Well, it’s been quite a hiatus, but I’m back, and starting up again with one of my favorite sandwiches…the lobster roll.
Let’s begin with a bit of lobster history! There are actually quite a few species of lobster, but culinarily speaking, there are two that really matter. Lobsters are actually found all over the world, but the two we eat most are from each side of the Atlantic Ocean: the American lobster, and the European lobster. In fact, lobsters have been a part of the human diet as far back as the Greeks and Romans! For our purposes, let’s stick with the lobster we all know and love, from the westside of the Atlantic.
When the Americas began to be populated, lobsters were overwhelmingly plentiful, and not considered a delicacy. As it became a part of our diet, it was actually seen as the opposite: only the poor, prisoners, and indentured servants ate lobster…and they weren’t happy about it! But by the mid 1800s, eaters in Boston and New York had begun to pick up on the deliciousness, and technology advanced to a point where lobsters could be fished more easily for mass consumption.
The problem is, lobsters inherently lend themselves to being a luxury. They live alone, on the sea bed, in rocky outcrops, and reproduce very slowly….it can take up to two years to produce fertilized eggs, and then another six to eight years for the lobsters to become large enough to legally fish. Furthermore, lobsters are caught in traps, not with huge nets, and have been known to engage in cannibalism when in captivity. So in terms of price, female lobsters are the way to go…not only are they generally bigger, but the eggs, or coral, can also be used in sauces, and many gourmands believe that they taste better anyway.
In America, Maine is known for their lobster, and lobster is associated more than anything else with Maine. And it’s true, a lot of lobster comes from Maine. But actually, there’s a whole lot more in Canada, Maine just has a better PR company.
But let’s move on to lobster rolls. Lobster rolls come in two forms: hot and cold. The original lobster roll, unsurprisingly, comes from Maine, and is cold. The Maine version usually has a bit of mayo and some seasoning tossed with the lobster meat. Elsewhere in New England, the meat is usually mixed with mayo, celery, and a bit of seasoning…it’s actually a bit similar to a tuna salad, just overwhelmingly better (because it’s lobster). The hot lobster roll is credited to Harry Perry of Milford, CT, and is a simpler affair: hot chunks of lobster meat, drenched in drawn butter. But where the hot and cold join in the Venn diagram of lobster rolls is the bread: a toasted hot dog bun (or similar shape) cut down from the top instead of horizontally. I think the wonderfulness that is the lobster roll is best summed up by Susan Russo in her book The Encyclopedia of Sandwiches: “it’s ironic that lobster, one of the world’s most luxurious foods, is also the featured ingredient in this, one of New England’s least pretentious sandwiches.”
I think anyone who has had a lobster roll in New England can agree. The photos above are from Captain Scott’s Lobster Dock in New London, CT, where I went to college. The afternoons I spent there, eating lobster rolls (always hot of course…I may be a sucker for mayo, but there’s nothing better than hot lobster and drawn butter), are recalled with casual vibes and feelings of relaxation, not of white tablecloths and fine wines. It was about sitting outside at wooden picnic benches with friends and a cold beer, watching the boats come in and out of the harbor, chowing down on delicious food.
I semi-recently took a trip to New York to see my brother and my college friends. Now for those of you who have been following along, you will have noticed that I frequent the East Coast, and that I continue my quest for awesome sandwiches on these little vacations. While I did have some great sandwiches on this trip, you’ll have to wait for future blog posts. This post is about a little seafood shack in Connecticut and a fish sandwich that signified the change of the seasons, the beginning and end of the school year, and the promise of fun with great friends.
Though there are two main seafood shacks in New London that have similar traditional menus, Fred’s Shanty is the place you go when you want a fish sandwich. Simple, cheap, and fresh, there really isn’t much that’s better on a crisp fall day that’s reminiscent of summer.
In an earlier post, I touched on the idea of the connection between food and memory. In the same way that a smell or sound can take you back to a previous moment in your life, food can also be associated with memory. Just how I have many good feelings and memories associated with sea urchin, the Fred’s Shanty fish sandwich evokes visions of countless warm fall and spring college days spent outside – on the green, in the arboretum, at the beach – accented by trips to a small seafood shack on the Thames River. And of course, these memories are attached to this sandwich not just because the consumption is recurring, but because of the strength of the emotions that the memories call up. Yes, the fish sandwich from Fred’s Shanty is good, but it doesn’t stand out in a crowd of fish sandwiches. In fact, the main reason to go to Fred’s Shanty instead of Captain Scott’s Lobster Dock (the other sea food shack in New London) is because it’s cheaper, not because the food is better. And though I have similar, and definitely more Lobster Dock memories, they involve a sandwich of a different sort. It is this sandwich, the simple yet delicious fish sandwich, that carries ties to the lush life of college.
