Connecticut-style warm butter lobster rolls are a classic New England summer sandwich. Steamed, shelled, then tossed in drawn butter and dressed with lemon zest and scallions, these are the old-school lobster rolls you’ve been looking for.
Happy summer solstice, everyone! It’s officially summer, and that means it’s officially time to break out all the good summer recipes. This often includes seafood, doesn’t it?
Born and raised in coastal cities, I know my way around seafood. It’s basically in my DNA. The first thing my family did after I gave birth to Greyson was come to Maryland, buy crab, and cover my dining table in newspaper. Seafood tends to come to many celebrations in my family.
So this takes me to lobster. My husband has been in and out of the hospital for the last three months and is now finally home.
Which means that it’s time for celebration food.
And Maine lobsters were on sale this week.
What are lobster rolls?
Lobster rolls are sandwiches that originated (at least, first documented) in Connecticut at a restaurant called Perry’s. And the classic version is chunks of warm lobster that were gently finished in clarified butter and served in a hot dog roll with a squeeze of lemon juice. This was back in 1929, so about 90 years ago.
Lobster rolls back then were cheap street food, as lobsters were actually seen as pests and were overly abundant. Up and down the New England coast, and even parts of Canada, served lobster rolls on the side of the road and in diners.
Nowadays, lobster rolls are set into two types: Maine-style and Connecticut-style.
What’s the difference between Maine and Connecticut lobster rolls?
Maine style is also known as lobster salad rolls. Served cold, the lobster is tossed with mayonnaise and often dressed with celery with lettuce in a split-top hot dog bun. These are usually what people think of when lobster rolls come to mind. They’re also the most controversial, since other things are added to them, but tasty nonetheless.
Connecticut lobster rolls are also known as warm butter lobster rolls. These are the ones we’re making in this recipe: the lobster is warm, finished and tossed in clarified butter, and served in the split top bun with lemon and a little scallions, though the scallions are optional. They’re easy and delicious.
How to make a Connecticut lobster roll
It’s quite simple after cooking the lobsters. I under-steam them so that the meat can be finished by poaching them in butter with lemon zest, one clove of crushed garlic (which is optional), and lemon juice. None of this overpowers the lobster, because the sweet little lobster babies are the stars of your rolls.
Shout out to anyone who knows where ‘sweet little lobster babies’ comes from (hint: it’s Nice Peter).
How to cook a whole lobster
The best thing you could do is cook whole lobsters and use all the meat for your lobster rolls versus buying some lobster tails and broiling those. The meat in the legs, knuckles, and claws are famous for being incredibly sweet and tasty, so who wants to miss out on that?
To make Connecticut lobster rolls, I used four 1 and 1/2 lb fresh live lobsters, which gave me about 1 pound of lobster meat. This makes four hearty lobster rolls.
There are two ways to easily cook a whole lobster: boil or steam them. Either way makes great lobster but if you’re a newbie, steaming them would be best since it’s harder to overcook them. And no one wants an overcooked lobster.
how to humanely kill a lobster
People are queasy when throwing a live lobster into a pot of boiling water. It’s understandable. It’s panicking in the pot and can even pop off your lid in its freak-out. Which can make you think that your lobster is dying this horrible death and trying to escape.
To put your mind at ease…lobsters don’t have a central nervous system and don’t have much of a brain either.
But, you know, if you are like my mom and aunt and got traumatized by shellfish jumping out a pot of boiling water in (assumed) rage, you can do it the way most culinary students and chefs do it. Keep it cold by putting it in the freezer for 10 minutes so it gets stunned and numb. Then boss up…
…and stab the thing in the head. Yeah, I said it.
Take the tip of your sharp chef’s knife, and find the ‘cross’ on the head of your lobsters. In the photo above, you can see a sort of deep line groove with that cut into it. That’s what you’re looking for. Say a prayer for the poor little lobster and swiftly push through. This gives it a swift death rather than dying in boiling salted water.
Look, you want lobster rolls, you gotta respectfully kill the lobster for its meat. Keyword: respectfully. It’s just good karma.
For more information about steaming and boiling a lobster, check this article out.
Lobster Roll FAQ
Where can I get split top hot dog buns?
The hot dog buns, known as split-top hot dog rolls or New England style hot dog rolls, aren’t easy to find in stores outside of the New England area. I kinda took a loophole by buying some hoagie rolls, slicing a bit of the sides off to create the flat, grillable sides, and slicing the tops open. It works well, just make sure you don’t buy pre-sliced rolls.
