We spent a relaxing week on the east end of Long Island* and near Portland, Maine, focused almost entirely on what we were going to eat for the next meal. Oddly, we ate no lobster in Maine, but we were careful to stop at a lobster pound on the way back to Shelter Island and stock up on a combination of hard-shell and soft-shell lobsters. The very nice folks at Bob’s Seafood packed the lobsters in our cooler for the 5-hour trip to their demise.
They were in perfect condition and quite feisty, as I discovered when I pulled off the rubber bands holding their claws shut. No, they didn’t get me, but not for lack of effort. I outsmarted them by plunging them into a large pot of boiling water. I cooked the smaller soft-shell lobsters (about two pounds) for about 10 minutes, but the larger hard-shell beasts (three pounds or more) got about 15 minutes; I assumed that the hard shell would insulate better and would require more time to cook. Of course, I was correct, and they turned out perfectly. I got a huge amount of abuse from the nattering nabobs of negativity who were hovering in the kitchen when I chilled them in cold water (crushed ice is better) and then put them in the refrigerator to cool completely. I have found from extensive experience that the flesh seems to firm up without becoming tough if the lobsters are chilled immediately after cooking. It also stops the cooking, so the timing can be more precise. I was proven correct, but that won’t stop the chattering of those who shall remain nameless.
We ate about half of the meat for dinner, and I carefully hid the rest in the back of the refrigerator, knowing that the vultures would swoop in and feast on the rest in a late-night drunken orgy of crustacean and lousy New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. 99% of New Zealand’s white wines are at least good, but our otherwise perfect hosts managed to scrounge up some resoundingly crappy wine. The good news is that some of it was consumed with club soda over ice, so I didn’t have to drink it.
The plan for the remaining lobster was simple. Make the best lobster rolls ever created in the long and storied history of lobster rolls. But that is a more complex task than it would seem, even assuming excellent quality lobster meat. There were some truly bizarre recipes that would have masked the lobster in a cacophony of flavors or simply would have buried it in far too much filler. I wisely ignored both the recipes and the aforementioned nabobs and kept it very simple: fresh mayonnaise, finely diced celery and chopped green onion. The rolls were plain, top-sliced hot dog buns that I drizzled liberally inside and out with melted butter and then baked in a very hot oven for a few minutes to give them a bit more structure and some color. The result was very close to the Platonic ideal of the lobster roll. I kept the filler to a minimum — for about two pounds of lobster meat, just a few tablespoons of mayonnaise and about the same amount of the celery and onion. The mixture was perfect! Not too rich, with a bit of crunch from the celery and a hint of a bite from the green onion. The sweet lobster was the star, though. The rolls were a nice counterpoint to the coolness of the lobster, with just enough substance to hold the mixture without soaking through.
This is one of those dishes where the quality of the ingredients trumps everything. The lobster was great, the mayonnaise was fresh, the rolls were crisped and not doughy. No amount of cooking skill would have been able to match our simple preparation without the quality of ingredients that we were lucky to have. And it was easy too. Just drive to Maine to get the freshest lobsters imaginable, and you will be well on your way to a perfect lobster roll.
*By the way, we took the Orient Point — New London Ferry both ways, and it was a lovely and convenient alternative to the horrible and ridiculous option of going back through New York. Our GPS disagreed and yelled incessantly that we were stupid, until we pulled onto the staging area of the ferry; then, it miraculously discovered the existence of a ferry that has been operating for at least 30 years.