About eight years ago, I drove to Newport, Rhode Island with some friends to attend a wedding in which I was a bridesmaid. So miserable was I at the thought of coming down the marble steps into Salve Regina College's magnificent chapel wearing a sea foam green full-length dress and matching three-inch spike heels that I hit every lobster roll shack from Groton to Newport, and ate myself into a dither. I'm still not sure if I was trying to render myself ill (and therefore incapable of attending the wedding, much less wearing the hideous dress), but I do think that the impetus was planted by one of my traveling companions who was seven months pregnant and craving -- according to her exhausted and beleaguered husband -- lobster rolls, morning, noon, and night since the very moment (he assured me) of conception. Gail needed to stop for a lobster roll every three feet on that four-hour drive, and who was I to complain?
Like the deep fried clam rolls that many of us remember eating somewhere on some shoreline in the heat of summers past, lobster rolls, no matter how bad for us and our wallets they might be, are summer. Close your eyes, and you can smell the salt sea air; you can hear the buoy bells off the coast of Mount Desert Island in Maine; you can imagine, in your mind's eye, spending a week eating these things and then coming home to an overdrawn notice from your bank.
So what, exactly, is this proponent of parsimonious eating doing writing about anything having to do with lobster? Simple: there will be times during the summer (and even long after summer is gone, the snow is piling up, and you just need a hint of those warmer, sweeter days) when you will be dining at home with your honey. Or perhaps, it'll just be you. You won't have a whole lot of time on your hands, or necessarily even any extra cash floating around. It'll be a Monday -- the beginning of a long work week, and traditionally the day when supermarkets far and wide evaluate the contents of their lobster tanks to see how much they sold over the weekend, and either the little buggers will get marked down substantially, or cooked on the spot and turned into lobster salad. And here's where I'm about to very seriously break my own rules: odds are you might even see a pre-cooked, whole lobster lurking around the fish case. If you do, ask the fishmonger when it was boiled. If he's honest, he'll tell you how fresh it is (and you only ever want a fresh one). If he's not honest -- and you are prone to bouts of hysterical guilt at the mere thought of cooking a lobster yourself -- pick a small one out of the tank and have him boil it on the spot for you (many supermarkets will do this). Ask specifically for a female lobster: the roe will provide an extra kick of flavor and bright color. Pick up a container of mayonnaise while you're there, an onion and some celery, and a package of those weird, New England-style folded-bread rolls. Now, go home and make yourself the most delicious, overstuffed lobster roll you will ever have, this side of Camden, Maine. Your wallet won't be much the worse for wear and like my friend Gail, you will want to eat them every three feet or so, whether you are with child or not.
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The Great American Lobster Roll
The combination of the hot, buttered and pan-toasted bun married to the chilled lobster is unbeatable in this dish that is a summertime paean to pure, sweet excess: pack only two rolls full of the lobster meat, and have a fork handy to chow down on what will come invariably bursting out the bottom. Enjoy your rolls with a glass of cold Sancerre or a buttery Chardonnay.
Makes 2 rolls
One 1-1/2 pound lobster, steamed or boiled and cooled
1 small onion, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
½ Cup Mayonnaise, fresh or prepared
The juice of 1 lemon
¼ teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
½ teaspoon Celery Salt
1 Tablespoon fresh Dill Weed
1 Tablespoon Unsalted Butter
New England-style hot dog buns
Remove the lobster meat from the shell; pull off the claws where they attach to the body, and break the body in half, discarding the head portion. Drive a knife down the middle of the underside of the tail portion, remove the meat, and set it aside. Using shell crackers, a crab mallet, or a hammer, crack open the claws, and remove all of the meat. Chop the claw meat and the tail meat into bite sized pieces, place in a bowl, cover, and refrigerate.
In a medium-sized bowl, combine the onion, celery, mayonnaise, lemon juice, cayenne pepper, celery salt, and dill weed; taste and correct the seasoning if necessary. Blend together the dressing and the lobster meat, cover, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
To assemble the lobster rolls:
In a medium-sized, well-seasoned cast iron skillet set over medium-high heat, melt the butter. Place two rolls in the pan and "toast" until brown; repeat on the opposite side. Carefully remove the rolls from the heat, and fill with the lobster. Gorge yourself, immediately.
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