Mention a trip to Maine to anyone who is familiar with New England and you will likely hear them mention the Maine lobster roll or a “Lobstah Roll.” A version of the lobster roll is probably as old as lobster fishing. That’s because rumor has it that lobstermen would cook up the unsellable portion of their catch and eat it on bread. Thus, the lobster roll was born.
Battle of the Lobster Rolls
There are essentially two types of rolls — Maine and Connecticut. Traditional Maine rolls are served cold with the cooked lobster meat in a mayonnaise sauce. Connecticut rolls are served warm with butter as the sauce base.
The Maine Lobster Roll
The basic Maine rolI is simple. Take a toasted New England top split hot dog bun and add a heaping amount of lobster meat (fresh if possible) and mayonnaise. If you are feeling fancy, substitute brioche or some other bougie bread for the bun. Or, you can add flavorings along with the mayo — celery, lemon zest and shallots or chives are popular.
This recipe is old. In 1829, Lydia Maria Child published a cookbook that includes a lobster salad recipe that is essentially the filling for a Maine lobster roll. Child’s cold salad includes lobster meat in a dressing of egg yolks, pepper, vinegar and mustard, which are the essential elements of mayonnaise, on a bed of thinly sliced greens.
As an aside, Child, who was born in Massachusetts but moved to Maine when she was in her early teens. She was an accomplished author in many areas but is most well known for her poem “Over the River and Through the Wood.” You may recognize the title as part of a common holiday song with the same title. You’re welcome for the earworm.
Today you can find Maine rolls with a variety of mayonnaise infusions, including, jalapeno, lime, wasabi, chipotle and curry. In fact, the chef’s imagination is all that limits the versatility of a basic Maine roll.
The Connecticut Roll
The first recorded lobster roll on a restaurant menu was at Perry’s in Milford in 1929. Legend has it that the owner was looking for a pleasing to-go sandwich. So, he piled warm lobster topped with a butter sauce into a traditional sandwich. The white bread he used couldn’t hold up under the pressure of the heavy filling, so a bun was substituted. And, voila, the Connecticut roll was born.
Like the Maine roll, the basic Connecticut recipe is simple. Take a hot dog roll, pile on the cooked warm meat and douse with warmed butter.
Again, there can be many variations in the butter sauce. Some truly brown (rather than just melt) the butter. Others add sea salt, lemon zest and/or paprika. Finely chopped, celery, chives or scallions are also fan favorites. Just like its northern cousin, the Connecticut roll is only limited by the chef’s creativity.
So, Which is Best?
As with most things, here, the beauty is indeed in the eye of the beholder. Or their mouth.
The great news is that the different varieties can both be found at some of southern Maine’s best roll restaurants. So go with a friend and order one of each to split.
Or, you can make them at home and save a few dollars. Lobster isn’t cheap.
At the time of this writing fresh meat was close to $50 per pound (which can make about four rolls). The same four rolls could easily top $100 if purchased at a restaurant. If you don’t have access to a full kitchen while traveling, check local Maine grocery stores. Many sell precooked meat. Then add your favorite topping.
Finally, if you happen to be traveling to other places that might service the lobster roll, such as South Carolina, here is where to find the best seafood in Myrtle Beach.