How to Make the Original Connecticut-Style Lobster Roll
Editor's Note: Lobster rolls are the king of all summer foods (shut up, watermelon slices), which is why we sent our very own Andrew Zimmer on a summer-long quest to try and figure out what the Perfect Lobster Roll is, where it is, or if it’s totally a figment of our nostalgia-soaked collective unconscious. Follow along on our site, on Facebook, or by using #LobsterRollQuest over the course of the summer to see each step of The Quest unfold.
Up until now we’ve focused entirely on the mayo’d Maine style, and while there are many different sub-styles out there, the chief competitor for attention is the butter-centric Connecticut-style lobster roll, served warm. In the course of my research into the style and my planning for the Connecticut coast leg of the Quest for the Perfect Lobster Roll (stay tuned for that, I ate so much butter) I came across what is believed to be the original method for the iconic sandwich.
A very brief history
Sometime between 1929 and 1934 a restaurant and former fish shack named Perry's created what today we know as the Connecticut-style lobster roll for a regular customer. The sandwich became so popular at Perry's that the style conquered much of the nearby coast, becoming a fairly common option along US Route 1. According to Wendy Weir -- one of the grandchildren of Harry Perry, the creator -- not a single one of those imitators ever managed to get their method exactly right. And she wasn't up for sharing what they were doing wrong.
It wasn't until I ran across the book Lobster Rolls of New England by the Lobster Gal, Sally Lerman, that I in fact found the shrouded-in-secrecy method. I spoke with Sally over the phone to talk about the specifics a little bit, and then I gave it a try on my own. In more capable hands this could be an insanely good sandwich. In mine, well, scroll on.
This is the easiest part. Lobster. A roll. Butter. The important part here is the roll. Harry had a nearby bakery named French’s make theirs, but it was essentially a larger, slightly firmer version of the hot dog roll. Since I don’t have a local baker at my beck and call, I went to Stop & Shop and scored grinder rolls that I thought would be pretty close. This is important because the whole process essentially hinges on having bread that isn’t too soft and can withstand some manipulation, but isn’t so hard that it's like eating a baguette or similar nonsense.
Chop up and pull the meat into small but not too small chunks. This wasn’t necessarily in the original recipe but when I spoke to the Lobster Gal she mentioned how she hates “the spongies” which are the oft-overcooked finger pieces of the claw. I immediately recognized the taste, and worse, the texture, she was talking about, so I decided to chop off all the fingers. I ate them anyway. But, at least my roll would be a little more perfect.
Here’s where things get a little interesting, they reportedly notched a V-shape into the top of the bread on either end and then carved out what will eventually be a lid. This differs from every other lobster roll I’ve ever had before which are all on a split-top or in some sort of hamburger-style bun.
The result here leaves you with a sort of elongated bread bowl. You then take your butter, coat the shit out of the bottom and the top, fill your bread canyon with the preferred amount of meat (I went with the slightly overflowing option), and, here’s the other novel part, press it on a grill until the butter is melted.
The result is a crispy, buttery, easy-to-manage sandwich that'll feel like you’re eating something totally new.
Now the real question, is this the Perfect Lobster Roll? No, it’s not; it’s a rather ingenious, slightly more labor-intensive version of the classic. Maybe in more capable hands it could be in the running. But this version did shed some light on what the perfect one could entail. The most important thing I took away from this is that too much tail meat is definitely not good. I wasn’t careful enough with my selection of meat in each roll and mine ended up with entirely too much of the toughest bits. This backs up the idea that knuckle and claw is where it’s at, but I’m still not 100% sold on that being definitive.
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Andrew Zimmer is Thrillist's NYC editor and he vows to be a better lobster roll cook. Follow him on Facebook and Instagram.