What if I have a dead lobster?
Oh no, do you mean dead on your way home from the market or dead as in frozen? Or dead like you found a dead lobster on the beach or was shipped a dead lobster?
Either way, a dead lobster is like a ticking time bomb. As soon as it dies, the lobster meat will basically start deteriorating and become toxic. Yikes.
First make sure it’s actually dead. It might just be stunned from being cold if you kept it on ice. Take it out of it’s bag or container and let it warm up on the counter or a couple of minutes. If its little legs or antennae start moving, it’s aliiiiiiive!
If you just saw it moving when you were at the store, and it may have died on your way home but you kept it on ice (in a bag separate from the ice — fresh water kills lobsters) it should be okay. Stab it in the head (just in case) and throw it in your pot ASAP.
If you bought one online and it’s dead by time you get the package, you need to talk to the online store and discuss it with them. I personally wouldn’t risk it.
If you cooked it anyway because you couldn’t tell if it was alive (you were just like YOLO!), the best way to tell if it was dead is when you start shelling it, the meat is mushy. The meat should never be mushy after it’s cooked, it should be nice and firm. If it’s mushy, don’t eat it.
What do I serve with lobster rolls?
The classic sides are kettle cooked potato chips, french fries, dill pickles, and refreshing beers.
I’m not a beer person, but my sparkling prosecco paired pretty well, even if it isn’t classic pairings!
Iced tea and lemonade are also classic non-alcoholic drink picks, so whisk up some old-fashioned lemonade (or even better, an Arnold Palmer!) or some sweet tea.
Looking for more summer recipes?
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- 4 (1 1/2 pound) whole Maine lobsters, alive
- 8 tbsp (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted (clarified preferred)
- Zest of 1 lemon
- Juice of 1 lemon
- 3 tbsp sliced scallions
- 1 clove garlic, smashed
- Pinch kosher salt
- 4 top split hot dog buns
- In a large pot fitted with a steamer basket add 2 inches of water to the pot, secure with a lid and bring to a boil.
- With a large, sharp chef's knife, find the 'cross' on the lobster's head and quickly stab through to humanely kill the lobster. Repeat with another lobster, if you can add two to a pot.
- Remove the rubber bands from the claws and quickly place the lobster into the steamer basket, cover, and steam for 12 minutes. The lobster should be bright red when done. Transfer the lobster to a cutting board and let rest until cool enough to handle.
- Repeat step two and three with the rest of your lobsters.
- In a medium skillet, melt 6 tablespoons butter and add garlic, lemon zest and juice, and salt. Mix together and keep warm on a low heat.
- Melt the remaining butter in a cast iron pan or saute pan. Grill the sides of the buns in the pan until golden brown on each side. Remove from the pan and set aside on plates.
- Remove claws and knuckles, twist off the tail, and pull the legs from the lobster body. Pull blades from claws and use lobster crackers or a knife to break open the claws. Try to keep claw meat intact as much as possible. Use kitchen shears to cut open knuckles and remove the meat.
- Split the lobster tail shell in half lengthwise with kitchen shears. Gently remove the meat. Use the shears to remove the meat from the legs as well Transfer the warm lobster meat to the butter mixture and toss to coat the lobster in butter and lemon zest.
- Divide the lobster between the four split top buns and drizzle excess butter sauce. Sprinkle with additional scallions for garnish.
- Serve warm.
To see how to shell a lobster, check out this video of Gordon Ramsay shelling a lobster.
OXO Good Grips Silicone Steamer, Green
New Star Foodservice 27983 Fork Set Seafood Cracker, Silver
OXO Good Grips Multi-Purpose Kitchen & Herbs Scissors, Shears
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Nutrition Information:Yield: 4 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 390 Total Fat: 26g Saturated Fat: 15g Trans Fat: 0g Unsaturated Fat: 9g Cholesterol: 80mg Sodium: 343mg Carbohydrates: 30g Fiber: 2g Sugar: 5g Protein: 11g
Eden Westbrook is the recipe developer, writer, and photographer behind Sweet Tea and Thyme. A classically trained chef, Eden has inspired home cooks into the kitchen with cultural comfort foods, easy family-friendly eats and sweets, and glorious spreads for date night and entertaining since 2015.