Alex and I have kind of a thing for Maine, after going to Portland a few years ago and becoming instantly smitten: the weathered barns, the hand-painted signs, wild blueberries and, well, you know the lobster aplenty.
And so, with our anniversary approaching and the looming deadline of babybabybaby, we decided to head back to Kennebunkport for a long weekend later this month. Except, somewhere along the way I got really, really pregnant (funny how those things happen!), I mean like super-pregs, I mean staggering bursts of productivity (the doorways have been detailed) followed by four-hour recovery periods (this whole upright thing is exhausting) and suddenly the thought of a six-hour drive each way a mere three weeks before a due date I’m not buying seemed… ill-planned. Thus, we’ve decided to postpone our trip until a hopefully less waddlesome time.
But I promise, this wasn’t supposed to be a bummer of a story. To celebrate Old Man Alex’s 35th birthday, it seemed only fitting that if we couldn’t bring ourselves to Maine, we’d simply lure it back here. I turned to Rebecca Charles’ — she of the Pearl Oyster Bar in the Village — Lobster Rolls and Blueberry Pie for inspiration and oh, this is a great one for people who share our Maine crush. In it, Charles recounts her family’s summer trips to New England, the roots of her obsession with their summery fare (and, of course, Tartar Slaw). And she bares the secret to her lobster rolls, the ones that put them on the New York map: heaps the freshest shellfish and barely any clutter from extra ingredients, all on a buttery, toasted bun.
Along with a blueberry slab pie, pasta salad, potato salad, wheels of buttered bi-color corn and enough delicious beer to make this temporarily sober girl weep with envy, we couldn’t put out these miniature lobster rolls fast enough at Alex’s birthday party over the weekend. And can I heartily recommend you have your own Maine party this summer? It was so much more fun than gathering in a bar or poorly lit restaurant, and wasn’t a half-bad consolation prize for missing out on the real deal this summer.
Adapted from Lobster Rolls and Blueberry Pie
The secret to this lobster salad roll is the lack of clutter — just a smidgen of of lemon, celery, chives and mayo to heaps of fresh chunked lobster meat. This is also what makes it such a hit: once you’ve gone through all of that effort and/or expense to get good lobsters, why hide their taste?
Yield: At the Pearl Oyster Bar, they use this recipe to make two lobster rolls, which are served on toasted hot dog buns. We used it to make 64 miniature rolls, from a double batch of Light Brioche Burger Buns (each bun can be made from just about an ounce of dough; buns will be a quarter the size of the regular recipe).
2 pounds cooked lobster meat*, chopped roughly into 1/2 and 3/4-inch pieces
1 small celery rib, finely chopped
1/4 cup mayonnaise (Charles insists on Hellman’s; I didn’t argue)
Squeeze or two of lemon juice
Pinch of kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 top-loading hot dog buns or 64 miniature burger buns (described above) or small dinner rolls
Snipped fresh chives for garnish (though we mixed ours right into the salad, for convenience)
In a large bowl, combine the lobster meat, celery, mayonnaise, lemon and salt and pepper and mix thoroughly. Adjust seasonings to taste.
Do ahead: Cover the mixture and store it in the refrigerator until ready to serve. It will last for up to two days.
How they prepare the buns at the restaurant: In a small sauté pan over low to medium heat, melt two teaspoons of butter. Place the hot dog buns on their sides in the butter. Flip the buns a couple of times so that both sides soak up an equal amount of butter and brown evenly. Remove the buns from the pan and place them on a large plate. Fill the toasted buns with lobster salad.
How we prepared our miniature rolls: On large roasting pans, we split each of our rolls and lightly toasted them, open side up, before quickly slathering both sides with butter and filling each with a generous tablespoon of lobster salad.
Sprinkle your rolls with chives and serve with a salad, slaw or shoestring fries.
* We bought our lobster meat, cooked that morning and shelled, from The Lobster Place, for those of you who were going to ask. However, not all markets are as trustworthy when it comes to lobster meat that they label “fresh” — it is often overcooked and not as recently-rendered as they promise. If you’re up for it, cooking and cracking your own will ensure freshness while reducing your grocery tab. About 20 percent of the weight of a lobster is its meat, so you would need, for example, five one-pound lobsters to get one pound of meat. Don’t panic — as I did — when you see how tiny the mass of two pounds of lobster meat might look. Once diced, our salad nearly filled a six-cup bowl.