For those of you who have been following along, you may remember my friend Molly from her delicious meatloaf-style burgers. On my trip back to Connecticut, Molly once again busted out her serious cooking chops and whipped up an amazing Eggs Benedict breakfast for us.
Now, even I think Eggs Benedict pushes the sandwich envelope a little bit, mostly because there is no easy way to eat this dish, and using your hands is out of the question (at least in civilized company). This issue disqualifies Eggs Benedict from the category based on lack of convenience. On the other hand, the ingredients and composition fit in perfectly with the concept of the open-face sandwich: bread on bottom, meat, condiment, plus additional fixings layered in the order of any breakfast sandwich, minus the bread on top. I think the aspects of Eggs Benedict that qualify it are more important than those that don’t, and so in my eyes (and mouth and stomach) that makes it enough of a sandwich to put it in this blog.
The more important question is, what makes Molly’s Eggs Benedict so utterly awesome? Let’s start at the bottom: instead of using the classic English muffin as a base, Molly made biscuits from scratch, which were everything a biscuit should be: fluffy, yet dense, buttery, and just plain delicious. The Canadian bacon was pretty generic, but, let’s be honest, fry anything in butter and it will be tasty. Poached eggs are tricky (also my favorite preparation of eggs), and, in my opinion, are generally overcooked. As you can see from the second photo above, Molly poached the eggs PERFECTLY and is therefore my egg hero. Top it all off with a tangy, thick, homemade hollandaise, and I dare you to tell me this breakfast wasn’t awesome.
Eggs Benedict is a classic breakfast dish, made more famous by the fact that there are so many variations available, such as Eggs Florentine, Artichoke Benedict, Smoked Salmon Benedict, and dozens others. There are a few origin stories of this delicious egg meal, all involving someone named Benedict asking for this combination of ingredients. Today, Eggs Benedict can be found on almost all breakfast menus, and back when the New York Times wrote about it in 1967, it was noted that “Eggs Benedict is conceivably the most sophisticated dish ever created in America.” Even though Eggs Benedict is often one of the most expensive breakfast items on a menu these days, I’m not sure that most people would agree with this statement any more. So while this dish is very questionably a sandwich, and has obviously moved down a few spots on the elegant foods list, it still has a history that places it solidly in American food culture.
The Broken Yolk in New London, Connecticut is everything that a local diner should be. My four years of college in New London gave me ample opportunity to visit The Broken Yolk many a time, and let me tell you, this place gets better with every meal. Run by the amazing and effervescent Doreen, who literally controls the entire diner while cooking every dish and chatting up each customer, The Broken Yolk is one of those places that most people think only exist on television.
Breakfast at The Broken Yolk is always entertaining, but during my recent visit to Connecticut for alumni weekend I had an especially wonderful experience. My friend Wells had decided to shoot his short film at the diner, and my friend Owen, the star of the short, and I accompanied him for breakfast before the work began. I have said it before and I’ll say it again: the company you keep at mealtime can have just as much effect on the experience as the food itself. At The Broken Yolk, the company is always good, and I had been looking forward to a delicious meal there from the moment I booked my flights.
Though I have many favorites on the menu, I wanted to give The Broken Yolk a chance to shine on AOAS, and so I ordered the stuffed croissant…a toasted croissant literally STUFFED with scrambled eggs, tomatoes, scallions, cream cheese, and smoked salmon, served with a side of home fries. First of all, I LOVE breakfast sandwiches. I had, for whatever reason, never really been exposed to breakfast sandwiches before I moved to the East Coast, and so I associate them with college and New England. Thus, a breakfast sandwich was all I wanted, and the stuffed croissant more than fit the bill. Scrambled eggs and cream cheese is another weakness of mine (especially when tabasco is added to the mix), and if you throw in smoked salmon, I am immediately sold. Therefore, I knew exactly what I was ordering the moment Owen told me that we were going to The Broken Yolk for breakfast.
I hadn’t had the stuffed croissant in a couple of years, but it most definitely lived up to my memories. The croissant is perfectly buttery and flaky, made even more so by the slight toasting. The eggs are scrambled exactly the way I like them: not underdone and runny, and not dry and overcooked. All in all, this sandwich is delicious. The only thing that would make it better would be avocado, but this is Connecticut folks, not Southern California (which I would constantly remind myself during my four years of college).
But in all seriousness, if you happen to find yourself in New London, CT, you really have to check this place out. Anything you eat will be delicious (may I recommend the huevos rancheros or the eggs in a window?) and Doreen will always show you a good time. The woman is truly one of a kind.