Lobster rolls

Lobster roll © DPaul Brown

Happy Labor Day!

I often tell people that my hometown in Upstate New York is a lovely place to be from. I love living in San Francisco, and in California in general, and I have little desire to return back to the Northeast. However, there are a handful of things I do miss.

When I was young, I spent a fair amount of time on and around the New England shores. My father lived in Massachusetts and New Hampshire for most of my life, and my mother and I would often take summer trips to Cape Cod or Rhode Island. I loved those pebbly beaches, the balmy days and, above all else, lobster rolls.

I have been pining for years — years — for lobster rolls. There’s really nothing all that remarkable about them: Just lobster meat barely dressed, served in a bun with a side of potato chips and a pickle spear. But two things have thwarted me in fulfilling my craving. First, lobster is not particularly common out here, and when it’s available it’s insanely expensive. But second and more importantly, I could never find the right kind of bun.

You see, lobster rolls are served in hot dog buns, but they must be top-cut buns. That way, you have the most important feature: Sides that have exposed crumb, which you then brush with butter and broil or griddle. Cuz, you know, the lobster and mayonnaise just aren’t rich enough. Lo and behold, Whole Foods stocks hot dog buns that have not been sliced in either direction, so at long last I was able to achieve lobster roll nirvana.

The contrast of the warm, toasted sides of the bun and the cool, creamy lobster salad are the perfect taste of summer, and a flash of nostalgia from my childhood. My craving has been sated for at least another year.

Cooking lobsters
There are myriad theories about how to handle lobsters prior to cooking them. Some insist that you can jam a sharp object into their brain, "pithing" them and allegedly killing them before they go into the water. Others say that pithing just paralyzes the lobster, and doesn’t reduce their suffering. Some say lobsters can be hypnotized by rubbing their heads or abdomens. Whatever. The only way I’ve ever cooked them is by putting them in a pot with enough cold water to submerge them completely and bring to a rapid boil. Supposedly, the warming of the water lulls them to sleep. Once the water comes to a boil, cook for about 6-8 minutes, depending on size (here’s a more specific time chart). Remove from the water and allow to cool before cracking. 

Lobster © DPaul Brown

You’d be angry too …

Reese and lobster © DPaul Brown

Reese meets a new friend.

Lobster © DPaul Brown

Into the pot with ya

Lobster © DPaul Brown

Not so tough now, are you?

Lobster rolls
1-1/2 to 2 lbs tail, claw and knuckle meat, coarsely chopped
Approx. 1/2 c. mayonnaise
1/2 tsp Dijon mustard (optional)
1 small celery stalk, finely diced
Salt and pepper to taste
4 top-cut hot dog buns

Combine lobster meat, mayonnaise, mustard, celery, salt and pepper and
fold to combine. Cover and keep chilled until ready to serve. Brush the
sides of the buns with softened or melted butter, and broil or grill
until toasted. Fill the buns with lobster salad and serve with potato
chips and a pickle spear.

Note: The Dijon mustard is my addition; traditionally it’s just mayonnaise, minimal celery and salt and pepper.


  • sam

    so what do you think of that lobster shack near your office? I wasn’t blown away but then I am not sure what they are *meant* to be like. I found them a bit greasy, but sounds like that is correct. Yours look great! good job!

  • Old Port’s are OK, a reasonable facsimile of the real deal. I’m just not thrilled with the expense — $17.75 for a lobster roll? I think they were literally a tenth that cost on the Maine coast when I was growing up. Then again, I spent over $50 on lobsters and at the end of the day it fed just 4 people, so I guess I didn’t really save much money.

  • We miss lobster and lobster rolls. You are right, it’s hard to reach nirvana with anything when the price is so high, which is why we don’t eat lobster even here in DC. But your rolls look pretty darn good. 🙂

  • When I moved to Hawaii 6 years ago I was shocked to find Maine Lobster prices cheaper than San Francisco. The reason was that in Kona on the Island of Hawaii they’re growing them via aquaculture. They get shipped in very small lobsters, then pump up water from the deep to mix with surface temperature water to achieve the exact temp that Maine Lobsters love. Not sure what they’re feeding them. It’s much cheaper to ship dozens of little ones vs. dozens of adults. I can’t find anything current about the company, so I’m not sure they’re still in business. Still, recently I saw whole main lobsters at $14.95/lb. on sale. Which I think is pretty good, being 5,154 miles from Maine.
    BTW, I’m green with envy. I want one of those.

