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David Venable Lobster Roll Recipe

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qvc lobster roll

Before I became Lobster Gal, I grew up in the land of cheesesteaks and crab cakes that is Northern Delaware.  While I was visiting my family this weekend and chatting with some of my pals from QVC, headquartered in nearby West Chester, PA, I found out that my friend David Venable, of In the Kitchen with David, was making his version of the greatest food known to man -lobster rolls!!  So, I simply had to try out his version.

My first impressions of the recipe were that he solidly had the essentials down on this one -fresh picked lobster meat including all parts of the lobster, not just claw and knuckle.  Each part of the lobster just has such a unique texture and flavor that any lobster roll wouldn’t be complete if it didn’t involve it all.  And fresh-picked; I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it a thousand times more, if lobster meat has been previously-frozen it has no business being in a lobster roll.  Frozen can be fine for cooked dishes, but the lobster roll, where the meat is on full display in all its glory, can be nothing but perfectly briny and fresh.  He also involved a split-top hot dog bun, the standard in lobster rolls.  I liked that he didn’t suggest a specific brand, which if I may suggest -never use any mass-produced supermarket bun.  This is fresh picked lobster meat, and it deserves a bakery-fresh bun.  Fortunately, most bakery-fresh hot dog buns are not split at all, so you can just split them down the top yourself and buttery grill up those sides.

When reading the recipe, the controversial parts for me were first, the inclusion of celery.  I have only ever had one lobster roll where I was on board with the inclusion of celery, Ed’s Lobster Bar, and that was because he minced it into tiny pieces so that it just melted into the lobster meat.  David says “minced” in the recipe, so that’s just what I did.  The other flair in the recipe was a dash of hot sauce and a pinch of cayenne pepper.  Woah, spicy stuff in a lobster roll -crazy!!  I’ve never seen it done, and I must admit I was skeptical.  I’m not usually good at following recipes; I just throw things in a bowl and stir them around until I think it tastes right.  The down side of that, of course is that I can never recreate it.  So, I was going to follow this recipe by the book.

I started at my favorite fish shop nearby, City Fish in Wethersfield, CT, sells fresh picked lobster meat, and it is well worth every penny.  The price per pound may at first seem high, but I’ve done the math on this, and it takes 5, 1.25 pound lobsters to get 1 pound of picked lobster meat.  If you’re lucky enough to have a shop near you that sells fresh picked lobster meat, support it whenever you can so they keep doing the hard work.  I picked up my buns from the bakery at The Fresh Market, a specialty foods chain nearby.  I’ve tried them before and they are the perfect complement to lobster.

After I crafted this lobster roll and took my first bite, I knew that it was an absolutely amazing lobster roll.  It was even far better than what I usually make myself, which is really saying something, since I’ve been at this for quite some time.  Now, I may have been skeptical about a few things in this recipe, but David has fully made me a convert to the idea that a lobster roll can be oh-so-right with unexpected ingredients! 

The celery, which I minced finely, was just the right amount and added a fresh tasting flavor that seamlessly integrated into the lobster without crunch.  The tiny green flecks actually looked kind of pretty too. Also the mayo and lemon were perfect amounts. But for me, the spicy additions were what really put this recipe over the top.  You couldn’t specifically taste them, but the dash of hot sauce and cayenne pepper really woke up the lobster flavor and made it more pronounced.  I’m still reeling from the shock that hot sauce and cayenne pepper can not only have a place in a lobster roll, but genuinely enhance and amplify what is already the perfect food.   The power of a secret ingredient!

I rarely say this, but I wouldn’t change a thing about this recipe.  The combo of the fresh lobster, buttery grilled bun, lemon, mayo, celery and those “secret ingredients” made this, without a doubt, a top tier lobster roll and most certainly one I will make again.  Thanks, David!

Dave Venable Lobster Roll Recipe post

Recipe:

1 lb cooked lobster meat (from two 2-3 lb whole lobsters), cut into 1/2″ pieces
1/4 cup celery, minced
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1-1/2 Tbsp lemon juice
1/8 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp salt
Dash of hot sauce
Pinch of cayenne
2 Tbsp butter
4 split-top hot dog rolls

Directions:

Place the lobster meat, celery, mayonnaise, lemon juice, pepper, salt, hot sauce, and cayenne in a bowl and mix until well combined. Refrigerate until the buns are toasted.

To toast the buns, preheat a large skillet over medium-low heat. Lightly spread the butter over both sides of each bun. Cook until golden brown, about 2–3 minutes. Turn the buns over and toast the other side. When the buns  are ready, stuff each with about 3/4 cup of the lobster mixture.

