Lobster roll fans tend to divide into 2 camps: those who feel that nothing should come between them and the pure sweet taste of lobster fresh from the sea, and those who like a little extra spiciness, seasoning, or non-traditional twist.
This lobster roll recipe starts with Maine lobsters - the kind with the big claws found along the rocky New England coast.
You'll need one 1 1/4 pound lobster to make 2 lobster rolls if you want to be able to pick them up when you eat them.
If you want to fill the buns so full of lobster that it overflows the top and you have to eat them with a fork - which is the way many restaurants here in Boston serve them - then count on making only 1 lobster roll from each 1 1/4 pound lobster.
Our basic recipe is for the type of authentic lobster roll that you'll encounter in many Boston seafood restaurants as well as lobster shacks up and down the New England coast. Adorned with only a little mayonnaise, a squeeze of lemon, a sprinkle of pepper, and maybe some finely diced celery, the flavor of freshly cooked lobster meat shines forth - which is why the lobster needs to be really, really fresh!
But we're also including a few easy variations in case you want to spice it up. Fans of the spicy lobster roll recipes will tell you these extra seasonings bring out the flavor of the lobster.
Which is better? You'll have to make both versions and then decide!
Top Photo: New England-style lobster roll made with a traditional top-loader bun served with French fries
Traditional Lobster Roll Recipe
Putting together a lobster roll is easy and quick, and you can also choose to take some shortcuts, depending on how much time you have and how much trouble you want to go to. We point them out along the way.
Get the Lobster for this Lobster Roll Recipe
You will need:
1-2 freshly cooked lobsters, or very fresh purchased lobster meat
You have 3 ways to do this, plus the pros and cons:
Buy live lobsters and cook them (see our step-by-step instructions for boiling or steaming lobsters if you haven't done this before) - This ensures you have the freshest meat possible and it may also save you a bit of money - but it takes more time and effort
Ask your seafood market to boil the lobster for you - You'll know the lobster meat is fresh, but your market may charge you a few dollars to do the boiling - and not all markets are equipped or licensed to do this - plus you still need to remove the lobster from the shell
Buy fresh chunks of lobster tail and claw meat already out of the shell - This will cost you more - but buying the meat is the fastest and easiest approach
And no, the third option is NOT cheating! There's just one caveat: if you decide to bypass cooking and prepping the lobster yourself, make sure you get the lobster meat at a seafood store that guarantees freshness - meaning the lobster should have been still kicking earlier that day.
If you're a purist and want the best and freshest possible lobster meat like the very best seafood restaurants serve, you'll start with live lobsters from a lobster pound or seafood market and cook them yourself.
But if you're pressed for time the way most of us are and just want a tasty dinner you can throw together in 5 minutes (plus maybe an extra 10 to throw some frozen fries in the oven and toss a green salad), options 2 and 3 will also give you great results.
Prepare the Lobster Meat
If you decided to buy lobster meat already out of the shell, you can skip this step.
But if you cook the lobster yourself or have your seafood market cook it, you'll need to remove the meat from the lobster's claws, knuckles, and tail. (If you don't know how to do this, use our directions for how to eat a lobster). If you have the time and patience, you can also pick out the meat from the body to use later for lobster bisque or in a creamy pasta sauce.
Cut the lobster meat into small chunks and remove any cartilage and the dark vein-like intestinal organ from the tail.
Or, if you prefer, leave some pieces such as the claw and tail meat in large chunks for an artistic effect. (But keep in mind, this will make the lobster roll slightly harder to eat.)
Additional Ingredients for Your Lobster Rolls
In addition to the tail, claw, and knuckle meat from one or two 1 1/4 lb lobsters cut up into small pieces, you will need:
1-2 tablespoons mayonnaise (in other words, one tablespoon per lobster)
Salt (optional) - Sea salt is best
1-2 medium stalks of celery, finely diced (optional)
2 New England-style hot dog rolls (they're split along the top - we call them "top-loaders"). If you live outside of New England and can't find these, take a regular hot dog bun and slice off the crust on the bottom and top so that it resembles a New England roll
2 - 4 tablespoons of softened butter
4 lemon wedges
Potato chips or French fries and pickle for serving (optional)
Steps for Making Traditional Boston Lobster Rolls
1. Mix the lobster meat with the mayonnaise in a bowl. It should very lightly coat the lobster, but not hold it together or even be obviously visible. Of course, if you love mayo, you can add more. Add a sprinkle of pepper and a tiny pinch of sea salt if you'd like. If you're using a pepper grinder, 1 or 2 grinds will be sufficient. Add the diced celery if you want the additional flavor or slight crunch - if not, omit it. Mix again to distribute the pepper, salt, and celery. You'll have between 3 - 4 cups of lobster meat. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and chill in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour and up to 4 hours - any longer, and the lobster may start to seem less fresh.
