I first heard of lobster rolls years ago, when a restaurant in Chicago put them on the menu as the next best thing. I didn’t get it at the time. To me, lobster was a special treat– I couldn’t see using it as a hot dog bun filling. The only thing I could figure was that lobsters were so abundant back East, people had to find a way to make use of them. We visited Cape Cod shortly after, tried a few rolls, but still didn’t grasp the idea of forking over nearly twenty bucks for mayonnaise and lobster on a hot dog bun.
Undeterred, we headed to Maine recently for a lobster roll tour, self-planned, with likely contenders culled from online reviews and discussions. We planned our lobster route in Portland and nearby Mid-coast, as locals call the region stretching north of Portland.
Our first discovery was the two different schools of thought on dressing lobster rolls –mayonnaise or butter being the predominant contention. Before long, some other foundational principles emerged as the keys to a great lobster roll, as follows:
• Do not shred the lobster meat – You are not making tuna salad–you want big chunks, even the whole claw or half a tail
• Dressing on the side or with a light hand – When lobster is this fresh, you want nothing to mask the flavor
• Grilled buttered bun – Whether you choose butter or mayo or nothing, butter the bun and grill it.
• Top-sliced hot dog bun– you may have to special order the bun, but it’s not really a lobster roll with out it
• Fresh lobster –It goes without saying, but the best lobster rolls, naturally, come from the freshest lobsters
• A lot of lobster –The most popular rolls on the circuit boast an entire lobster between the bun
Aside from that, we enjoyed a great diversity of lobster rolls – our favorite being “The Picnic,” from the Bite into Maine food truck camped in South Portland, the key to which seemed to be a barely detectable pinch of celery salt mixed with the requisite butter. We very quickly came to subscribe to the butter camp – I’d rather taste the sweetness of the lobster than lobster muted by mayonnaise and only butter seemed to enhance, rather than mask the ultimate luxury of fresh lobster.