The most recent one came from Jaye at Butta Buns:
My question is about where to get good lobster meat. I'm getting married next month and would like to make lobster rolls. It's a small crowd, about 15-20 people, so I should be able to get away with making it myself. How many pounds should I be thinking of?Dear Jaye,
Congratulations on your upcoming wedding! Making lobster rolls for 15-20 people is a brave undertaking. I have already e-mailed you some places to call about buying lobsters, but your question has inspired me to make lobster rolls for dinner last night and I learned so much in the process that I thought I'll share it with you and other readers of this blog.
Lobsters are a new territory for me. I am mostly a fin fish person and have only cooked lobsters a few times in my life. I wasn't particularly happy with the results, so I did a little investigative work to see how I could improve.
How much lobster do you need per roll:
I cooked two 1.75 Lb lobsters, which gave me enough meat for 4 hot dog rolls.
How to cook, not overcook a lobster:
The problem with shellfish cooked in the shell is that you can't just poke it, look inside, and see if it's done (like you can with fin fish). You have to rely on timing. Since I cook lobsters extremely rarely, I used to rely on the timing I heard from the fishmongers. The formulas they gave me varied from 13 to 20 minutes per pound and since I prefer to err on the side of undercooking than overcooking, I went with 13 minutes. The claws were good, but the tails were way too tough. After reading what my seafood hero, James Peterson had to say in his Fish & Shellfish book, I realized that even 13 minutes per pound is way too long and the reason my lobsters came out tough was because of overcooking. I guess this is one time when you shouldn't listen to your fishmonger. Peterson suggested two timings.
For a lobster that's still a bit translucent in the center (the way he prefers it): 5 minutes for the first 1.25 Lbs, then 2 minutes for each additional pound. In other words, 1.75 Lb lobster would cook for 6 minutes.
For a lobster that is opaque throughout: 8 minutes for the first 1.25 Lb, then 2 minutes for each additional pound. In other words, 1.75 Lb lobster would cook for 9 minutes.
I tried the second timing (for an opaque lobster) and indeed it was perfect. Next time, I'll try the shorter timing. I've never tried a still translucent lobster, but since I love most seafood on the rare side, I have a feeling it will be good :) Though for lobster rolls, you might want to stick with completely opaque.
Another thing I learned is that a "boiled" lobster should ideally be poached to keep it tender. This means that the water should be at a rolling boil before the lobsters go in. As soon as the lobsters go in, cover the pot and return the water to a boil. Check it regularly, and when you see the first bubbles, turn the heat down so that the pot barely simmers, not boils.
You need a huge pot and a ton of water. Peterson suggests at least a gallon of water for the first lobster and a quart for each additional one. But that doesn't sound like enough to me. I ended up using about 3 gallons for 2 lobsters. Otherwise the water cools off too much when the lobsters go in and the timing formula might not work.
That's all there is to cooking a lobster.
Taking a lobster out of the shell:
The hardest part of this whole experiment was taking these suckers apart. I am a bit slow and clumsy when it comes to extracting shellfish out of the shell. That's how people know I am not a native New Englander. If you've spent your summers on New England coast while growing up, 15 lobsters might not seem as intimidating to you as they do to me. For those readers who might not have taken apart a whole lobster before, you can get instructions on-line just by googling for "how to eat a lobster."
If you have to take apart many lobsters to make rolls, here are some tips the sites might not tell you:
- crackers are nice, but an old cleaver is a faster way to break the claws and kitchen shears are handy for getting the tail out of the shell (just cut the underside).
- don't bother with getting the meat out of the little legs, tail flappers, etc. Go for the big stuff -- the claws and the tail and save all the little things to snack on or make a bisque.
- this is a very messy undertaking! Get everything off your counter and be prepared to wash your clothes afterwards even if you wear an apron. The lobster juices splatter everywhere.
Now the question of the rolls. This dish is quintessential New England and since New Englanders are extremely opinionated, the questions of authenticity start more flame wars on food newsgroups than even clam chowder. Butter vs. Mayo? Should it be mixed in or served on the side? Is celery ok? And what about the bun? Every New Englander has an opinion on each one of these questions. Although I am not a native, I've lived here long enough to have an opinion. Besides, we are within a 2 minute walk from 02138 -- the most opinionated zip code in America.
I like my lobster rolls with mayo (Hellmann's and "real." No low-fat, miracle whip, or all those other travesties please). The mayo has to be mixed into the meat. I hate it how some places give you mayo on the side. There is no way to achieve even distribution once the lobster is in the bun. Celery is a must for a little crunch, but it should be cut small and you can't overdo it. And now the bun... I hate to admit it, but when it comes to lobster rolls, I like that abomination of a processed hot dog bun more than I like a good brioche. Of course, the bun has to be buttered and toasted both inside and out, but still, there is no denying that it's an awful bun. Just to prove that you don't need it for a good lobster roll, I bought 2 types of brioche at Iggy's (plain and black pepper) to taste side by side with Pepperidge Farm hot dog rolls. All rolls were brushed with melted butter and grilled. Black pepper brioche was a tad too stiff, regular brioche was excellent, and that pathetic processed hot dog bun was pure heaven. The only explanation I can find to this quandary is that the processed bun is the only one that is soft enough to not detract from the texture of the lobster.
I hope this helps and I can't wait to read about your lobster adventures. Your guests don't know how good they have it :)