“There comes a time in every rightly constructed boy’s life that he has a raging desire to go somewhere and dig for hidden treasure.” These may be Mark Twain’s words, but they are Steve Dunn’s memories, and they are sweet like lobster. My summer series continues with this from Oui Chef. GREG
My early childhood summers were fabulously routine, but never boring. I grew up in a typical New England “beach” town, so for me, summer travel required no more than a 4 mile trek.
Each summer vacation started the same, with Mom packing coolers of food and crates full of our summer duds (really nothing more than a few bathing suits and t‑shirts), and loading them all into the Jeep. A quick stop in town for a tide chart, and a brief stint in the barber’s chair for a short, summer crew-cut, and we were on our way to Saquish.
Saquish was, and still is, a little time-portal of a place. A spit of sand jutting into the Atlantic, that while only a mere four miles from the town in which I lived, felt like a world away. It was there that my folks rented a cottage for us each summer, a small 2 bedroom number with no electricity and a rather charming little out-house. And it was from this little cottage that my sibs and I would dart each morning in search of whatever great adventure awaited us that day.
Remember what I said about routine?
The first few days of summer were always spent the same way, with the three of us and our posse scavenging the 3+ miles of beach for lobster pots and buoys that had been washed ashore over the prior winter. Winter storms here can be ferocious, and a good Nor’easter can wreak havoc on pots left to winter-over. In those days pots were still made of wood, and as such, were generally splintered beyond repair by the time we found them. We didn’t care though, because our little band of coastal archeologists, were really only interested in the colorful buoys attached to them.
Each of us carried a pocket-knife, and upon claiming a buoy would sever the rope linking it to the pot, and drag it into our own pile. A competition of sorts would ultimately develop with bragging rights going to the kid who found the most buoys, as well as the one who found the prettiest one. You see, each lobsterman would paint his buoys with a unique brightly colored design to distinguish his pots from all others. At lunch time, we’d tie all of our buoys together and run down the beach as fast as we could, dragging them behind as if they were monstrous fishing lures, and we were trolling the beach, trying to land “the big one”.
Once delivered home, the buoy competition was taken up by our folks, who used the pot markers to decorate the outside of their cottages. In a quickly escalating display of artistic expression, buoys could be found strung hither and yon like over-sized Japanese lanterns, adding delightful splashes of color to otherwise grey, weatherworn buildings.
Of course, collecting derelict buoys was just the start of our summer-time fascination with all things “lobster”. Long after the beach was cleaned of the winter’s debris, our attention never wavered far from our local lobstermen and their daily catch. Each day we would watch dozens of lobsterman, bob and weave their way between hundreds of competing buoys and pots to check, clean and re-bait theirs. I can still see them, in calm waters and rough, moving among each other as though choreographed, never colliding, and rarely fouling a line, it was a beautiful thing to see.
It will come as no surprise to all of you here, that my fondest memories of our local lobstermen, was not their daily water dances we witnessed, nor their lost buoys that we so prized, but the abundant lobsters they provided us that became a staple of our summer diet. For me, lobster is right up there with corn on the cob and tomatoes as a quintessential summer food. Of course, unlike corn and tomatoes, fresh lobster is available here year round, but it has always been a food that I only eat in summer. My associations of eating lobster during my summers spent at the beach are so strong, that it never occurs to me to eat it at any other time of the year.
While most of my family preferred it steamed and served with dawn butter, my favorite way of indulging in its briny sweetness, was, and still is to have it served up in a lobster roll. My Mom made hers with just a little diced onion, mayo, celery seed, and salt and pepper. Over the years, I’ve come up with my own variation that includes shallot, celery, mayo, mustard, salt, pepper and fresh tarragon. Regardless of what I’ve put into lobster salad over the years, I have always served in on a bed of crisp lettuce carefully placed into a buttered and grilled “New England style” hot dog roll. For my money, If I can only find those funny little round sided hot dog rolls, and not their flat sided “New England style” cousins, I won’t even bother. That’s how important I find the warm, buttery crunch of the grilled bread to the ultimate success of the finished roll.
With summer knocking, its time to celebrate. I urge you all to put on your best bathing suit, go get your summer buzz-cut, crack open a nice cold beer, and make some lobster rolls! Steve
Recipe by Steve Dunn
- 1 pound cooked lobster meat (from about three 1–1/4 to 1–1/2 pound lobsters)
- 4 tablepoons mayonnaise
- 1 tablespoon dijon mustard
- 2 Tablespoons finely minced shallot
- 2 stalks finely minced, peeled celery
- 2 Tablespoons finely minced fresh tarragon
- Kosher salt and fresh black pepper to taste
- 8 small-medium sized leaves of Boston (or other soft leaf) lettuce
- 4 “New England style” hot dog buns
- Soft butter for grilling the buns
- Enough sweet paprika to lightly dust the top of each roll
If cooking your lobsters from scratch, put a few inches of salted water into a large stock pot with a tight fitting lid, and bring to a boil over high heat. When the water boils, remove any claw bands from the lobsters and quickly place them head down into the pan and cover to keep in all the steam. Steam the lobsters for 18 minutes, then pull them from the pot, place them in your kitchen sink and shower them with cold water until they are cool enough to touch.
Rip off the tail and two claws from each, and working with a hammer, lobster shell crackers, or poultry shears, cut or break the shell away from the meat. Rip the meat into small chunks and place in a large mixing bowl. Discard the empty shells, or reserve for another use.
Add the mayonnaise, mustard, shallots, tarragon, and celery to the lobster, mix well and taste for seasoning. Add salt and black pepper to taste, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to make your rolls.
Wash, dry and place the lettuce leaves in the fridge until ready to use.
Slather some soft butter on the long sides of your four hot dog rolls, and grill them in a skillet until crisp and golden on both sides To assemble your roll, place 2 hot rolls on each plate and lay 2 leaves of lettuce in each. Spoon the lobster salad into each roll and sprinkle with a little paprika over the top of each. Serve with a healthy fistful of potato chips and some pickles.