New England Lobster Roll

From America's Test Kitchen Season 14: Great American Sandwiches

Why this recipe works:

For our lobster roll, we mostly adhered to tradition—top-loading supermarket hotdog bun, mayonnaise, and lots of lobster—but we added a hint of crunch in the form of small amounts of lettuce and celery, and we added complimentary brightness with lemon juice, cayenne, and chives.

For our lobster roll, we mostly adhered to tradition—top-loading supermarket hotdog bun, mayonnaise, and lots of lobster—but we added a hint of crunch in the form of small amounts of lettuce and celery, and we added complimentary brightness with lemon juice, cayenne, and chives.

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New England Lobster Roll

The sandwich is easy. The challenges are dealing with a live lobster and knowing when it’s properly cooked.

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Serves 6

This recipe is best when made with lobster you’ve cooked yourself. Use a very small pinch of cayenne pepper, as it should not make the dressing spicy. We prefer New England–style top-loading hot dog buns, as they provide maximum surface on the sides for toasting. If using other buns, butter, salt, and toast the interior of each bun instead of the exterior.

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons minced celery
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon minced fresh chives
  • Salt
  • Pinch cayenne pepper
  • 1 pound lobster meat, tail meat cut into 1/2-inch pieces and claw meat cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 6 New England-style hot dog buns
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 6 leaves Boston lettuce

Instructions

  1. 1. Whisk mayonnaise, celery, lemon juice, chives, 1/8 teaspoon salt, and cayenne together in large bowl. Add lobster and gently toss to combine.

    2. Place 12-inch nonstick skillet over low heat. Butter both sides of hot dog buns and sprinkle lightly with salt. Place buns in skillet, with 1 buttered side down; increase heat to medium-low; and cook until crisp and brown, 2 to 3 minutes. Flip and cook second side until crisp and brown, 2 to 3 minutes longer. Transfer buns to large platter. Line each bun with lettuce leaf. Spoon lobster salad into buns and serve immediately.

Technique

The Best Way to Get a Live Lobster into the Pot

To ensure food safety and firmer flesh, lobsters should be cooked alive. The most common method is to plunge them into boiling water, where they will continue to move about for approximately 2 minutes. Though there’s no way to know the extent to which the lobster suffers during this time, most scientists agree that the lobster’s primitive nervous system, more like that of an insect than a human, prevents it from processing pain the way we do. Still, most cooks find putting live lobsters into a pot unpleasant. If we could figure out how to sedate the lobster before cooking—and minimize the time it spent moving in the pot—these could be only positive developments.

First we tried the popular restaurant technique of slicing through the lobster’s head. However, Win Watson of the University of New Hampshire’s Department of Biological Sciences informed us that because a lobster’s nervous system is distributed throughout its body, this method will not instantly kill the crustacean. Sure enough, lobsters dispatched this way continued to thrash vigorously before we put them in the pot—and we continued to see movement for another 2 minutes once they were in the water.

Next we “hypnotized” a lobster by rubbing its shell and standing it on its head, where it remained stock-still for a full hour. Unfortunately, it perked right up once in the pot. Then we tried soaking a lobster in a cold saltwater bath scented with clove oil, a technique recommended by the food science website cookingissues.com. This made the lobster’s movements more languid—but those movements still continued for about 2 minutes. In the end, the simplest approach worked best: a 30-minute stay in the freezer, which rendered the lobster motionless before it went into the pot. After a few flutters, all motion stopped.

Technique

Technique: The New Basics of Cooking Lobsters

1. FREEZE FOR 30 MINUTES: Chilling lobsters in the freezer for 30 minutes induces a comalike state that makes it easier and safer to maneuver them into the pot.

2. COOK TAIL TO 175 DEGREES: A tail temperature of 175 ensures perfectly cooked meat. (We cook fish to between 130 and 140 degrees, but lobster requires a higher temperature since its muscle fibers are longer and require more heat to shrink.)

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