The Food Lab: For the Best Lobster Rolls, Go Sous Vide

The Food Lab

Unraveling the mysteries of home cooking through science.

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[Photographs: J. Kenji López-Alt]

Have you experienced the magic of sous vide lobster yet? You have? You've noted how that sweet lobster flavor gets concentrated, while butter works its way into all the cracks and crevices of the meat? You've savored the tender, succulent texture? Good. Then it's time to take the logical next step. Lobster rolls may not be very fancy, but there's no better way to experience lobster in its simple, briny, sweet, buttery glory than stuffed into a top-split hot dog bun that's been griddled in butter until golden brown. Seriously. There's no better way, and I'll fight you on this one.

Once you've read my guide to sous vide lobster and recipe for traditional lobster rolls, putting the two together is exceedingly simple. The only real question is: Maine-style, served cold with a light coating of mayo, or Connecticut-style, served warm with butter? (There is a right and a wrong answer to this, by the way, and you will be judged no matter which one you choose.)

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I start by quickly blanching my lobster tails and claws in a pot of boiling water—one minute for the tails and five minutes for the claws—which loosens them up so that they can easily be shucked. Next, I bag the shucked lobster meat with some butter in a zipper-lock bag. If you want, you can also add herbs at this point; parsley and tarragon are wonderful with lobster.

I cook the lobster in a sous vide bath set to 130°F (54°C), which, for me, brings it to that sweet spot where the meat is just beginning to firm up but still remains tender and succulent. It cooks for 20 minutes to one hour, after which it's ready to dress and serve.

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For classic Maine-style rolls, I let the meat cool a little bit before dressing it with mayonnaise (just a teaspoon or two per whole lobster), some finely diced celery (yes, that celery is a contentious choice—leave it out if you want), a little lemon juice, and some finely minced chives. For Connecticut-style, all you need to do is add a little squeeze of lemon and some sliced chives or scallions—the butter is already built right into the lobster meat from its sous vide bath.

Once the meat is dressed, just pack it all into a top-split hot dog bun that's been griddled in butter. This last bit is absolutely vital to a lobster roll. A lobster roll served in a side-split hot dog bun is a travesty of the highest order. Those buns simply don't have the requisite surface area for griddling.

The sad reality is that top-split buns are not really available outside of the northeastern United States, so, unless you're baking them yourself, your best option is to jury-rig a regular hot dog bun by very carefully slicing off the sides to create flat surfaces of exposed interior crumb to griddle.

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It's a compromise, for sure, but with lobster meat that's this wicked tasty, it's a compromise I can live with.