Citizens! The Indomitable One – YOUR TFD! – was fortunate to spend my adolescence in Connecticut and the bonds of friendship I formed during those all-too-brief 7 years are still just as strong, even after more than three decades away (28 of these spent here in the Bay Area of California).
In fact, I still meet with several of my high school buddies every week over videoconference to reminisce and play Dungeons and Dragons (yes, I’m one of THOSE GUYS, I encourage you to deal with it if that presents any issues) and as such, I’d like to celebrate Connecticut and my friends with this post for the unique CT-style lobster roll I so enjoyed growing up! 🙂
I remember taking the 2 hour trip to Mystic, CT and getting a lobster roll on the shore, and it was the highlight of many a Summer – after leaving for college in MA, I became further indoctrinated into the cult of the “lobstah roll”!
A traditional lobster roll is, of course, a sandwich filled with lobster meat soaked in butter and served on a steamed hot dog bun or similar roll, cut so that the opening is on the top rather than on the side (that’s how we roll in New England, what can I say!).
There are variations of this sandwich made in other parts of New England, which may contain diced celery or scallion, and mayonnaise. The sandwich may also contain lettuce, lemon juice, salt and black pepper.
Traditional New England restaurants serve lobster rolls with potato chips or french fries on the side. Despite all the hype and everything you may have heard from the Maine propaganda board, the lobster roll in fact originated back in 1929 at a restaurant named Perry’s, in Milford, Connecticut according to John Mariani’s “Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink.”
Once Perry’s put the new sandwich on its menu, its popularity spread up and down the Connecticut coast, but not far beyond. For those residing in Connecticut, a lobster roll served warm is simply called a “lobster roll” while the lobster roll served cold is called a “lobster salad roll”.
The lobster salad roll took off on the Eastern End of Long Island, New York, starting in 1965, pioneered by the Lobster Roll Restaurant The Lobster Roll.
As far back as 1970, chopped lobster meat heated in drawn butter was served on a hot dog bun at roadside stands such as Red’s Eats in Maine. Lobster rolls in the U.S. are now typically associated with the state of Maine (kudos to their PR, this from a PR professional!), but are also commonly available at seafood restaurants in the other New England states and on Eastern Long Island, where lobster fishing is common.
The occasional similarity and frequent differences between the Maine and Connecticut rolls are usually as follows:
- First, the bread for the sandwich itself is a “New England” or “Frankfurter” roll that is baked slightly differently from a standard hot dog roll. The sides are flat and as such can be easily buttered on the outside and lightly grilled or toasted, and it is also split on the top instead of the side. This is true in both Maine and Connecticut, by the way – we totally agree on this point!
- Second: in Maine, the lobster meat in the roll is served cold, rather than warm as it is in Connecticut. In Maine, serving warm lobster salad is considered aberrant and grounds for immediate and permanent exile.
- Third: in Maine, there can be a light spread of mayonnaise inside the bun or it is tossed with the meat before filling the roll (this is NEVER seen in Connecticut and is considered deviant behavior with profound psychiatric intervention frequently mandated).
- Fourth: in CT, the rolls usually do not have any other ingredients typical of the “lobster salad” variations found in other parts of New England. The lobster filling is pristine: just knuckle, claw, and tail meat chunks, with 4oz of meat (“¼ pound”) being the commonly-advertised serving size. The meat is drenched in warm butter sauce, frequently has a squeeze of lemon and occasionally a dusting of freshly-snipped chives in the more ‘uptown’ versions away from the beach. In all cases, the traditional sides are potato chips and dill pickles.
My version of the Connecticut-style lobster roll draws on all these influences – my first innovation is to specify female lobsters only, as they are both more succulent and carry tasty roe.
Your fishmonger can tell the difference and now so can you – look at the bottom on the tail of the beast: if the top set of swimmerets are soft, translucent and crossed at the tips, you have a female. A male’s swimmerets are bony, opaque and point up toward his body.
I also lightly butter-poach the beasts for tender and succulent results and use that same lobster butter on the sandwiches for a massive taste uplifting rampant with shellfish goodness!
You also want to use female lobsters as previously noted so that you can take out their delicious roe (the coral) and mix it into the butter for an additional hit of lobster flavor and scarlet color (my innovation here!). Lastly, I also like a touch of spicy esplette pepper instead of the standard tasteless paprika to dress the lobster meat – you can buy some here.
As for the buns, New England walks its own path on these, and it is important to remember that Connecticut is indeed part of the region!
New England-style hot dog buns, also often known as New England hot dog buns or top-loading hot dog buns, are the hot dog buns most commonly used in the United States region of New England and its cuisine. They may also be called split-top, top-sliced, frankfurter rolls, or frankfurt rolls.
This style of roll or bun was developed in the 1940s by Howard Johnson’s, who approached the Maine bakery J. J. Nissen in search of a bun for its fried clam strip sandwich.
According to The Boston Globe, the “restaurant chain wanted top sliced rolls that would stand upright and be easier to prepare, serve, and eat.” Outside of New England, they are associated with clam rolls and lobster rolls, dishes iconic to New England cuisine.
The New England-style bun predates the hot dog bun found almost everywhere else in the United States by at least several years. Before the invention of the New England bun, commercial bakers would slice rolls all the way through.
Today, this style of bun is prevalent in New England, with small and large grocery stores stocking at least several competing brands, and the hot dog bun typical of the rest of the United States (also called a “side-loading” bun) offered right alongside.
In New England, hot dogs, clam rolls, lobster rolls, and the buns that accompany them are often associated with the summer months and coastal villages, where clam shacks and lobstering are common.
Some recipes for these dishes explicitly require the use of a New England-style bun. The rolls are baked very close together, keeping the sides soft, much like sliced bread. This makes them amenable to buttering, toasting and grilling.
Since the New England hot dog buns can’t be purchased outside of the area, I recommend making your own – it really isn’t all that hard!
Citizens, I am truly certain that once you have experienced the unique joys of the ORIGINAL Connecticut lobster roll, you’ll reconsider your knee-jerk sole endorsement of just the (admittedly delicious!) Maine variety! For another CT-specific dish of sublime seafood deliciousness, try the New Haven clam pizza!
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