For about a year, Ben Sargent sold lobster rolls out of his Greenpoint, Brooklyn apartment. He was dealing 150 buttery, succulent, fresh-from-the-sea sandwiches per night — illegally. Then, just as he was about to go legit, while he was away taping a pilot for a show on seafood for Cooking Channel, his underground lobster pound was shut down by the city of New York. Ben Sargent and his lobster roll-slinging alter-ego Dr. Klaw were lobster roll pushers no more.
Now that he’s legit, the host of Hook, Line & Dinner will no sooner share his top-secret lobster roll recipe than he would eat imitation crab meat. It just won’t happen.
But he did walk us through the process at a recent visit to the Cooking Channel and Food Network test kitchens, and smart cooks just might catch on . . .
Ben starts with a fresh, live lobster — the best he can get. He steams it in 2 inches of water seasoned with onion, peppercorns, old bay and salt — enough so that it tastes like the ocean the clawed creature, the one that’s about to become a sandwich, once swam in. The lobster gets steamed till it’s just cooked, even slightly undercooked, about 8-10 minutes per lobster. Each lobster cooked in the water will be more flavorful than the last, since the lobsters will add flavor to the spiced water as they cook.
Once the lobster is moments from fully cooking through, Ben removes it from its steamy bath and plunges it into an ice bath. Once it’s cool enough to break down, he removes the lobster meat from the shell (saving the shells for stock, of course) and mixes it with a bit of mayonnaise — not enough to overpower the meat, this shouldn’t look like deli tuna salad — just enough to give it some more moisture and flavor.
Then, in a step that ensures his roll is and always will be the best lobster roll in town, he throws the mayo-coated lobster onto a hot griddle or skillet till the lobster is cooked through, and a pink sauce forms from the lobster and mayonnaise. The hot lobster goes back into the bowl while he toasts the bun — the lobster shouldn’t be piping hot when it’s served.
As for the bun, Ben prefers the top-loaded kind. So he gets one of those and brushes it with some butter that’s been melted with wine and garlic, and toasts it till it’s golden brown. He loads the warm lobster mixture into the hot, buttery, toasty bun, and brushes the meat with more of the melted butter.
Then it must be devoured, unadorned. No celery, no bacon, no dill or tarragon and certainly no lettuce. Lettuce is to a lobster roll what kryptonite is to Superman. Or like what the NYC Department of Health is to Dr. Klaw.
Recipes and More from Ben Sargent and Hook, Line & Dinner: