Book Review — Best Maine Lobster Rolls

Best Maine Lobster Rolls
Kevin Joe Ricchio, Virginia M. Wright
Down East Books, 2018

First off, let me state that, hailing from Nova Scotia, I am obliged to dispute all so-called “factual” information in this book with regards to the origin of the lobster roll. Or where the best ones might come from. What I will concede is that something that was an old favourite of people along the Atlantic coast — of both the United States and Canada — has soared in popularity over the past decade or so. And in Maine, that has been a boon, both for existing seafood restaurants and as an opportunity for new places to open.

Best Maine Lobster Rolls starts out with a chapter of quotes from both locals and noted food writers on the origins of the dish and, more importantly, exactly what goes into it. This is a point of great debate, relating to pretty much every ingredient (of which there should be only: split-top bun, lobster, mayo, and salt and pepper… I know because I have debated this before), and has become a way for lobster roll sellers to differentiate themselves. Round roll? Lettuce? Brioche? The chart tracking traditional to outlandish ingredients is charming – and correct. No to puff pastry. No to avocado.

If you put lettuce anywhere near my f*cking lobster roll, I’ll just give it back.

The book goes on to offer a directory of select Maine lobster roll joints with a written bio for each place, plus a sidebar indicating the style of bun, how the meat is prepared, the mix (any other ingredients, acceptable or verboten), and the scene, which includes a description of the locale, decor, and service. There’s also a large collection of short one-paragraph reviews of other places, because apparently you can’t spit in Maine without hitting a lobster roll stand.

Finally, there’s a selection of recipes — some traditional, some verging on sacrilegious — from various lobster roll purveyors, as well as recipes for accompaniments like chowder, slaw, lobster salad, blueberry pie, and gin fizz. In Nova Scotia, the only acceptable accompaniment to a lobster roll is a Pepsi, but as a gin drinker, Ill let this pass and will even give it a try.

Throughout, Best Main Lobster Rolls is filled with absolutely gorgeous photos of so many different lobster rolls, but also of local scenery, breath-taking ocean views, lobster shacks, and happy people eating lobster.

As a Maritimer, I’ll debate the definition of “best” lobster roll, and defend my provincial/national rights to the lobster roll to my last breath, but I’ll concede that the lobster shacks in Maine are turning out some mighty fine looking sandwiches. And while you can certainly now get lobster rolls right across North America, it’s an absolute truth that lobster rolls always taste better with the tang of salty ocean air, a view of the grey Atlantic pounding against some jagged rocks, and the squawk of seagulls overhead. So this summer, why not get yourself to Maine (or Nova Scotia or PEI) and stuff yourself silly with tasty, delicious lobster rolls?

With thanks to Down East Books and NetGalley, this book was reviewed from an Advance Reader Copy and may not include exactly the same content or format when published.

How to Make a Lobster Roll When There’s More Than One Maritimer in the Room

We were lucky enough last week to be in on a delivery of Nova Scotia lobster. It seems that, once again, the supermarket chains are undercutting the fishers and are offering a dollar less per pound than it would cost to catch the things. So one enterprising fisher from Yarmouth decided to fill a truck with lobster and head to Toronto. Word went out through a local CSA network and at the appointed date and time, we all showed up, happy to pay $7 a pound  – a couple of bucks less than the cheapest local price and $3 more per pound than the chains were offering the fishers. There were even some local restaurants getting in on the deal, and the general concensus was that it was the best lobster we’d ever had outside of the Maritimes.

Greg and I were relatively conservative, buying only a half dozen. Our plan was to eat a couple, put two more into risotto and freeze the meat from the last two to pair with fiddleheads in a quiche at a later date. That didn’t happen, of course, because last Saturday, despite having had lobster for dinner the night before, we both had a hankering for lobster rolls.

The lobster roll is a specialty of the Atlantic provinces. McDonald’s even offers them in Nova Scotia. They do show up in the occasional fancy restaurant, but they are, for the most part, a roadside treat, purchased while driving around places like Peggy’s Cove; sweet chunks of fresh lobster meat presented on a soft white bun.

Problem is, there are as many ways to prepare this simple dish as there are Maritimers. And none of us can agree on the correct way to do it.

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Food With Legs

We had to take the dog in for surgery last week. We knew it was coming and planned it for the week before Christmas because we knew it would be a quiet time. With all of our shopping and baking and wrapping done ahead of time, we had nothing to do but sit around, watch movies and pamper a recovering pet.

Except things don’t always work out as planned and our pooch came home with a painkiller patch on his belly – that didn’t work. By the night of the 23rd, when the anaesthetic had worn off, he was miserable and was whining and yowling in pain – straight through the night. We got zero sleep and didn’t know what to do. On the morning of Christmas Eve, I rushed over to the vet’s office for new painkillers; apparently there’s a small percentage of dogs that just don’t take to that medication – I had one of them. Needing groceries, I also stopped at the local Metro and grabbed three lobster.

Lobster are typically cheap around the holidays, and Greg and I have a tradition of eating lobster on Christmas Eve. I got the last three in the tank, telling the girl behind the counter that I only wanted them if they were alive and active. She assured me they were and boxed them up.

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Loving the Lobster

A few weeks ago, I was sitting in Chives restaurant in Halifax with my brother and his wife. Our mains arrived and I dug into my lobster risotto. “You guys want some?” I asked, in between inhaling mouthfuls of the rich and creamy dish.

They both wrinkled up their noses at me. “No thanks… we’re kind of tired of lobster.”

Whu-whut?? Who could possibly be tired of lobster? Don’t they realize how good this stuff is? Why, if I lived, as they do, a mere 10 minute walk from the local wharf, and it was as cheap as it has been this summer, I’d eat lobster at least once a week. “We do.” They do. And they’re getting kind of sick of it.

Blame it on the recession. When times are tough, we give up the luxuries first, and this past year, even the people who could still afford the luxuries mostly gave them up, so as not to seem ostentatious while their friends and neighbours were losing jobs, homes and life savings. Which means that items like lobster, fine wines and truffles have been getting a bad rap, and people began avoiding them.

For a while it was fine – the price of lobster dropped and those of us who couldn’t afford the crustaceans on a regular basis ate our fill. But then the prices dropped even further, and the wholesalers began offering a price that was so low, it would actually cost the lobster fishers to go to work each day.

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Where Can I Find – Live Lobster

lobsterOne of the big holiday food traditions in our house is a feed of lobster on Christmas Eve. We don’t get fancy – we just cover the table with newspaper and boil up the tasty crustaceans and serve them with melted butter and some potato salad.

While the season has ended in a number of places until spring, inshore lobster fishing is still taking place in southern Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. Lobster fishing is always legal offshore, although purists prefer lobsters sourced closer to land, which means there is still lobster to be had – inexpensively.

Economic woes, particularly in the US, have adversely affected the Atlantic lobster fishery, both in the US and Canada. This means a decent retail price for consumers (normally about $14.99 a pound, lobster prices over the holidays dropped as low as $6.99 per pound in Toronto), but not such a great deal for lobster fishers who have the same costs to cover even though their profit is less. In Halifax this past December, lobster fishers were being offered a wholesale rate of $3 per pound and many boycotted sales to mainstream stores in favour of that traditional Nova Scotian sales method – setting up by the side of the road and selling the things out of the back of a truck. This at least allowed the fishers to charge a still inexpensive $5 per pound and to recoup their operating costs and turn a small profit.

This is not a practical option for selling lobster in Toronto, however, and we have no choice but to hand some money over to the middlemen and buy our lobster at an actual store, but with prices like these, it’s an opportunity that might not come along again for some time.

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