2. Preheat a skillet (seasoned cast iron works well). Spread the softened butter on both outer sides of each hot dog roll. Place buttered side down in the skillet over medium heat, and toast for 2 - 3 minutes until light golden brown. Flip over, and toast the other side. You can also toast the bottom for a couple of minutes if you want.
3. Now, fill each roll with half of the chilled lobster mixture. That's it!
Serve immediately with the lemon wedges, potato chips, and pickles.
10 Lobster Roll Variations
Lobster is subtle - slightly sweet, slightly briny, delicate. That's why traditional lobster roll recipes usually go very light on the mayo, maybe add just a hint of celery and perhaps a tiny bit of salt and pepper, and nothing else.
But you can also add some extra zest to your lobster rolls without totally overwhelming the lobster flavor.
Basically, you do this in three ways:
Flavor the mayonnaise, and increase the amount of mayo that you use
Add additional ingredients for extra texture, flavor, or color
Substitute hot butter for the mayonnaise, and serve immediately
Here are 10 tasty riffs on traditional lobster rolls. Try just one, or combine 2 or 3 for extra impact:
1. Indian, Tex Mex, & Cajun Spins on Your Lobster Rolls- Use 4 tablespoons mayonnaise. Add 1/4 teaspoon of curry powder, chili powder, or ground cumin, or even better, Cajun seasoning - you could put 1/4 teaspoon - but if you love it, amp up to 1/2 teaspoon.
2. Lobster Rolls á la Française - Use 4 tablespoons mayonnaise, and add 1 tablespoon lemon juice, 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard, and a teaspoon of finely chopped tarragon.
3. Lobster Rolls Diablo - Add a dash of cayenne or your favorite hot sauce.
4. Herb-Infused Lobster Rolls - Add 1 teaspoon fresh (or 1/2 teaspoon dried) chopped herbs to the mayonnaise. Use whatever herbs you prefer - tarragon, basil, parsley, thyme, and even dill work well.
5. Spicy Lobster Rolls - Finely chop up 2 scallions, including some of the green part. Add to the lobster mixture.
6. Sweet & Pretty Lobster Rolls - Finely dice 1/2 sweet red pepper, and add it to the lobster mixture.
7. Super-Crunch Lobster Rolls - Peel and seed a small (5 inch) cucumber. Let the peeled seedless cucumber drain in a colander for 5 minutes. Use a paper towel to blot up the excess moisture. Chop into small pieces and add to the lobster mixture. It adds an interesting texture, and subtly enhances the flavor. (This idea comes from Boston Chef Jasper White's Summer Shack lobster rolls. If you're visiting Boston, stop by his Back Bay restaurant location and order one for yourself!)
8. Hot Butter Lobster Rolls - Instead of using mayo, heat 4 tablespoons butter until just before it begins to sizzle; remove from the stove or microwave, and toss the lobster meat in the still-hot butter. Prep the buns as described in the recipe, and serve immediately while the lobster meat is still warm from the butter. Some Boston restaurants offer this as an option - it's especially popular during our colder months.
9. Brown Butter Lobster Rolls - This is a riff on the hot butter option: heat the butter on the stove in a small pan until it begins to brown. Keeping a close eye on it so that it doesn't actually burn, let it reach a medium-dark brown color. Remove it from the stove, toss it with the lobster meat, toast the buns, and serve.
10. No-Carb Lobster Option - OK, this is not quite a lobster roll, but it's still delicious: Prepare the lobster meat in the traditional way or using one of the variations above, and serve it as a salad with your favorite greens. This is also an off-menu option that almost every Boston seafood restaurant will do if you ask.