What is a Lobster Roll? Meet Maine’s Official Summer Sandwich
Lobster rolls are a special summer sandwich. Native to New England clam shacks and roadside stands, it’s the coastal brother of the popular hot dog. The lobster roll, like chili, is one of the most contentious foods out there; everyone’s got a favorite way to do it.
What is Lobster Roll Made of? The Anatomy of a Lobster Roll
Let’s discuss what makes the best lobster roll. What’s in a lobster roll? The short answer: fresh, simple ingredients! This sumptuous seafood sandwich is made with a handful of foods that are easily stored in your pantry and fridge. When you deconstruct a lobster roll, you realize it’s easier than making a BLT! There’s nothing like a properly made lobster roll. It consists of three main ingredients:
- Fresh lobster meat
#1 Lobster Meat
Rule #1: Never skimp on the ‘Maine’ ingredient! Starting off with high-quality, succulent lobster meat, and lots of it. Avoid sacrificing quality for pounds of lobster because this is going to be the start of the dish.
It typically takes about 8 ounces of lobster meat (2 live lobsters) to make a good round of lobster rolls.
With advanced processing technologies, you can now get premium frozen lobster meat that can be far superior to cooked meat that has been stored a day or two too long. This is an ideal option for those who buy their food in advance but aren’t ready to make the rolls immediately.
Lobsters should be cooked live, iced to prevent overcooking, with the meat picked on the spot. When you order lobster rolls from Lobster Anywhere, you’ll get the best Maine lobster delivered to your front door.
The star of the roll should always be succulent chunks of lobster meat, freshly cooked and shucked locally or properly fresh-frozen lobster meat.
Did you know there are differences in the meat from the different parts of the lobster?
- CK meat: Claw and knuckle meat is known in the trade as CK meat. It is the most widely used for rolls.
- TCK meat: Tail, Claw and knuckle meat is called TCK meat. This mix includes the best parts of the lobster, with the tail meat being the most expensive.
- CKL meat: Claw, knuckle and leg meat.
You will find that each part of the meat will have a different flavor profile and texture. Big chunks of claw and knuckle meat are the ideal choice. The tail meat should have a firm, snappy texture. Don’t overlook the knuckle meat as it offers sweet and tender morsels. Uncut lobster meat also tastes the best and makes for a better, more authentic presentation. In short, the meat makes the lobster roll!
#2 What’s the Best Bread for a Lobster Roll?
It is not called a lobster roll for anything! The New England hot dog bun is also known as the frankfurter roll, split-top bun or top sliced roll. If you live outside the six New England States, real rolls may be hard to come by.
Lobster rolls are traditionally served on a roll: a top-split melted butter grilled roll. A split roll is sliced down the top (instead of the side), making a delicious pocket for your filling. A typical soft New England hot dog roll features straight-up, white sides for coating in butter and for grilling. It absorbs the most butter when grilled in a pan, plus the inside stays soft.
Fresh-off-the griddle buttered rolls make a huge difference. The only prerequisite for the bread is that there is not too much of it and it is light and fresh. Again, the star of the sandwich is the meat. You always want a generous portion of freshly cooked meat, not heavy bread.
Our favorite store-bought roll is made by Pepperidge Farm. An important distinction with these New England rolls is that they are baked with a brown crust on the sides. However, they taste wonderful butter grilled and hold up well. Country Kitchen Rolls is another local favorite baked by Lepage Bakeries.
We’ve found “lobster rolls” made with some inventive bread choices, including:
- Croissants (See our recipe for Croissant Lobster Sandwiches)
- Artisan Bread (See our recipe for Lobster Grilled Cheese)
- BaguettesKaiser bunMartin’s potato bun
- Sub rolls
- Italian Bread
- Challah roll
- Hamburger buns
- Pain au Lait (it’s a small, slightly sweet, buttery bun enriched with milk)Mini slider buns for a big crowd
- King’s Hawaiian hot dog buns
If you can’t find a “top-loading” hot-dog bun, give a brioche roll a try or even a nice buttery croissant.
#3 Lobster Roll Dressing
We are proponents of simple, light dressings such as a glaze of mayo or a drizzle of hot butter. These are what you call traditional lobster rolls: cold Maine-style with mayo and Connecticut-style hot buttered.
We like to use Cains mayonnaise since it’s all-natural and local. Use just enough mayonnaise to hold the lobster meat together. Remember there is no saving a soggy roll drowning in too much mayo! Again, purists prefer just a touch of mayo and a pinch of seasoning with salt and pepper.
Some add a bed of lettuce or diced celery blended in the mayo for a little added crunch. But don’t go overboard, you don’t want to be guilty of adding filler! A squeeze of fresh lemon or on the roll is always sublime. Drawn butter and mayo may also be served on the side.
You will also find rolls dressed in aioli sauce. What is aioli? It’s like mayo although it is garlic-based and made with olive oil, not vegetable oil. It’s good stuff if it’s made simple. For a slightly sweeter roll, whip in the salad spread, Miracle Whip in place of your standard mayo. Tarragon, celery salt, or fresh chopped chives,can be tasty compliments to a lobster roll as well.