Hancock Gourmet Lobster from Gilt Taste online mail order

hancock lobster roll

I happen to be a huge fan of the Hancock Gourmet lobster roll served at the Big E Maine building.  This lobster roll is only available at the Big E and by mail order.  There is no store you can drive to an buy this lobster roll, even in the summer.  So, imagine my thrill when I saw that a lobster roll kit from Hancock was available through Gilt Taste for a mere $60, including shipping.  I know, that’s still pretty steep, but it’s usually closer to $85.  They claim that the kit makes 6 lobster rolls, and includes 6 buns, and 1 pound of mixed lobster salad.  It really depends on how hearty you prefer your lobster rolls.  I made 4 lobster rolls out of the one pound package, but you could get away with making 6 smaller rolls, I just happen to prefer a hearty meat:bread ratio.  I placed my order and my package arrived at my door the next day, how very exciting!  Fresh Maine lobster rolls and I never even left my house.

The lobster arrives in a styrofoam cooler, packed nicely with cold packs packs.  The meat is pre-mixed with the mayo and as they say on the package “spices”.  Immediately, I embarked on lobster roll assembly.  I brushed the outside of the bun with melted butter, grilled it to golden perfection.  I also brushed the inside with melted butter, because can you really ever have enough butter?  I piled in the lobster meat and dug in.  I was fully expecting this to be an exact replica of the Big E lobster roll, except of course, better, because of all the butter and grilling I involved.  To be perfectly honest, it wasn’t quite as good as the Big E version.  The spongie pieces had the yuck spongie texture and had to be removed, unlike the Big E version where they have the slippery texture and incorporate seamlessly into a the lobster bites.  I know, slippery is a terrible description of something delicious, but it’s the only way I can think to distinguish it from the other texture.  Through online chat with Hancock, I confirmed that this claw and knuckle meat is fresh picked and has never been previously frozen.  The lobster meat was still very good, briny, tasty, not too much mayo and I have to guess that by spices, they mean nothing more than salt and pepper because I didn’t taste anything else.  That is a good thing.

The bread was the standard split top bun, allegedly only sold in New England and superior to other buns.  I did a side by side bun comparison with Wonder buns, but that’s for another post to come.  When coated in butter and grilled up, it was a great complement to the cool lobster meat.  Overall, this was a very tasty lobster roll, delivered right to my door and a perfect fix if you happen to be in the large part of the world where fresh picked Maine lobster isn’t available year round.  I happen to be lucky enough to live near City Fish, where I can get fresh picked lobster meat for $40/lb year round, so I won’t likely be ordering this mail order lobster roll very often.  By comparison, the price of the Hancock kit may seem high, but when you think about how much you pay for one lobster roll in the summer, which often isn’t nearly as good and Maine fresh as this one, for 6 lobster rolls, this really is a very good deal.  So, if all my pictures of lobster rolls are making you crave one and you think you have to wait until a summer New England vacation, think again.  Order this up and you could be eating a fresh, tasty lobster roll, wherever you are, tomorrow!

http://www.gilttaste.com/market/seafood

http://www.hancockgourmetlobster.com/

Ordered and eaten in February 2012

Ed’s Lobster Bar – NYC, New York

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Lobster Roll at Ed's Lobster Bar NYC

What a lucky break I caught stopping by for my first try of Ed’s when I did.  Ed himself was there being interviewed right next to me at the bar by some magazine folk and I got to introduce myself and get in a few questions of my own.

First, I must say that I kind of love SoHo, so artsy chic, I feel cooler just breathing the air.  So many cute, unique shops, it’s like fancy, small town shopping, but like 20 times as many shops.  Ed’s is right there in the thick of it and has a minimalist, retro vibe going on.  Come right in to the marble top bar and the friendly,(but in an old timey, not overly familiar way) bartender gets you all set with wine and order.  This place is very my scene, I must confess I was loving it before the lobster roll arrived.  When I finally took a bite, I will say, I was actually blown away.  I expected to like this spot after I saw Ed’s commitment and respect for lobster on the food network.  But, this lobster roll honestly rivaled some of the best I’ve had.  It was tops for anywhere, but truly nobel prize good for what I expected from a NYC lobster roll.  No offense to those committed to serving a lobster roll in NYC, but, it’s not very close to the source, not on the ocean (at least where the great lobsters are caught), no one is a lobsterman, and NYC has a tendency to turn a good thing in to a fad, so I wasn’t expecting much.  Plus, none of the NYC lobster rolls at the Lobster Rumble even came close in perfection to the Clam Shack.  But Ed’s didn’t participate in the rumble this year, so…

The bread, Ed said, was a standard split top bun, but I suspect it wasn’t the wonderbread type.  It had a better shape and taste, which Ed said was due to the fact that it is grilled in a ton of butter.  He wasn’t kidding. I hate to take photos of half eaten food, because I think it’s gross, but I made an exception in this case so you could see just how deeply saturated with butter this roll was, without being a bit soggy.  I’ve really never had a bun grilled in this much butter and it was truly innovative.  It managed to combine the best of the hot (butter) lobster roll with the best of the lightly mayoed roll, without sacrificing anything.  The mayo, it was so amazing that I had to ask him what was in it, just perfect.  He said it was just mayo, lemon and celery.  Wait, what, celery!?!  On second look, sure enough, there were the most miniscule shavings of celery, not even large enough pieces to crunch.  Color me surprised, I’m loving a roll with celery involved!

