The best things in life are simple. One sandwich that's evidence of this is the perfectly sweet and salty lobster roll. This seafood version of the hot dog is a staple at every seafood shack and roadside stand in New England in the northeast of the US. They're also popular in Canada's Maritime provinces. However, now it has made its way onto menus at fine-dining restaurants across the world.
Before the lobster roll threw itself into the 'gourmet', it was a cheap lunch that was enjoyed by lobster fishermen. They would boil the meat from the day's imperfect or unsold catch and enjoy it between two slices of white bread.
Harry Perry, a local of Milford city in Connecticut (one of the states that forms New England) in the 1920s, is credited as being the first to bring this iconic roll to market. The story goes that a travelling salesman came to his restaurant asking for a lobster sandwich for the road. In a matter of minutes, Harry cooked up some lobster, stuffed it in between bread and the rest is history.
Perry's invention caught fire and before long, locals and tourists were enjoying the humble sandwich up and down the Connecticut coast. The dish evolved to one in which lobster meat was slathered in butter and served warm in a grilled New England-style hot dog bun. The butter gave the roll a distinctly sweet and rich flavour that helped the lobster shine.
"I find lobster soft and sweet and prawns salty and kind of poppy, so we do a combination of about half lobster, half prawns."
Somewhere along the way, the state of Maine, also in New England, developed its own variation where the star ingredient was served chilled. A mayonnaise, tarragon and lemon dressing took the place of butter and was spread inside the bun or tossed with juicy hunks of lobster meat.
When local lobster prices dropped in Australia due to slower international trading, George Woodyard took it as an opportunity to feature lobster rolls on the menu at her restaurant BART Jr. in Sydney's Redfern. It was intended to be a one-off lunch special, but after selling out in under an hour, she turned it into a regular Friday offering.
"The first time we did it we made 60," Woodyard says. "Now we're doing 160 at lunch times and we still sell out."
BART Jr.'s roll is a riff on Supernormal's infamous lobster roll, which you'll find in Melbourne, and Marion's snack size prawn sliders, which you'll also find in Victoria's capital. Woodyard combines the best of each in her creation, which uses fresh WA rock lobster and NSW Clarence River king prawns.
"I find lobster soft and sweet and prawns salty and kind of poppy, so we do a combination of about half lobster, half prawns," Woodyard says. "Then we mix all that up with horseradish, finely diced celery, butter lettuce leaves, mayo, hot mustard, lots of fresh tarragon, fresh chives, and lemon juice."
A drizzle of warm garlic butter finishes the roll off and gives it a bit of Connecticut flair.
A Japanese bar in Melbourne, Unabara Lobster & Oyster Bar, has also mastered the art of the lobster roll. The bar has three varieties on its menu, all served in a buttered New England split-top bun.
"The classic is inspired by the American style and has celery, Japanese mayo and lettuce, mixed together with our lovely, steamed lobster tail," explains Jenny Mok, head chef of the Unabara Melbourne Central branch. "Then the Tokyo version is with a Japanese twist, inspired by the California sushi roll. It is made with avocado cream, wasabi mayo, cucumber and steamed lobster meat tail."
Woodyard and Mok attribute the cult following for their lobster rolls to its novelty in Australia.
"Every cafe has a chicken burger, every cafe has a beef burger, but lobster rolls are not something you see on many menus," Woodyard says. "It's also something that is not done particularly well."
Thanks to these two, you no longer need to be in New England to have an authentic lobster roll. This once-humble bread creation is a rising obsession and after having one bite, you'll understand why.
Love the story? Follow the author Melissa Woodley here: Instagram @sporkdiaries.
Poh uses pre-toasted belacan for her spicy sambal. She cooks lobster pieces directly in the fresh sambal for maximum flavour.
How best to flavour Aussie lobster tails than with Aussie herbs and citrus? Bring lemon myrtle, saltbush and finger lime to the fresh seafood for amazing results.
This dish is from the city of Alghero on Sardinia’s North Western coast, where the best rock lobsters (also called ‘spiny lobsters’) are found.
This dish is inspired by the French region of Brittany, which is renowned for its abundant seafood. The recipe pairs freshly caught Australian southern rock lobster with a herbed butter.
My family used to holiday every year in Robe, South Australia, a town internationally famous for its rock lobsters.This is, in my opinion, the best way to eat crays.
These are a real taste of Canadian summer. You could also use prawns in place of the lobster for a delicious prawn-y spin on a Canadian classic!
Finger limes have lots of small round segments that burst like caviar adding a fresh citrus twang to sweet grilled lobster tails.