Grilled Nova Scotia Lobster Rolls
Brush with garlic butter, grill to a crispy golden brown, add a hint of lemon and you’ve created a contemporary classic, Grilled Nova Scotia Lobster Rolls. Sometimes it’s the simplest things that make the biggest impression.
From the misty shores of Nova Scotia that once were home, comes a taste of summer deeply ingrained with salt, sand and high tides. I am not a Nova Scotia native, I’m from the West coast; or as Maritimers would say “she’s come-from-away”. Foul winter storms and scorching summers may have marked my time in rural Novas Scotia, but nothing imprinted more deeply than the kindness of neighbors and the generosity of friends.
Answering the door one day in my first Nova Scotia summer, I found a neighborhood fisherman with a grocery bag in hand. “You like lobster?” he asked as he passed the bag to me, grinning. “Of course I like lobster” I replied, graciously accepting a gift from the deep. “I mean, who doesn’t like lobst…” the bag wriggled, and I shrieked like a schoolgirl as I quickly discovered it contained four live, fresh lobsters. He laughed like it was the best joke of the day.
“JEA-SUS!” I’m sure I danced around a bit, awkwardly looking for a place to put the bag down. “Ever cook lobster before?” “Oh my God… NO!” They moved again and made gurgling noises like something from a sci-fi movie. Scenes from Aliens ripped through my brain. Keeping them at a distance, I peeked in the bag. Now thoroughly enjoying himself, he explained, in a matter-of-fact tone, how to dispatch the four fugitives quickly and quietly. “Just boil a big pot of salty water, remove the bands and toss them in, head first. [snicker] They won’t give you any trouble.” “Remove the bands?! Like, from the claws?! (O.M.G.) What if they pinch me?” “Well,” he said nodding, suppressing a smile and rubbing his chin “if they pinch you just squeeze them by the eyes and they’ll let go.” Then turned to go, eyes twinkling, grinning from ear-to-ear, leaving me standing on the step with a bag full of lobster.
SQUEEZE THEM BY THE EYES?! Is this good advice?! Isn’t that just going to piss them off?!
Larry, Moe, Curly & Fred (as they came to be known) lounged my fridge for two days. Still alive in the bag, safe in the confines of a vegetable crisper, they made several attempts to escape, tapping on it’s walls at night. The third day I steeled my will and (between squeaks and squeals) I murdered them, plunging them head first into the pot and slamming the lid shut, bands and all. Twelve minutes later – bright red and steaming – we cracked Larry, Moe, Curly & Fred and ate them with lemon, salt and garlic butter.
Soon I had an outdoor side-burner on my BBQ just for community lobster boils in the long days of June. Nothing binds you to new friends and acquaintances quite like the crack of shells, slurping noises, butter running down your chin and copious quantities of wine. There were always leftovers on these occasions, and that’s where Grilled Nova Scotia Lobster Rolls came in, made from lobster leftovers when the season is high.
A Better Boil
Mastering the art of a lobster boil, I picked up a few tricks from local seafood lovers over the years. While salt water is good, sea water is better. So if you live close to the ocean head down with a big bucket and get yourself some salt water fresh from the shore. Sea water at the prefect point of salinization for a seafood boil, it also adds a layer of flavour that is uniquely fresh.
Boiling is good but steaming is even better. Lower your water level and add the bigger fellas on the bottom layer, adding them progressively by size. Living on the shores of the Annapolis basin we would often gather fresh seaweed or kelp on the shores, adding this to the pot to create a base on top of the salty sea water. As the steam built, we would pop the lobsters right on top and let the steam do the rest. Some use well washed rocks for this purpose, which are easier to find inland.
If you’re landlocked, you can add extra flavour by adding a couple of blond or red beers to your boil, or better yet a bottle of white wine. Onions, garlic, even potatoes and corn can all cook in one big pot before you add your lobster as the finishing touch for a New England style boil. Many add herbs: parsley, summer savory, tarragon or chervil, but personally, I’m a purist. The less complicated the boil, the more you taste the sweetness of the crustations and the brightness of the sea.
Getting the bands off is, in my opinion, a two person job for the novice. One person holds the lobster with a pair of tongs while the other clips the bands quickly with a pair of good kitchen shears (or sharp pliers) then plunk them straight into the steam. At fancy French cooking school I learned the ‘coup de grâce’; a quick merciful blow with a sharp blade, lengthwise through the head and brain for a quick, painless death. No more listening to them scamper in the pot.
Never did master that squeeze-them-by-the-eyes thingy though.
In a pinch if you’re ‘come-from-away’ and not in the mood for bug-like sea critters lounging in your sink, cracking shells and the gloriously delicious mess that goes along with a lobster boil — just pick up a can of cooked, frozen lobster. It’s fast, it’s easy and it’s perfect for Grilled Nova Scotia Lobster Rolls.
There’s no shame in that.
- 6 steamer (center split) hot dog buns
- ¼ cup soft butter, divided
- 1 pound (500 g) cooked lobster, lightly chopped
- ¼ cup mayonnaise
- ¼ cup celery, diced
- 2 tablespoons red onion, diced
- 4 cloves garlic, minced fine
- zest of two lemons (and a squeeze of juice)
- salt & pepper to taste
- Melt butter in a small heavy bottomed saucepan over medium-high heat. When butter is hot and foaming, add garlic and stir to combine and infuse. Remove from heat immediately & reserve at room temperature.
- Combine lobster, mayo, celery, garlic, red onion, 2 tablespoons garlic butter, lemon zest, salt & pepper in a large bowl and hold, chilled.
- Brush remaining garlic butter on both sides of the OUTSIDE of hog dog buns and grill, or toast the outside of the bun in a pan - like a grilled cheese - until golden on both sides.
- Spoon readied lobster mix into the bun and serve; right now. Prepare the napkins people, it’s gonna’ get messy.