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The Lobster Roll
We cover the waterfronts to discover the Irish version of the Lobster Roll, as served in the North (Coleraine), the East (Dublin), the South (Tramore) and the West (Ennistymon).
Put a name on a sandwich and suddenly you identify a classic.
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The Croque Monsieur is a gift from the French boulangerie, the Bánh mi a Vietnamese masterpiece. In Ireland we have the Breakfast Roll and the Chicken Fillet Roll. The UK has its Chip Butty, the Japanese have their delicate Katsu Sando, but no-one names and owns their sandwiches quite like the Americans.
The Hamburger for one, the Dagwood, the Reuben, the Hot Dog, the Melt, the Po’boy, the Sloppy Joe, the Elvis, the BLT. And then there’s the Lobster Roll.
A Lobster Roll is almost not a recipe – “This dish suggests something complicated, architectural” write Dean & Deluca, in their classic cookbook, published in 1997, but “first-time visitors to New England are always amazed to discover that a Lobster Roll… is just a lobster salad on a roll! And usually a hot dog roll at that!”
“A Lobster Roll just needs good lightly cooked lobster, a soft roll that’s toasted in butter and that’s it” says Niall Sabongi of Dublin’s Seafood Cafe and The Salty Buoy. “The trick is to keep It simple, so you get to enjoy the lobster and let it be the star”.
Everybody writing about Lobster Roll stresses the importance of freshly cooked, indeed lightly cooked lobster.
“No.1: FRESH LOBSTER!! Not frozen Canadian.... and not over-cooked” writes Julia Hemingway of Julia’s Lobster Truck in Pot Duggan’s, Ennistymon, County Clare.
Way up on the causeway Coast in Lir and Native Seafood, Rebekah and Stevie McCarry use fresh lobster, and include the tail and claw meat for “varied texture”. Lir are famous for using every part of a fish: “We make lobster head oil from the carcass and then emulsify it into the mayonnaise to reinforce the lobster flavour through the roll.”
Denise Darrer from Little Catch Seafood Bar in Tramore tells us that: “The star of the show is the lobster and freshness is essential when it comes to a good Lobster Roll. Our lobster and crayfish rolls use locally caught Copper Coast lobster which adds that regional freshness to the roll.”
Next: the “Bread Matters.” As Denise describes it: “Soft brioche rolls add that buttery richness that adds that level of indulgence.”
Julia Hemingway says it’s vital to source “good quality bread - even if it’s not brioche.” Lir lightly toast the brioche roll (“it adds to the natural sweetness of the lobster”).
Plenty of butter, natch.
And finally the trimmings: “I like a bit of good texture, hence I use celery” writes Julia adding, “I make my own ‘sexy sauce’ which is mayonnaise-based, with plenty of fresh herbs and lime and other yummy stuff.”
Niall Sabongi dresses his Lobster Roll in a spiked aioli. Lir use fresh crisp lettuce and, like Julia, finely diced celery through the mix for “bursts of freshness.” Denise from Tramore adds “peppery rocket into the roll and a wedge of lemon to squeeze over which adds a tanginess that cuts through the richness and brings the roll to life.”
Last word on the masterpiece to Dean & Deluca: “You could, of course, one-up the Down-Easters by gussying up the dish a bit. We know a place on eastern Long Island that adds capers to its lobster roll; we have a friend who puts tomato and fresh basil on hers: and we have been known to substitute a taste of lemon-mayonnaise from California instead of good old Hellman’s. Mostly though, we’re cranky Yankees who like it just the way they do it in Maine: simple cold lobster on a simple hot bun.”