Wish You Were Here: The Lobster Roll. A South Sea Interpretation.

by Owen James Burke

Scuttlefish writer Owen James Burke is currently rambling around New Zealand in a camper van with a camera, surfboard and speargun in search of stories, waves and fish. We’re putting together a waterperson’s guide to the island nation, but meanwhile, we’ll be publishing stories and photographs, short updates along the way from the Yankee in Kiwiland. -CD

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Photo: Owen James Burke.

This past week, I’ve been spending a lot of time rooting around in the kelp-laden rocks along the lobster-rich eastern shore of New Zealand, where spring tides bring the post-spawn crustaceans into the shallows.

So, naturally, having had lobster–or ‘crayfish’ as they’re known in New Zealand–about nine different ways (sashimi–still my favorite, steamed, seared in oil with chillies, curried, in a taco . . .) I couldn’t help but turn back and attempt to recreate the simple but classic New England lobster roll–or at least my South Pacific take on the dish–as I knew it growing up.

The beauty of the lobster roll–I think, or at least hope I speak for all lobster roll aficionados when I say this–lies in its simplicity.

For some strange reason, it seems that as I flip through my back pages and recall all the New England seafood establishments–from rat-infested holes-in-the-wall to white tablecloth Martha’s Vineyard, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a lobster roll served atop anything other than a cheap, processed, pillowy potato bread hotdog roll.

Perhaps this is in Yankee response to the southern classic Po’ Boy, or the DelMarVa/Eastern Shore soft shell crab sandwich, both institutionalized dishes STRICTLY served on white wonderbread, if memory serves me. The most pragmatic conclusion I can make for this arguably atrocious each of these regional delicacies of my beloved mother country is that cheap, processed bread doesn’t stifle the flavor of fresh seafood in a way that more flavorful artisan breads might(?)–an inexcusable effrontery if there ever were one.

So, here’s my take on the wonderfully simplistic lobster roll, as best as I can recount from my ill-spent youth along the New England shoreline:


One steamed and chilled 1-1.5-pound lobster (claws optional, though I prefer them)

One potato bread hotdog roll

One or two teaspoons of butter

One teaspoon of mayonnaise (optional)

Parsley or chives (at least something green for a garnish)

Sea salt

Fresh black peppercorn



Photo: Owen James Burke.

1. Steam or boil a fresh, live lobster, preferably seaside, over an open fire under wild skies–I’ll let you be the judge of how long to leave it in the pot, but be sure not to make the grave mistake of drying it out. (If you see fat spilling through the shell, you know you’ve gone too far. Put that thing on ice immediately.)

2. Set lobster aside or on ice to chill.

3. Once chilled, pull the tail off and crack into the claws (if your lobster has claws), and cut the meat into chicken nugget-sized lumps.

4. Lightly–and I do mean ever-so-lightly–toast a hotdog bun. If you have a toaster oven, a little smear of butter beforehand isn’t a bad course of action, in my book. You could do the same with a tiny dose of mayonnaise at this point, too. (I may be persecuted for saying this by some, however.)

5. Lay the firm, chilled white flesh out in a glorious, heaping mound atop the hotdog bun.

6. Draw a small amount of butter (<tbsp.) and drizzle atop, adding sea salt and black pepper to taste.

7. Garnish with the (green) herb of your choice.

Buon appetito!


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