I’ve saved the lobster meat description for last.  I saw Ed’s technique on the Food Network, or maybe Travel Channel (can’t remember) but, he actually cooks them upside down until they float.  Anyone who puts this much thought into how they cook the lobster for a lobster roll was one I simply must try.  It was everything I dreamed it could be, tender, flavorful large chunks of tail and claw, minimal spongies.  I even did something with this lobster roll that I only attempt with lobster rolls I suspect of greatness…I tried their spongie.  It wasn’t bad, didn’t make me gag or anything. I even bet if I didn’t look for and eradicate them before eating, I might never have known.

As an overall restaurant experience alone this place is worth planning a trip around.  The lobster roll rivals some of the best I’ve had and I’ve eaten somewhere in the neighborhood of over 100 lobster rolls.  It’s not quite as good as The Clam Shack, but, Maine lobster roll places, it pains me a bit to say it, but this city lobster may be as close as I’ve ever eaten to rivaling my gold standard.

Weighed in at 7.2 oz.

http://www.lobsterbarnyc.com/

Visited July 2012

Ed's Lobster Bar on Urbanspoon

Luke’s Lobster – NYC, New York

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Lobster Roll at Luke's Lobster NYC

I remembered this lobster roll as being my favorite NYC lobster roll at the Lobster Roll Rumble, so I needed to try it in its natural habitat.  I hit the West Village location of Luke’s, the address confused my cabbie for a few blocks back and forth, but finally made it.  If lobster shacks could exist in the middle of NYC, this would be it.  This is not a fancy pants restaurant like many of the other lobster roll spots in NYC, there are no cloth napkins, no wine.  This is just a no frills replication of a Maine lobster shack, with the exception that, I’m guessing, a metal grate gets pulled down after closing.  I respect their pursuit of authenticity.

This was also the quickest and least expensive of the NYC lobster rolls.  Just like a shack with picnic tables, but not exactly.  I wonder if you can byob here, like you can at a shack.  This lobster roll managed to exceed what I remembered from the rumble.  The meat is the real standout here.  I still haven’t figured out the secret, but there are just a few spots I’ve ever tried that manage what I can come up with no other way to explain, but the “slippery” texture.  That sounds kind of gross, and really doesn’t describe it, but it is all I can come up with to describe the elusive, perfect lobster texture and it always goes with outstanding flavor.  The true test is in the spongies, if they taste delish, they’ve nailed it.  Luke’s nailed it.

I would have liked to see tail meat and a bakery bun, but a difference of philosophy, I guess.  The bread was the standard white bread, split bun, but really saturated with butter grilled, achieving the butter flavor without the sog.  I’m wondering in this is some NYC lobster roll technique because I saw it twice there and I don’t remember ever seeing this before.  It’s genius really.  The meat has just a bare glaze of mayo and something sprinkled on top, tarragon maybe?  I had my doubts about the green sprinkle, but it was good.  I’m glad I don’t live near this one, I might be tempted to grab one for lunch every day.

Weighed in at 6 oz.

http://www.lukeslobster.com/

Visited July 2012

Luke's Lobster on Urbanspoon

John Dory Oyster Bar – NYC, New York

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Lobster Roll at John Dory Oyster Bar NYC, New York

First, I must confess that I’m a sucker for dill. That’s a good thing for the John Dory Oyster Bar because they love it too. When I first got this roll, I thought I might have confused it with another from the Lobster Roll Rumble. I remembered it as hot with butter, but this was warm with a pink sauce and clearly visible cubes of celery (ugh). The bread was a fresh baked tasting brioche, top split bun, nicely grilled in butter. The lobster portion was a bit skimpy for the size of the bread, a common miss when you go for a great bread, it takes a lot of meat for the right ratio. When I moved the meat down so that it had my liking of meat:bread ratio in each bite, there was more than half the bread left over. On to the sauce, the nice manager actually went back to check with the chef to be sure for me, but the pink sauce was butter with lobster roe. Very interesting twist, with the dill, celery and I even found red onions, usually each an immediate turn off for me. I felt sure I shouldn’t like this lobster roll, but I found myself kind of enjoying it anyway. Meat was tender, fresh, with confirmed tail meat involved.
The venue is a pretty restaurant inside, but outside, where I chose to park myself for some good people watching on a lovely day, was pretty sparse. They actually had a jungle of plants near the entrance, but not a one on the sidewalk area. This seemed to make for some confusion among passers-by because it wasn’t too clear where the sidewalk ended and the eating area began.

Overall, this lobster roll is not for purists, or bargain seekers. But it was curiously tasty and unlike any other lobster roll. I think people watching is the NYC version of ocean view, and on this count they were great.

Weighed in at 7.1 oz.

http://thejohndory.com/

Visited July 2012

John Dory Oyster Bar on Urbanspoon