lobster cracker — a tool shaped like a nutcracker and available at most kitchen-supply shops. You could also use a nutcracker, but don’t be tempted to use a hammer, as that would likely crush the tender meat while smashing the shell. Crack the lobster claws and knuckles, extract the meat and add to the tail meat. Cut all of the meat into 1/2-inch pieces and transfer to a medium bowl.

Herbed Corn-on-the-Cob
Sweet peak-season corn tastes great on its own but is elevated to another level when grilled and brushed with this herb butter.
2 servings
 
1 tablespoon butter, softened
1 teaspoon chopped fresh mint
1 teaspoon chopped fresh cilantro
1 teaspoon lemon juice
Salt and ground black pepper to taste
2 ears fresh corn, shucked
  1. Preheat a gas grill to medium-high, or prepare a moderately hot charcoal fire.
  2. Meanwhile, combine the butter, mint, cilantro, lime juice, salt and pepper to taste.
  3. Coat the grill grates with oil to prevent the corn from sticking. Grill the corn for 10 minutes or until it's just cooked through, turning frequently.
  4. Place the corn on a platter and brush with the butter mixture. Serve immediately.
Blueberry Turnovers
If you’re lucky enough to find wild Maine blueberries, use them. They’re smaller in size than cultivated blueberries but deliver a more intense berry flavor.
Makes 4
 
1 cup fresh blueberries
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
Pinch of salt
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed (from a 17.3-oz. package)
Parchment paper (or aluminum foil)
Egg wash: 1 egg lightly beaten with 1 teaspoon water
Vanilla ice cream, for serving (optional)
  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F. In a medium saucepan, combine the blueberries, 1/4 cup of sugar and salt. Add the lemon juice and cornstarch and toss to combine. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the blueberries release their juice and the mixture comes to a boil and thickens. Transfer to a bowl, let cool completely and then refrigerate it for at least 30 minutes.
  2. On a lightly floured surface, roll the pastry sheet into a 12-inch square. Cut the pastry into four equal pieces. Spoon 1/4 of the blueberry mixture into the center of each square. Fold each diagonally in half and crimp the edges to seal. Using a large spatula, transfer the turnovers to a parchment-lined baking sheet.
  3. Lightly brush the tops of the turnovers with the egg wash and then sprinkle with the remaining tablespoon of sugar. Bake for 12 to 16 minutes or until golden and puffed. Cool slightly. Serve the turnovers warm with ice cream, if desired.
Kathy Kingsley is a food writer and cookbook author in Newtown, Conn. 

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