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I lived in NYC for many years and love(d) the (mayo-style) lobster rolls at Pearl Oyster Bar and Mary's Fish Camp - big chunks of lobster meat in a simple-seeming mayo-based dressing on buttery toasted hot-dog buns. Rebecca Charles (chef at Pearl) has published her lobster-roll recipe and I've used that recipe (lobster, mayo, celery, lemon juice, salt+pepper for the filling, served in Pepperidge Farm top-loading rolls toasted in a buttered skillet) as the basis for many attempts to replicate the restaurant lobster rolls I crave. The ones I make don't even come close. Which is to say: it tastes as though I did the recipe "right" but the final product is just much less delicious than what I'm aiming for.

The other day my wife and I were in Manhattan and we went to Mary's Fish Camp. The lobster roll was insanely good, and as usual the predominant flavor was of sweet, faintly briny lobster meat. My homemade rolls just tend to taste drab.

I've experimented in lots of different ways with the sauce, and with my cooking method for the lobsters. I've learned how to keep the meat from getting waterlogged, how to avoid overcooking the lobster, how to toast the rolls to perfect butteriness, how to get a meat-to-sauce ration that seems correct. But my total product is still essentially lame. At this point my best guess is that the lobsters I'm able to get - even when I get live ones from the fish market - just don't taste as good as the ones that buyers for high-end NYC restaurants get. Which is a depressing conclusion because it means I should just give up and accept the fact that the only way for me to get a really great lobster roll is to travel across state lines and drop a ton of money on lunch.

But if anyone can offer an alternative explanation (super-secret lobster-cooking techniques? Secret ingredients?), I'd love to read it.

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I don't think it has any definitive answer either, but the same question has been asked (possibly also by you?) on Chowhound here: chowhound.chow.com/topics/728818 –  Allison Mar 23 '11 at 23:15
    
Have you tried asking the restauranteurs where they get their ingredients? Sometimes they're pretty helpful if you call up and ask. –  justkt Mar 25 '11 at 14:08
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3 Answers 3

Restaurants in general use WAY more salt than home cooks do. I'd try increasing the salt and see what happens to the flavour. The same is often true of butter.

Also, some restaurants that publish recipes, do not actually publish something that is faithful to what they serve. I noticed it with a dish with which I was very familiar from a favourite restaurant. Certain ingredients were completely missing from the published recipe.

Edited to add: The sweetness diminishes with storage time and the meat from the smaller claw is sweeter and more tender. (reference) It's also possible that a particular type of lobster or size of lobster is more or less sweet. Maybe you need to get multiple fresh lobsters and use only selected meat for your roll (and do something else with the leftovers)? In On Food and Cooking, there is a suggestion that vanilla (normally used for sweet cooking) can be used when cooking things like lobster. It doesn't directly state what the vanilla does, but it's possible that it might increase the taste of sweetness. A bit of googling does turn up mention of lobster roll recipes with vanilla as an ingredient, so it might be worth experimenting.

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This is a good general point, Allison, and I appreciate it. As it happens, I've tinkered with the salt a lot and haven't been able to create the flavor I'm looking for (the lobster salad just ends up tasting really salty). The thing that really stands out with the meat in the restaurant rolls is its sweetness. I'd even say that sweetness is a defining character of lobster meat - except that the lobster meat I make at home ain't sweet. So then I'm back to wondering: is it my lobsters, or the way I'm cooking them? –  user5399 Mar 23 '11 at 22:04
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Perhaps you need to look into A) different sources for lobster: maybe even frozen ones and B) experimenting with different ingredients in your lobster boil. –  ElendilTheTall Mar 23 '11 at 22:20
    
Vanilla! Huh, ok, I'll look into it. –  user5399 Mar 24 '11 at 22:28
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I'd guess you're right on track with the "it's not the real recipe" comment. For instance, I doubt that anyone with a lobster roll really worth talking about is using store bought mayonnaise. Although, it may be an adaption to make it easier for home cooks rather than keeping a secret. I also find sous vide makes a huge difference for lobster and is actually quite easy with the beer cooler hack. –  yossarian Mar 25 '11 at 15:33
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As someone who eats strictly kosher, take what I suggest with a grain of.. well, salt.

A trick I learned to help bring out the natural sweetness of corn on the cob is to add sugar to the water as it boils. Maybe try adding a bit of sugar to the pot when you cook up the lobster?

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Thomas Keller recommends cooking lobster in Court Bouillon first. See the steps here http://effingdericious.wordpress.com/2010/12/27/thomas-kellers-lobster-rolls-christmas-lunch-2010-part-1/

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