A deep dive into lobster rolls

You’re telling me a lobster rolled these sandwiches?

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Read Time: 11 minutes

This week we’re busting our humps over to the Northeastern United States to eat things that crawl around in the ocean. I’m talking about crustaceans or shellfish or more specifically lobster.

The lobster that we eat in the United States typically comes from the type of hard-shelled lobsters that are caught or trapped off the coast of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Maine. While there are other types of lobsters found elsewhere in the world, the variety that we’re looking at today is known as Homarus americanus or American Lobsters. And we’re using those lobsters to make lobster rolls.

This sandwich was suggested by Shawn OBrien, a member of the Bounded by Buns Patreon Community. Shawn said he loves lobster rolls and wasn’t afraid to admit it.
So in honor of Shawn, I decided to make some!

What is a lobster roll?

A lobster roll is a sandwich that contains lobster and not a whole lot else. Lobster rolls are typically served in very soft, 5 to 6-inch, enriched, split-top rolls that are very similar or the same as hot dog buns. Two different styles of lobster rolls are popular in the United States, and they are typically separated into Connecticut-style and Maine-style.

Fun Facts About Lobsters: Lobsters pee out of the top of their face because their bladder is behind their eyes and they use urine for communication.

Connecticut vs Maine

Connecticut-style lobster rolls might be commonly known as “the butter kind” while Maine-style might be referred to as “the mayonnaise kind.” This might be overly simplistic but the sandwiches themselves are pretty damn simple as well. Lobster itself is a very subtle meat in its flavor and if you want to create a good lobster roll, it’s best if you do not overwhelm it with a lot of other flavors. Both versions of sandwiches are set up to allow the flavors of the lobster meat to shine.

Connecticut lobster roll

Connecticut-style lobster rolls are cooked lobster that has been warmed and slathered in melted butter. The sandwich is served warm with maybe a few herbs sprinkled on top. This is the simplest version of the two in presentation, but it’s a very good option if you like the taste of lobster dunked in drawn butter.

Maine lobster roll

Maine-style lobster rolls are served cold, and the cooked and chilled lobster meat will be tossed in a dressing made from mayonnaise, herbs, and even vegetables like celery might be chopped and tossed in with the meat and mayo.

Which lobster roll are we making?

I made both versions of these lobster rolls. I also bought and used two different types of lobster meat. Here’s a super simple breakdown of what I did.

Whole lobsterLobster tails
Connecticut-style/butter/warm
Maine-style/mayonnaise/cold

Let’s dig into what I made. First, as always, we need some bread.

New England split-top buns (aka hot dog buns)

New England split-top buns are just hot dog buns that have been baked close together so that they rise and press into each other forcing each roll to rise up taller and skinnier after baking. The rolls end up getting painted with egg wash prior to baking which leaves each roll darker and shinier than they would be without the egg wash.

Fun Facts About Lobsters: much like people who write sandwich blogs, lobsters never stop growing.

Then, instead of being separated and sliced down the side like typical hot dog buns, these are sliced and opened across the top. You can buy dedicated split-top hot dog bun pans which will help with consistency. But I do not own one and I feel that they’re not needed as long as you place your shaped rolls close together enough so that they will rise and fill in the gaps.

I can get 9 to 10 rolls on a sheet pan and this allows me to be consistent with distancing each roll.
After 45 minutes to an hour, all the rolls will be very close neighbors and they will start helping each other rise up.
After baking, paint each roll with butter to soften the crust and add flavor.
When you separate a roll from the rest, you will have flat left and right sides that you can then toast in butter.

Butter toasted rolls

Part of the experience of a lobster roll of either style is extreme richness. So, you might as well add more butter to the process. The beauty of the split-top hot dog bun is that you have flattened exposed sides that you can toast in butter to match how lobster rolls are traditionally served in restaurants or seafood shacks.

Toasting a bun will also allow that bun to be a little bit more pliable than a dry untoasted bun. Sometimes if you are opening a cold, untoasted bun, you can find them to be brittle and they may possibly break apart when opened fully. A toasted bun will get steamed and softened and will be less likely to break when you slice and open it up to stuff with lobster. Toasting or even just microwaving a hot dog bun is a very important step in the process.

I baste each split-top bun with butter after baking. But I also toast the sides with butter right before serving.
Add butter to a pan and allow it to melt. Then rub both sides in the butter before allowing one side to brown.
Flip and brown the second side to match the first side. Hope you like butter!

Here’s my hot dog bun recipe. It doesn’t specifically say that you are making split-top style buns, but if you keep them about half an inch apart while they are rising, they should have the option for split top or normal side split buns.

