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 spent 4th of July weekend at my friend’s house in Welfleet, MA, out almost at the end of Cape Cod. All of my friends from school were there, and let me tell you, it was quite a blast. One of my friends, who was living in the Welfleet house, is currently a student at the Johnson and Wales culinary school in Providence, RI. Needless to say, the girl can cook.
One night, we were getting ready to grill up some burgers when we realized that we were out of propane. Many delays and failures later, Molly offered to make the burgers meatloaf-style. Now I must admit, I was quite hesitant, as I am not the biggest fan of meatloaf. After the first bite, however, I was a convert. This was probably one of the most delicious burgers I have ever eaten. It was juicy and rich in a way that I have never found in a meatloaf, and it was seasoned to perfection.
Now back in California, I recently had some friends over for some BBQing and pool, and once again, one thing led to another and as it got later, the idea of getting the grill going to make burgers was becoming less appealing. I then decided to attempt Molly’s meatloaf-style burgers, since they had been such a success in Cape Cod. Unfortunately, my burgers did not turn out as well as Molly’s but I think the next try will bring much better results. Pictured above is my version of Molly’s burger, made with cheddar cheese, lettuce, and avocado.
Ultimately, this burger is a great example of how to combine cooking techniques to create a new dish. It also illustrates that even the most serious of situations, such as running out of propane, can be remedied with a little outside-the-box thinking.