I chose to coast through college — selecting subjects that came easily to me and working just hard enough to secure an A, without ever worrying about actually learning something. I figured there'd be enough time for the details later. Well, later is now, and my lackadaisical ways and middle-aged memory loss have left me feeling slightly behind the curve.
Oh sure, I can be entertaining enough at dinner parties and book groups, but, in my work at a highly competitive high school, I'm reminded daily of my gaps in knowledge. Instead of choosing a profession where the coffee break conversation might be what's new with the Kardashians or the "octo-mom," I find myself surrounded by intellectuals who can breezily discuss any number of topics: linguistics, John Updike, Medieval China, or quantum mechanics. It can be daunting to say the least. After 45 years on the planet, the only subject I feel I can discuss with total confidence is the lobster roll. I try to work lobster facts into my repertoire whenever possible, asserting my intellectual prowess as best I can. "Did you know the tomalley serves the function of both the liver and the pancreas?" or, "Did you know that lobsters are the arachnids of the deep?" That sort of thing.
Since my childhood in Maine, I've sampled lobster rolls up and down the east coast. (I would never order one anywhere else; even inland New Hampshire is pushing the boundaries, and Vermont is out of the question.) I'm definitely a go-to person if you need a recommendation on your next trip to New England. Red's Eats: yes! Summer Shack: no! I've had $7 rolls Downeast, $24 rolls in the North End, and $32 rolls in the South End and loved them equally. I've had a long string of $15 rolls that should never have been on the menu (see Summer Shack above). But, I'm hard to please. And it's so easy to make a mistake: too much celery (or including celery at all); too much mayonnaise; not enough mayonnaise; using lobster that's been out of the ocean too long; not letting the lobster salad sit for at least an hour for the flavors to meld; serving it on a cold roll; over-chilling resulting in a watery and tasteless mess; experimenting with strange herbs (dill? really?); using a side-cut bun. The list goes on and on.... Most people shouldn't even bother.
A few years ago, when I was even more rigid than I am now, I found myself discussing favorite meals with Jean, then a new foodie friend. She's an artist and an expert on many things — I happily let her show me how to throw a pot and teach me the difference between cerulean and cobalt blue. But when it came time to discuss lobster rolls, I feared the friendship might come to a swift end. She's from New Haven. I don't know if you have any friends from New Haven, but they tend to be a bit braggy about all the food they claim New Haveners invented: the bagel, the cheeseburger, and the only thing I give them credit for, the clam pizza. Apparently when someone makes a lobster roll in the Elm City, they do away with mayonnaise altogether and top the chilled lobster with melted butter alone. Hmmmm.... I've already touched upon the risk of too much mayonnaise, but with only melted butter, you might as well just be eating a cold boiled lobster with a Parker House roll. What's the point? But, Jean refused to betray Connecticut and its strange ways, so we did the only thing two foodies can do when they disagree: compete. We arranged to meet at her house in Cambridge the following Saturday for a lobster roll cook-off.
The details aren't important. The only thing you need to know is that I won. My light, homemade tarragon mayonnaise was the perfect accompaniment to the succulent arachnid and buttermilk onion rings. But you don't have to take my word for it. Here: contrast and compare for yourself. Butter or mayonnaise? To be honest, I like a little of both.
Lobster Roll, Classic with Mayo
1 T fresh lemon juice
1 t Dijon mustard
1/4 t salt
1/4 t pepper
1/2 c canola oil
1/2 c light olive oil
1 T chopped tarragon
The meat from one 1.5 lb lobster, torn into large chunks
Top-cut hot dog bun, preferably Pepperidge Farm
Blend egg, lemon juice, mustard, salt and pepper in a food processor. While processor is running, pour oil in a slow steady stream. Blend until thick and smooth.
Combine 2 T (or to taste) mayonnaise with lobster meat and chill, covered in plastic wrap, for at least two hours.
Just before serving, melt butter in a pan or on a griddle. Do not burn. When bubbling, sear the bun on every side until a light golden brown. Flatten just a little so the opening is wide enough for a lot of lobster.
Place lobster salad inside bun and enjoy! Onion rings are a particularly tasty side. As is a very cold beer. And, it's usually best to eat the lobster roll outside. By the ocean.
Elm City Lobster Roll
The meat from one 1.5 lb lobster, torn into chunks
Top-cut hot dog bun
Griddle bun as described above. Toss lobster with butter and insert into bun. Enjoy slightly less than you would the classic roll above.