Recipe Card
2 hours and 45 minutes
Hot dog buns

This is a super easy to manipulate dough for hot dog buns that turns into soft bread perfect for your favorite sausages.

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Whole lobster and the Connecticut lobster roll

Ok, if you want to work with a whole lobster, you’re also going to have to work with some death in your kitchen. I don’t think there’s any other way around it. You can buy pre-cooked lobster meat, or you can buy frozen/thawed tails (I write about using tails below) and I have occasionally seen uncooked and/or precooked claws and knuckles that you can get at fish markets or specialty grocers like Whole Foods. But if you want to cook the whole lobster I think almost always this will mean buying a live one from the tank at a good store or fish market.

I went to Dirk’s Fish, a local-to-me fish market, and bought one lobster to use in two lobster rolls. This was a 1.6-pound lobster and they wrapped him up in a plastic bag and put him in a brown shipping box and sent me on my way. I had already prepared for this with a whole lot of YouTube watching and knew what I was getting into, but I want to be clear and tell you that this is the first time I have dealt with a live lobster before (I’ve only ever bought and cooked tails prior to this project).

Fun Facts About Lobsters: lobsters are only red when they are fully cooked. 🦞 Lobsters found in the wild can be blue, yellow, green, grey, or multi-colored.

As for dispatching the lobster, I researched this as well and did it in the most humane way I could by freezing it for 30 minutes which supposedly slows down their system and sort of puts them to sleep. Then I stabbed the lobster through the brain with a sharp knife a few seconds before putting it into the boiling water.

Before boiling.
After boiling.

Whole lobster math

Remember, I’m a person with only one attempt at breaking down a full lobster, but the lobster I bought was 1.66 pounds (26.56 ounces) and I turned that into 7 ounces of usable lobster meat. This means only about 26% of a live lobster’s weight will end up ready for sandwiching. This matches up with other sources which claim that on average you can only get a return of 30% of a lobster’s weight back as usable meat.

Through testing, I also found out that somewhere between 3.5 to 5 ounces of meat is right for a normal-sized lobster roll. This means that if you are working with live, whole lobsters you will need at least 0.8 lb of uncooked lobster weight per sandwich. This is a rough guide and someone with a lot more experience than myself might be able to squeeze more weight out of a lobster than I could, but I was even including the skinny leg meat in my calculations.

Fun Facts About Lobsters: lobsters molt and regrow their shell. You’ve likely never seen a discarded lobster shell because they often eat their cast-off shell.

If you were making lobster rolls for two people like I was, you could buy a 1.5-pound live lobster and an uncooked 4-ounce tail or two to supplement. This tactic would add extra ounces to make up and provide extra meat for your sandwiches. Just make sure if you do that you do not boil the tails as long as you boil the full lobster.

Next, we need to talk about options for getting butter into your Connecticut-style lobster rolls.

Clarified butter or Ghee?

Clarified butter is butter where water and milk solids are removed leaving behind only liquified butterfat. This means that the butter is melted down over heat which evaporates some of the water and then the milk solids will typically sink to the bottom allowing the cook to carefully pour off the clarified butterfat. The process of clarifying butter isn’t hard, but it also might be a bit more than you would want to tackle for a sandwich.

Fun Facts About Lobsters: lobsters do not mate for life, they mate after the female molts (sheds her shell) and then after mating she sticks around until the shell grows back and then they split.

Ghee is clarified butter that has typically been taken a step further by allowing the clarified butterfat to cook longer and begin the process of turning brown. Ghee is also something you can buy at many grocery stores, although it is not cheap.

Clarified butter and ghee are often seen in online recipes that you will find for butter-basted Connecticut-style lobster rolls. I skipped a big step and used ghee for my lobster rolls, but you can clarify your own butter if that sounds fun to you.

I bought ghee for my buttery lobster rolls. Check the international aisle at the grocery if you can’t find it.

Connecticut butter lobster roll recipe

I didn’t create a full recipe for this sandwich because I only made it once, but what I did was super simple. I’m going to list what I did in hopes that this will be informative enough that you should be able to recreate what I did very easily.

  • Boiled the whole lobster (in my case it was a little over 1.5 pounds, so I boiled for 8 minutes) and allowed it to cool.
  • Break down the claws and knuckle meat.
  • Break down the tail and remove as much as you can from the smaller legs (try using a rolling pin to push the meat out of each leg).
  • Chop up any large pieces of meat into smaller bite-sized pieces. You can put the meat in the fridge until sandwich time or immediately move to the next step.
  • Finely chop up some chives for garnish.
  • Add 2 or 3 tablespoons of ghee or clarified butter to a large skillet over medium heat.
  • When the ghee is fully melted and clear, add your chopped-up lobster meat and cook for 2 to 4 minutes or until the lobster is warmed through fully.
  • Butter toast the sides of your lobster rolls.
  • Stuff butter-dripping lobster meat into each split top roll and garnish with chives.
The Connecticut-style lobster roll is a very decadent and rich sandwich. I hope you like butter!
This is right around 3.5 ounces of meat. I think you could probably go up to 5 ounces if you wanted more meat.