  • Look at that perfectly buttery toasted roll. Indeed, it is the roll that makes the sandwich. I pity those that have never had one of these at a road stand or beach booth in New England.

  • I’ve never had a lobster roll, but I’m definitely planning to try it when I go to Boston. Sounds delicious to me!

  • Now that’s a proper lobstah roll! I’m renewing your honorary citizenship in the New England states.

  • I guess I’ll be the first snark here to say I can’t see the allure of lobster rolls. Being a California girl. (And no, you don’t want to live in California “in general.”)
    But I’ve never been able to convince a New Englander that cold lobster chunks smothered in mayonnaise, plopped in a (OK, proper) hot dog bun is not da shiz.
    So I’m happy you were happy.

  • The RSPCA (in the UK at least) recommend putting the live lobster in the freezer in a plastic bag to paralyse it, before plunging it into already boiling water. Whether or not that’s the best method I can’t say, but I expect that they know what they’re talking about in the area of animal cruelty – at least to some extent 😉

  • mcC

    killing a lobster like that… I have to admit that’s just something I couldn’t bring myself to do.

  • Mom

    Thanks for letting me know where you got those hot dog buns. I have been looking for them forever for – well – hot dogs. I honestly don’t remember eating lobster rolls in New England, but I miss the flavor of a Friendly’s hot dog and they use those very same buns prepared the same way as you descibed. Loved your post, though.

  • Ann

    I don’t know how you knew that I wanted a recipe for lobster rolls because I’ve been craving them for about a day or two. I’m going to have to head over to my nearest whole foods now!

  • Andrea: There’s something to be said about a treat so rare.
    Scott: That’s fascinating! Of all things to be cheaper in Hawaii … I wouldn’t have picked that.
    Kristin: Totally, it’s all about the tawdry little beach shacks. That’s where the best lobstah rolls are.
    Kalyn: OMG you are in for a treat!
    Lydia: Phew! Thanks. (And thanks for your advice!)
    Cookie: We’ll have to agree to disagree on this one, cuz it is so totally da shiz in my book! But then, so are dungeness crabs. I’m bicoastal.
    Rune: True, though I doubt many people keep lobsters as pets. 🙂
    McC: I will admit that when I was walking back to the car with a bag full of living lobsters, I got weirded out for just a minute. And then I was over it.
    Mom: Most recently we had them with Paul when we went to Ogunquit. That was, what, 15 years ago?
    Ann: I aim to please! Good luck lobster rolling.

  • Erika

    To Sean: I remember $4 lobster rolls in Maine when I was a kid….but this summer we paid $12.95 a piece for them (somewhere a little north of Portland). Sticker shock! But we had to have them.

  • OH MY! These rolls look fantastic – I am drooling all over my keyboard! I have yet to try one – you would think after all my visits to Boston the past 6 years, I would have had at least one!! I did see a sign in Half Moon Bay last week for lobster rolls, may have to digg in there!

  • I’m from upstate NY; love it, but the taxes are out of control. I, too, love lobster, but I prefer the Rhode Island lobster rolls at Abbot’s. There, a hamburger bun is lightly toasted and a beautiful “patty” of lobster meat that has been dunked in butter, is the star. I could eat 3 or 4 of them, but at $7.50 a pop (and that was 3 years ago), I don’t. The typical lobster roll usually has way more mayo on it than I like, but I did have an incredible foot longer on a baguette in Ogonquit a few years ago.

  • Cookiepuss

    There’s the Old Port Lobster Shack down here in Redwood City, made the New England way (I’m from Massachusetts). It’s pretty great, but a bit pricey.

  • Unfortunately, that is the worst way to cook a lobster. Research shows he lobster stays alive and in pain the longest with this method. (Yes, the most recent research shows they do feel pain). Here is a more humae way to cook lobster:

  • Oh god, I’ve angered the Lobster Queen! Your highness, I beg forgiveness for inflicting such torment on your subjects in the past, and will absolutely take heed of your more humane methods.
    Seriously tho — good stuff!