Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Top-Cut Buns

You might think making a lobster roll would be the easiest thing in the world, more or less like falling off a log in your sleep, but that would be a mistake. A lobster roll is no mere sandwich. A couple of serious protocols pertain. Here, I'll tell you why.

First, consider the bun you plan to stuff with your lobster meat. You may have read a description in a cookbook or a magazine recipe where the author says, simply spread the lobster meat inside a hot dog roll. Wrong. I can't tell you what a disappointment it is to see so many authors and so-called authorities simply skip over the first essential step of making a lobster roll. And that is finding some good, authentic top-cut buns.

Top-cut buns do look a little like your garden variety hot dog roll, I'll grant you that, but there are crucial differences to consider. The most important is, of course, that unlike hot dog rolls, which are sliced through the width of the bun, top-cut buns--as the name implies--are sliced on a vertical axis, beginning at the top.

If you examine a top-cut bun closely, you'll see that what it resembles more than anything, when viewed from the top down, is two extra-thick slices of ordinary bread pressed closely together. The top of the buns are browned, like a normal bread loaf. More significantly, this leaves the sides of the buns exposed and creamy white, perfect for browning with a knob of melted butter in the bottom of a heavy skillet. And that's the ideal for a lobster roll: buns browned and exquisitely crisped on the sides. This is something you cannot do with your every day hot dog bun.

I have looked all over the District of Columbia for top-cut buns and haven't found any. I didn't really expect to. Top-cup cut buns seem to be a New England phenomenon, offered for sale in the local supermarket under such brand names as Country Kitchen from the LePage Bakeries in Auburn, Maine. (Incongruously, Country Kitchen calls their buns "Frankfurter Rolls," which only confuses matters further. But don't be fooled.)

There are other brands that I suspect you will find nowhere but in the range of the Boston Red Sox fan base, although I could be wrong. If you are desperate for a lobster roll and, like those of us in the District of Columbia, are not in the top-cut bun distribution area, I suppose you could use an ordinary hot dog roll. Try browning the inside of the bun, spread out flat in melted butter in the bottom of a heavy skillet.

Now the lobster filling is actually the simplest part, assuming you've spent the requisite time picking over your lobsters cooked the night before to salvage every last delectable morsel. As I mentioned before, this is usually a task taken up by our friend Shelly, who grew up in South Freeport, Maine, within spitting distance of the lobster boats tied up in the marina, and has been eating lobster since she had teeth to chew with.

Shelly approaches this task of picking with an unusual zeal that I believe suits her personality. She is a dedicated public defense attorney--in fact, dean of a public law school dedicated to public service--and I think this dedication to public service carries over into her lobster picking. It is rather a thankless task, searching out every last bit of edible meat amongst all the little nooks and cartilaginous crannies of the lobster carcass. But someone obviously has to do it, and none better than a dedicated public servant.

For god and humanity, I say.

Shelly also has some very specific thoughts on how the lobster should be dressed. Apparently many magazine editors and cookbook authors cringe at the idea of so few ingredients being listed for the lobster roll fitting, because you will see celery, onions, parsley and all sorts of other things suggested. But I think Shelly's way is best and that is to mess with the lobster hardly at all and just let the pure lobster flavor shine through. If anything, add a scant amount of mayonnaise--enough to barely hold the meat together in a delicate unctuousness--salt, freshly ground pepper and a squirt of lemon. Toss the ingredients together and fill your toasted bun to your heart's content.

Serve the lobster roll with some artisan potato chips. We like the Cape Cod brand, but you could even serve chips you make yourself. A cold beer works nicely to wash it down, but you should have the beverage of your choice. If you can't finish all the lobster (a ridiculous thought, I know) it will be fine as a snack later, or the next day.


MA said...

Hmmmm, Shelly is a picker and a sharer? Must be nice.

My hubcap is a picker and a hoarder. We have dungeness crab instead of Maine lobsters. But long after I have ripped my crab or lobster out of the shell and inhaled it, he is still sucking the joints of his crustacean and admiring his stockpile of tender, sweet briny meat. That's why God made sharp little cocktail forks......to threaten those who fail to share. And, he would be sooooo happy with Shelly's purist method of preparing the lobster roll filling. I once suggested we try a different way of preparing our 400th meal of Dungeness Crab only to be called a traitor and a fool. Carry on. Have a good vacation.

Ed Bruske said...

MA, Shelly shared not once, but three or four times. I don't know if I've ever tasted Dungenes crab. It's bound to be good if prepared like these lobster rolls.