Lobster tails and the Maine lobster roll

You can make lobster rolls with just tail meat and we made a few that way. I’m not a lobster expert, but it seems like tails are the easiest to find if you’re shopping at a regular grocery store.

My Whole Foods had frozen and thawed uncooked lobster tails that were all around 4 ounces each. You’re going to need about 1.5 tails per sandwich if your store sells a similar size. Otherwise—with back-of-the-napkin math—that’s 6 ounces of uncooked weight per sandwich.

The tails that I bought were around 4 ounces of uncooked weight each.

I boiled my tails with long skewers shoved through the meat which is probably not totally needed for a lobster roll. The skewers are meant to keep the tails from curling up as the meat gets cooked. This would be good if you were presenting the lobster on the side of a steak for a surf-and-turf meal but in a lobster roll the meat is going to get all chopped up so it’s likely not necessary.

Fun Facts About Lobsters: lobsters “chew” with their stomach. Lobsters do not have teeth but they have grinding mechanisms in their stomach that break down their food.

Get the lobster tails a good boil and they’ll turn bright orange or red.
This was an ice bath that I tossed the lobster tails into after boiling to slow down the cooking process.

Just like the whole lobster, I boiled my lobster tails and I cooked them for about 1 minute per ounce. This was about half the time that I cooked the whole lobster. A lot of this timing difference is because lobster tails and the meat within are fully exposed to the boiling heat. I did not cook enough tails or whole lobster to do any testing on this matter, but there are a lot of websites out there that have great experience in telling folks how long to cook whole lobsters or pieces.

Fun Facts About Lobsters: the largest lobster ever recorded, “Big George” was caught in 1974 (my birth year) and weighed 37.4 pounds which is the same weight I was when I was born.

When I was looking for reputable websites or guides for cooking lobsters, I found it was helpful to look at the websites that were focused on selling lobsters. These sites need to have good instructions for folks who have paid a bunch of money for lobsters and the shipping service. For example, Lobster Anywhere has a good guide for times for boiling and steaming whole lobsters on their site.

Once the tails are fully cooked, let them cool off or you will die.
I found it easiest to simply get my kitchen shears and cut down the back and bottom to expose the meat.
Lobster shells can be a bit thick so make sure you have a good set of scissors.
Once the back and bottom of the shell are fully cut, you should be able to remove the full piece of tail meat.

Homemade mayonnaise

You can buy and use storebought mayo for this recipe, but if the concept of this sandwich is to be at its most simple, why not make our own mayonnaise to ensure we have full control over all the ingredients in this sandwich?

Fun Facts About Lobsters: lobsters will eat smaller lobsters if there isn’t enough food available. They can be cannibals.

I used a simple version of my 2-minute mayonnaise recipe that you can make with an immersion blender. I did leave out the lemon juice in this version because more lemon juice is going to be added in the final lobster roll, but I don’t think much would have changed if I had left it in.

You can make a simple mayonnaise from oil, egg, and salt. I also add Dijon mustard.
An immersion or stick blender is required for my method. It takes about 2 minutes to make.
This two-minute mayonnaise is savory, creamy, and perfectly spreadable.
Once you try homemade, you might not return to storebought until you get lazy again.

Here’s a version of the Cuisinart brand Immersion blender that I use. You can get by with using a whisk if you are prepared for a nice arm workout. The homemade mayonnaise recipe below is also in the final Maine-style lobster roll recipe. But you can use your favorite mayo if you want.

10 minutes
Homemade mayonnaise

Everyone needs a basic mayonnaise recipe. If you have an immersion blender, this takes only a couple minutes to make. Without the blender, you'll be whisking for a bit, but it's still super satisfying to make your own mayo.

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Celery or nah?

I did not add celery to my Maine-style lobster rolls, but it is pretty commonly seen in recipes. Add some if you want to, just chop it finely and mix it in with the roughly chopped lobster and mayonnaise-based dressing.

Celery is kinda lame though. Unless we’re eating chicken wings.

Fun Facts About Lobster: lobsters can swim backward. They normally swim forward but can reverse by curling and uncurling their tail.

My Maine-style lobster roll recipe

I didn’t share a Connecticut-style “butter” lobster roll recipe, but I did put a bit of effort into making this Maine-style recipe using just tail meat. I chose tail meat because it seems like the easiest lobster meat you can find, even though it’s not necessarily a cheaper option. You can recreate this recipe with any proportion of tail, knuckle, or claw meat as well. The meat just needs to be chopped into bite-sized pieces and fully cooked.

