It’s not summer in New England until you’ve had a lobster roll – the hotdog of the coast. These wickedly delicious sandwiches are a staple of clam and lobster shacks across the seafronts of Maine, Massachusetts and Connecticut, although gourmet variants are becoming increasingly popular.
But how did the famous lobster roll come to be? And, more importantly, how do you make the perfect one?
History of the Lobster Roll
It’s becoming less the case these days, but lobster rolls were originally made, unsurprisingly, by the very people who fished them. For lobstermen, loading two slices of white bread with any unsold catch from the day was simply the quickest and cheapest meal available after a hard day’s work.
Of course, there’s now a bit more to an authentic New England lobster roll than simply wrapping some unsellable lobster in whatever bread you happen to have. The lobster roll as we know, the lobster roll can be traced back to a restaurant in Milford, Connecticut called Perry’s.
It was the 1920s, as the story goes, and a travelling liquor salesman had stopped at Perry’s with a hankering for a hot lobster sandwich. There was no such thing on the menu, but the restaurant owner, whose name wasn’t Perry, but Harry, created one on the spot.
But that wasn’t really the first proper lobster roll either. According to Harry, his first attempt was let down by the type of sliced white bread used. It was soggy and tasteless, and the lobster kept falling out. So his next step was to commission French’s Bakery in neighbouring Bridgeport to create a special bun for Perry’s newest menu item. Harry would simply cut a wedge in the top of the resulting submarine-style roll for holding the meat, then replace the top, grill, and serve.
By the 1950s, lobster shacks could be found up and down the New England coast, most serving something close to the original lobster roll found at Perry’s. It was in the 1970s, however, when the lobster roll’s popularity boomed, taken to new heights by the still-standing – and eternally popular – Red’s Eats on Maine’s Route 1. By then, the Maine Lobster Roll had become its own thing.
What’s the Difference Between the Maine Lobster Roll and the Connecticut Lobster Roll?
The main difference between the Maine and Connecticut lobster rolls is in how they serve the lobster meat, although it’s hard to say whether one way is necessarily better than the other.
Like those first served up at Perry’s, the Connecticut roll uses hot lobster meat loaded onto the bun and topped with warm butter. On the other hand, the Maine roll uses cold lobster meat, seasoned with salt and pepper and dressed with mayonnaise (and occasionally finely chopped celery).
Because they’re served at different temperatures, you may find yourself preferring one over the other depending on the time of year and how hot it is, but there is one more important thing to look out for in Maine: choose a lobster shack that isn’t overseasoning or overdressing the lobster meat. Remember, the lobster should be the star of the show here, not overpowered by the mayonnaise and salt.
Lobster Roll: Common Mistakes
So that brings us to the most common mistakes in making lobster rolls. Whether you’re going for the Maine or Connecticut style, these are the things to avoid:
- Don’t overdress. Top your lobster meat with butter for the warm Connecticut style lobster roll, or mayonnaise for the cold Maine style. As we’ve already mentioned, you don’t want to add too much dressing. That also means choosing butter OR mayonnaise, not both for your dressing.
- Don’t use bad lobster. Use the most tender lobster meat possible and never, ever use frozen. If you’re using pre-cooked, make sure it’s fresh. Just because the lobster roll has humble roots doesn’t mean it should be used to disguise cheap and tough lobster meat.
- Don’t wing it. Make sure you know how to cook a lobster and don’t skimp on the salt. They boil lobster using seawater in New England, so try to replicate a similar level of salinity.
- Don’t use crusty bread. Whether you’re going to Connecticut or Maine, use a soft roll (hotdog style) as the perfect pairing for your lobster meat.
Do's of the Perfect Lobster Roll
Maine Lobster Now has some great tips for achieving the perfect lobster roll here. In general, use the most tender lobster you can find – coldwater lobster is best – and toast your rolls. Although we advise against using butter and mayonnaise as a dressing, you should always butter your rolls. Doing so before toasting them will add a satisfying crunch.
What to serve with lobster rolls
If you want to make lobster rolls part of a more balanced meal, then it’s time to think about sides. Good light accompaniments include:
- Leafy salads with a light vinaigrette
- Steamed and buttered vegetables
For something with more substance, try:
- French fries
- Baked beans
- Mac ‘n’ cheese