FOOD 101: September breezes and lobster

Mid-to-late September. The town draws a collective breath and puts on its “resting face.” That’s the intimate smile reserved for year-round neighbors, more at-ease than the outward-looking seasonal smiles that welcome summer vacationers.

As we settle into the familiar routines of school days, after-school activities and serious weekly groceries, we’re aware that summer has not quit us yet. This moment is our own private summer. We take time to note briney breezes, houses still decked in flags and flowers, the evening song of crickets and the silence between breaking waves.

Mid-to-late September is a great time for a lobster roll, says chef Linda Bassett COURTESY PHOTO

Now’s when we really savor a lobster roll. On the deck, the front porch or the beach. No waiting in lines at our favorite places. We can pick up one already made at any number of outlets. Or grab a batch of the crusty creatures fresh out of the water to boil up.

Seaside cooks each have their own idea of the perfect lobster roll. The ingredients are basic: shelled fresh lobster meat and a New England style top-split hot dog roll. I dare you to find these rolls at a supermarket outside this coastal corner — Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts. Connecticut and Rhode Island skew toward New York and carry both.

Most Marbleheaders, in fact, most New Englanders, have an opinion about what goes into a lobster roll. First, a whole lobster. Mandatory. No cutting corners. Then, that hot dog roll. Most of us prefer the bread toasted in butter. The size of the lobster chunks is up for debate, more on that later. Then there are the add-ons, like chopped celery, maybe onion. Some like to fancy it up with capers or pimento. Technically, that’s lobster salad, a crustacean of a different color.

For purists the real thing only contains meat plucked from a just cooked body, still warm or cooled, and a slather of the best quality mayo, maybe even homemade if the mood is right. There are some who feel the need for a lettuce leaf lining the roll. I don’t know why. Something about keeping the roll from getting soggy. I skip any greenery and go for warm lobster pieces, barely cut, and folded into the roll, warm melted butter napping the whole thing. Skip the mayo. Perfection.

But all lobster doesn’t need to be traditional. My newest go-to is lobster hash. I encountered this one at an eatery on a winding dark road in coastal Maine. Usually a forum for leftover beef, lobster elevates this common breakfast side dish to an elegant centerpiece for a meal. The beauty is that it serves as a special occasion meal while eliminating the messy cracking and piling up lobster bodies at the table. Set it on a brunch or supper buffet, right in the skillet surrounded by a crunchy green salad and a basket of freshly baked popovers or corn muffins and some type of fruit. Top it with poached or fried eggs — or not. I once made this for a baby shower, and later found the cartons of eggs forgotten in the fridge. No one noticed and the hash still got top honors.

I’ve noted a number of shortcuts to the recipe to make life easier for busy cooks. I won’t get into buying lobster that has been cooked and shelled. It’s available — but at a hefty price. A bottle of good champagne might be money better spent.

The vegetables are where to edit for times’ sake. Potatoes cooked a day ahead, red onions chopped ahead as well, both spending the night in the refrigerator. Pimientos in a jar can stand in for red bell peppers. And the corn does not need to be cut right off the ear, but it does add to the overall flavor.


Makes 2 to 4 servings.
Poached or fried eggs may be added to the top of this. Cook them just ahead and keep them warm until serving time.
To cut fresh corn kernels from the ear, stand the ear on its widest end in the center of a large bowl. Run a knife from top to bottom, turning. The kernels will neatly drop into the bowl.
4 strips bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces
Olive or vegetable oil to film the pan
6 medium yellow (Yukon gold) potatoes, in a 1-inch dice
1 red onion, chopped
1 large or 2 medium red bell peppers, cut into a 1/2-inch dice
2 scallions, white and some of the green part, thinly sliced crosswise
4 ears fresh corn kernels
½ cup heavy cream or half-and-half
Salt, pepper
2 cooked lobsters, meat removed
Handful of snipped chives

-Heat the largest skillet you can find. Add olive oil and warm. Add the bacon pieces and cook until they begin to brown. Add the potatoes to the pan and continue cooking until they begin to soften.
-Add the red onion and bell peppers. Continue cooking, stirring with a spatula so that nothing sticks to the pan. Then add the scallions and corn kernels. Cook until heated through.
-Pour in the cream or half-and-half and cook until it barely begins to bubble. Then add the lobster. Give the whole thing another stir. Serve right in the skillet with a scattering chives over the top.


Makes 2
2 cups cooked lobster meat, chopped into large chunks
1-2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
½ cup minced celery
Tiny French capers, chopped pimiento, finely chopped red onion, snipped chives (optional)
½ cup mayonnaise, or more if needed (usually Hellman’s)
2 tablespoons butter
4 split-top hot dog rolls

-Toss lobster meat with lemon juice and celery. Add the mayonnaise, stirring gently to combine without breaking up lobster. Add more if necessary.
-In a heavy skillet, melt butter on medium heat. Toast the rolls on both sides until golden.
-Heap salad into the rolls and serve with potato chips and dill pickle spears.

Marblehead resident Linda Bassett has worked as a cook, trained up-and-coming chefs, studied food history and led food tours. Her book, “From Apple Pie to Pad Thai,” is about local cooks and cooking.

Linda Bassett

Marblehead resident Linda Bassett has worked as a cook, trained up-and-coming chefs, studied food history and led food tours. Her book, “From Apple Pie to Pad Thai,” is about local cooks and cooking.

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