How-To: Make a Lobster Roll

Food, How-To
perfect lobster roll
perfect lobster roll

Photo: Leigh Loftus

For me, lobster is proof that some of the most delicious things in culinary life are the simplest. Though there are plenty of opulent ways to eat lobster, from from thermidor to Newburg and from scampi to bisque, but the best way to enjoy lobster is plain, cooked fresh and tasting slightly salty like the Atlantic ocean.

The next best way to enjoy lobster is far and away in a lobster roll.

Some claim the lobster roll first popped up on the menu at Perry’s in Milford, Connecticut, in the 1920s, as a riff on lobster salad; but Bon Appetit says no, it was Red’s of Wiscasset, Maine, that became the first in the 1970s, serving shucked, one-pound lobsters on buttery hot dog buns, with creamy mayo served in a cup on the side.

Today, the lobster roll isn’t much different, though you’ll find variations on every menu across the country, even in the least likely places you’d expect to see lobster.

When we visited chef Ashley Elech at Joe Fish in Chicago, she gave us a few quick tips for building the perfect lobster roll.

The Buns

“The most important part are the components, beginning with a New England style hot dog roll, which should be buttered, toasted and crispy,” said Elech.

Though you’ll find lobster rolls served on everything from sourdough to brioche to croissants to Kaiser rolls, the New Englanders stick to the classic top-loading hot dog bun. Long associated with fish frys, barbecues and even baseball games at Fenway Park, the rectangular buns have flat sides perfect for being buttered and grilled or toasted.

Today, you can even buy special pans to bake your own rectangular, top-split buns, but we think that you’ll do just as well at your local bakery or grocery store.

The Salad

Once you have the bun part down, you need to deconstruct your lobster into a lobster salad. As tempting as it may be to buy prepackaged lobster meat, boiling fresh lobsters is really the way to go — and the only way to know that you aren’t buying glorified crabmeat at a premium price.

My favorite way to make lobster salad is as Sam Hayward wrote in Food & Wine, where he suggests keeping things simple with lobster and mayonnaise or taking things up a notch with a pinch of cayenne pepper, celery and fresh lemon juice.

The Serving

Unlike shrimp or other shellfish, where a pound will yield you enough food for 3-4 people,most 1-pound lobsters will yield you enough meat for one regular sized lobster roll…and you might still be left wanting more. If you’re making lobster rolls, plan on one per person…and if you’re hosting a large group, plan for a few extra just in case you wind up feeding some hearty appetites.

Alongside your lobster rolls, traditional picnic sides work well, but if you’re worried that your meal will be too heavy, Cape Cod style chips and some fresh fruit are the perfect way to honor summer. Elech serves her lobster rolls with a side of crispy fried onions and house made pickles. Unless you consider yourself a professional, you might not want to try that at home. Besides, all you really need for the perfect lobster roll is your lobster meat, a touch of mayonnaise, a squeeze of lemons and some scallions or chives.


perfect lobster roll

Photo: Leigh Loftus

Perfect Lobster Roll
Recipe type: Cooking for a Crowd, Weekend Cooking
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 4
  • Four 1- to 1¼-pound lobsters
  • ¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • ¼ cup finely diced celery
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • Pinch of cayenne pepper
  • 4 top-split hot dog buns
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • ½ cup shredded Boston lettuce
  1. Prepare a large ice-water bath. In a very large pot of boiling salted water, cook the lobsters until they turn bright red, about 10 minutes. Using tongs, plunge the lobsters into the ice-water bath for 2 minutes, then drain.
  2. Twist off the lobster tails and claws and remove the meat. Remove and discard the intestinal vein that runs the length of each lobster tail. Cut the lobster meat into ½-inch pieces and pat dry, then transfer to a strainer set over a bowl and refrigerate until very cold, at least 1 hour.
  3. In a large bowl, mix the lobster meat with the mayonnaise and season with salt and pepper. Fold in the diced celery, lemon juice and cayenne pepper until well blended.
  4. Heat a large skillet. Brush the sides of the hot dog buns with the melted butter and toast over moderate heat until golden brown on both sides. Transfer the hot dog buns to plates, fill them with the shredded lettuce and the lobster salad and serve immediately.
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