Donny Tsang Photo
Lobster, lemon juice and a tiny bit of mayo make a lobster roll for purists. The photo is from “New York a la Cart” by Alexandra Penfold and Siobhan Wallace.
Back in 1622, William Bradford, governor of the Plimoth Plantation in what is now Massachusetts, apologized to a new group of settlers, telling them he could offer them only a meal of lobster.
That was at a time when lobsters would wash up on New England beaches in piles 2 feet high, according to food historian John Mariani. Along the coast, it was considered food for the poor; many lobstermen wouldn’t eat lobster to save their lives. Sandra L. Oliver, in her book “Saltwater Foodways,” quotes a Capt. Thomas Fairfax, of Mystic, Conn., who declared that lobster were “very good as an article of commerce,” but that “as to eating them, I prefer cast-off rubber shoes.”
Not everybody shared his taste, however, and by the mid-1800s, lobsters were quite popular and so widely available — live, cooked or canned — that cooks were constantly inventing ways to use them. According to Oliver, 19th-century recipes “commonly called for lobster to be added to sauces, scalloped, fricasseed, stewed, deviled, used in soup or bisque, made into croquettes ... and very, very often in salad.” Lobster was almost never eaten boiled in the shell except at rustic “shore dinners.”
Nowadays, lobster is a high-priced delicacy, which some of us are fortunate enough to have on our tables. The first rule of thumb in cooking lobster is: Don’t mess with it. Forget the fricassee and the “Newburg.” Forget the bisque or the croquettes. Eat lobster as plainly prepared as possible — which brings us to the lobster roll.
Lobster rolls, in much of the country, involve vast amounts of mayo and additives such as chopped celery and onions. These are not worthy of the lobster. Luke Holden, native of Maine and son of a lobsterman, realized that when he moved to New York City after college and couldn’t find an affordable, unadulterated lobster roll in the city. Naturally, he decided to make and sell his own.
Holden now runs a small chain of 10 Luke’s Lobster restaurants in New York and Washington, D.C., and environs, as well as a food truck, the Nauti Mobile, that roams Manhattan and can be located on any given day by following @NautiMobile on Twitter. It was the Nauti Mobile that made it into a new book, “New York a la Cart,” by Alexandra Penfold and Siobhan Wallace, in a chapter that highlights the joys of a pure lobster roll.
Holden uses only the claw and knuckle meat from lobsters; if you want to make one of these at home, you’ll probably want to use tail meat as well. That’s because it takes the claws of about 10 to 12 lobsters to produce 1 pound of lobster meat, or about five (at least 1¼ pounds) whole lobsters.
Next to the lobster, the next important ingredient in a Luke’s Lobster roll is the bun. Holden uses hot dog rolls from Country Kitchen, of Lewiston, Maine. If you can’t find them, go for a split-top hot dog roll with shaved sides. The shaved sides allow the bun to “toast out” perfectly.
The recipe below is an approximation of the Luke’s recipe, which is given for shrimp rolls in “New York a la Cart.” The use of thyme and oregano was revealed in an article about Luke’s in The Village Voice.
Note: Luke’s Lobster uses only sustainably fished lobster and shrimp, both from Maine. Wild-caught Maine shrimp can be found frozen year-round.
Luke’s Lobster Roll
Yield: 4 servings
6 tablespoons salted butter
4 split-top hot dog rolls
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 pound cooked, chilled lobster meat, or cooked shrimp, shelled, deveined and chilled
4 teaspoons mayonnaise (optional)
Pinch of celery salt
Pinch of dried oregano (for lobster roll)
Pinch of dried thyme (for lobster roll)
Salt and coarsely ground black pepper, to taste
Melt the butter and brush the outside of the buns. You will have several tablespoons of butter left over; whisk it with the lemon juice and set aside.
Heat a griddle, grill pan or skillet over medium-high heat and toast the buns for 2 to 3 minutes, or until both sides are golden.
If desired, spread a teaspoon of mayonnaise on the inside of each bun, then fill with chilled lobster or shrimp. Reheat the lemon butter for 10 seconds in the microwave and drizzle over each roll. Top with a pinch of celery salt and oregano and thyme (if using), as well as salt and pepper. Serve immediately.
(Recipe adapted from “New York a la Cart” by Alexandra Penfold and Siobhan Wallace; Running Press, 2013)
Marialisa Calta is a syndicated food writer who lives in Calais.
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