Keep scrolling for a bunch of lobster roll photos and the full recipe for my gloriously decadent mayonnaise-based lobster roll.

You don’t have to make your own mayonnaise for this recipe. But you should.
Some people stuff celery into their lobster rolls. I’m not one of those people.
I think a slice or two of butter lettuce helps to protect the bun.
This is around 4 ounces of cooked meat. I think it’s about the sweet spot for me.
My wife and I both enjoyed the mayonnaise-based lobster rolls a bit more than the butter version. As a huge lover of butter, this surprised me.
The richness of the butter-toasted bun almost puts an already rich lobster roll over the top.
Maine-style lobster roll view printable page for this recipe

A lobster roll is a light and delicate sandwich that is surprisingly rich from the sweet and tender lobster meat. All of that is balanced by a savory and bright mayonnaise and lemon-based dressing that coats each piece of lobster in this buttery sandwich.


Ingredients:

Mayonnaise
  • 1 cup canola or vegetable oil
  • 1 whole large egg
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice (optional)
  • pinch of salt
Lobster tails and lobster salad
  • 3 4 to 5 ounce lobster tails (you can get buy with 2 tails but sandwiches will be smaller)
  • 2 or 3 tablespoons of salt
  • 3 tablespoons homemade mayonnaise (or store bought)
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 14 cup chives, finely minced
  • 12 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 14 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • zest of half a lemon
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
Sandwich assembly
  • 2 teaspoons butter
  • 2 split-top hot dog buns (or other hot dog buns)
  • 2 or 3 leaves of butter lettuce
  • lobster salad (from above)
  • pinch of chives, finely minced (garnish)

Directions:

Homemade mayonnaise: you can buy your own mayonnaise if you want. If so, just skip to the Lobster tails section. 

If you have an immersion blender: Add all ingredients to your immersion blender cup or a cup/jar that is a little bit larger than your blender stick. Put the blender on the bottom of the cup and start blending on low. Once you start to see things thickening, you can start to make a slight up-and-down movement. I like to stop every so often and kind of stir things around with the stick while the blender isn't running. However, you should be able to get something that resembles mayonnaise texture in just two or three minutes of blending. Once done you can skip to the last step.

If you do not have a blender, get ready to whisk: Grab a medium mixing bowl and a whisk.

Whisk the yolks, salt, and lemon juice (if using) until it all is a bit frothy. Slowly trickle oil into the bowl while whisking. Add more oil very slowly whisking the whole time. You will start to see things getting a bit thicker and at that point, you can add more oil.

Once things start to look more like a yogurt texture you can increase the flow of oil. But you still want to continue vigorously whisking. If you ever start to get a texture where your mayo looks like it's curdling, you need to stop adding oil until your texture binds back together.

You can stop whisking when you've used all your oil and the texture of your mayo is smooth.

Put the mayonnaise into a jar or sealed container and store it in the fridge for no more than two weeks. 

Lobster tails: stick a wooden skewer or chopstick through the meat of each lobster tail to ensure that they do not curl up and that they cook evenly. 

Bring a large pot to a boil and add 2 to 3 tablespoons of salt to the water. Once boiling, add each lobster tail to the pot. Boil for around 1 minute for each ounce of your lobster tails. So, if you bought four-ounce tails, cook for just over 4 minutes. When fully cooked, the lobster shell should be very red, and the meat will be white and no longer translucent. 

Move the tails immediately to a large bowl with ice water to stop the cooking process. Allow the tails to cool before removing the meat from the shell with kitchen shears or a sharp knife. 

Once the meat is removed, chop it into small pieces and add all the meat to a bowl. Move the bowl to the fridge for 20 to 30 minutes to fully cool the meat. 

Lobster salad: add mayonnaise, Dijon mustard, chives, salt, ground black pepper, lemon juice, and lemon zest to the bowl with the lobster meat. Mix to combine thoroughly. 

Toasted rolls: if you have split top rolls, butter the sides of the rolls or add a teaspoon of butter per roll to a pan and when melted add the rolls with one side down to toast in the butter. Flip after 1 or 2 minutes or when the side of the roll is toasty. Toast the second side for the same amount of time. If you have regular hot dog buns, toast them a little in the pan with butter to warm them up.

Sandwich assembly: open each roll and add one or two pieces of butter lettuce.

Top the butter lettuce with half of the lobster meat in each roll. Add finely chopped chives to garnish. 

Serve and enjoy. 

Check back next week

Next week I might be frying up some things. It might be breakfast. You’ll have to come back to find out!


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