Pro Tip: Make sure you can visibly see lobster meat in the roll, like a whole claw or two, or even a big piece of tail meat. Lightly dressed rolls are the best.
All Killer, No Filler? Simple Lobster Roll Recipes
You can’t go wrong with lobster roll recipes that focus on the sweet taste of lobster. On the other hand, some people (we won’t name names), like to cover up the fresh briny succulence of the lobster meat with fancy ingredients, like aioli, tarragon, Old Bay seasoning and so on…
In New England, you’ll find two different schools of how to make lobster rolls: chilled with mayo or served hot with butter. The latter, also know as the Connecticut-style or naked lobster roll is just fresh chunks of lobster on top of a grilled hot dog bun drizzled with warm butter.
The No-Mayo Lobster Roll: Gourmet (July, 2009) magazine featured a recipe for no-mayo lobster rolls with lemon vinaigrette dressing. The rationale is that the simple dressing will not mask the sweet, briny flavor or bright red color of the lobster meat.
The Great Lobster Roll Debate Rages On…
Served warm with drawn butter or chilled with mayo? That is the million-dollar question! The best way to make a lobster roll is a topic of debate between seafood purists and culinary adventurers. There are three types of lobster rolls that reign supreme: The Connecticut, The Maine and The Maverick. Which one do you like most? Read our guide to make a decision.
The Connecticut Lobster Roll
Those nice Nutmeggers* believe that lobster rolls should be served one way only: warm and unadorned. Succulent lobster meat is heated in butter, dressed with salt, pepper and lemon juice, and generously loaded into a toasted split top bun.
The Connecticut-style or naked lobster roll is just fresh chunks of lobster on top of a grilled hot dog bun drizzled with warm butter.
*Fast Fact: Nutmegger is a nickname for people from the US state of Connecticut!
How to Make Hot Buttered Lobster Rolls (Hot buttered CT Style)
- Grab a saucepan and melt our Maine sea salt butter over a low heat.
- Add our fresh lobster meat to the warmed butter and toss gently. Be careful not to overheat or cook the meat.
- Brush each side of our Pepperidge Farm split rolls with butter and toast in a skillet.
- Load the bread with cooked lobster meat and finish with a squeeze of lemon juice, a pinch of salt, and a shake of pepper.
- Serve up immediately since the butter can soak through the bread and no one wants soggy bread.
The Maine Lobster Roll
The good folk of Maine like to dress their chilled lobster meat with creamy mayo. Some call it a cold lobster salad, but we think a lobster salad is something a little different. The chilled meat is generously loaded into a toasted split top roll, before being finished with a spritz of lemon juice and a shake of salt and pepper.
How to Make Classic Lobster Rolls with Mayo (Maine-Style)
- Grab a large bowl and mix our cooked lobster meat with quality mayonnaise.
- Add a squeeze of lemon juice, a pinch of salt, and a shake of pepper.
- Fold all the ingredients into each other until the lobster meat is lightly covered.
- Brush both sides of of each Pepperidge Farm buns with our Maine sea salt butter and toast in a skillet until golden (about 2 minutes per side).
- Open the top split roll and pile in your chilled lobster meat until your roll is overstuffed. Don’t forget to supply a fork to get every chunk of lobster meat that spills out.
Now you have a classic Maine lobster roll even if you live in the small town of South Boston, Virginia.
Loved by the gastronauts of the foodie world, these lobster rolls break all the rules. The meat is finished with aioli, wasabi, Old Bay seasoning, pickled mustard seeds, cucumber, and Tabasco…just to name a few! There are plenty of chefs who attempt to put a “gourmet” spin on the roll. We’ve even heard of lobster meat being swamped with mac and cheese or stuffed into Asian slaw. While we not fans those kinds of adaptations, we give full marks for imagination!
The truth is, the star of the show is the lobster itself — succulent, sweet, and beautifully briny. We source our Maine lobsters from a sustainable fishery, caught by independent lobstermen.
Hot dogs are not the only comfort food served with toppings. Have you tried the California version of the lobster roll served with avocado, white cabbage, pico de gallo, and Sriracha? Along with avocado, you’ll find rolls topped with bacon, pickled mustard seeds, cucumbers, caramelized onions, tomatoes, hot giardiniera (Italian relish), Old Bay seasoning, black truffle, panko crumbs, and crushed potato chips (might give this a try). It’s okay to embrace creativity, but always remember to know the source, keep it fresh and simple.
A Top-Secret Condiment
Read On for the Big Reveal!
You never want to over-complicate a lobster roll, but there is one secret topping that will add a hit of salty sweetness. Pick up a box each of Lorna Dune Cookies, Keebler Club Crackers, and Ritz Crackers.
- Place a handful each in a zip lock bag and mash em up fine.
- Just before you serve your rolls sprinkle a little of this mixture on the top of your rolls for a flavor extravaganza!
- Give each roll a squeeze of fresh lemon.