Cooking for a crowd? WineSpectator.com's newest online feature, "The Feast," turns to ace chefs—who better to advise on feeding the whole crew?—for recipes, prep advice and, of course, wine pairings. Plus, we'll give you 15 wines priced at $20 or less recommended by our editors. Get ready: It's time to feast!
For many of us, lobster rolls evoke visions of a breezy, carefree dreamworld filled with bikes, beaches and blue skies. But act on that fantasy with a casual “Where should we go for lobster rolls?” and partisan politics may derail even the most well-intentioned dining plans. Do you stand by the mayo-coated, chilled candidate from Maine? Or does Connecticut have your vote, with its melted butter and warm lobster? Pick a side! Know your ethos! Make your case!
We’re all for a good debate, but sometimes it’s more fun to go off-script. Lou Rossi, executive chef at the Dining Room at Castle Hill Inn, a Wine Spectator Best of Award of Excellence winner in Newport, R.I., offers another path to lobster-roll bliss: a light, tart crème fraîche treatment on chilled lobster meat. We've got his recipe for Fraîche-Made Lobster Rolls with Tomato-Cucumber Salad, plus 15 Wine Spectator–recommended Sauvignon Blanc value wines.
The way Rossi sees it, warm lobster is fine for winter, but summer calls for all things cool and refreshing. And to that end, could we please hold the mayo? “I always found the mayonnaise base to be really, really heavy, and when you’re sitting outside in the summertime and the sun’s beating down on you, you’re not looking for really heavy food,” he reasons. “The lobster salad has that nice sweetness to it. When you add the crème fraîche, it has a light acidity, and then we’ve reinforced that with a little bit of lemon juice,” plus a sprinkling of tarragon, which imparts a “fresh green flavor.”
Served on a bed of shredded romaine in a buttered, toasty-warm hot dog bun, it’s topped with buttermilk-fried onion strings for a tangy crunch. Add a mellow tomato-cucumber side salad and a crisp glass of Sancerre, and you’ve got a blueprint for summer entertaining.
In the name of uninhibited party enjoyment, Rossi designed the menu so that all of the heavy lifting can be done in advance. “You don’t want to be chopping cucumbers and tomatoes and onions and your guests are there and you’re trying to have a conversation,” he points out. Avoiding that scenario takes a little bit of planning, but it’ll all be worth it the moment your first guest pops up in the kitchen doorway, ready to chat.
The day before your party, cook and shell the lobsters, then stick the meat in the fridge.
The tomato-cucumber side salad improves as it sits. Rossi recommends making it 12 to 24 hours before your party (though no more, or it may get soggy). He explains that giving the salad time to marinate lets the dressing “kind of melt into the vegetables, and it becomes more cohesive.”
The morning of your party, assemble and chill the lobster salad. Later that day, you can fry the onion strings; as long as you store them on paper towels on the counter, they’ll stay crisp and you can warm them up quickly just before it’s time to eat.
When guests arrive, you have only a handful of easy tasks to accomplish—heat the onion strings, toast the buns and assemble the lobster rolls—all of which are doable with a glass of chilled white wine in hand.
For these lightened-up, sweet-and-tangy lobster rolls, Rossi bypassed the go-to lobster pairing of buttery Chardonnay in favor of the lively Lucien Crochet Sancerre 2015. With its leaner, more minerally Loire profile, it balances the sweetness of the lobster meat while accentuating the dish’s tart supporting characters with a smart, acidic zing. “It highlights those citrus notes that you see with the crème fraîche and the acidity in the lemon juice,” he adds. “Especially on a hot summer day, it’s really refreshing.”
The combination of flavors, textures and temperatures is a party unto itself. “We really just wanted to have the most wicked lobster roll that we could,” Rossi says. And wicked good it is.
For the Fraîche-Made Lobster Rolls:
- Salt, to taste
- 7 1 1/2-pound lobsters (or 2 1/2 pounds cooked lobster meat)
- 3/4 cup crème fraîche
- Zest and juice of 1 lemon
- 5 tablespoons finely diced celery
- 6 sprigs tarragon, finely chopped
- Pepper, to taste
- 1 yellow onion
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 6 cups canola oil
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 10 split-top brioche-style buns (or hot dog rolls)
- 1 1/2 cups shredded romaine
To make the Fraîche-Made Lobster Rolls:
1. Bring a very large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the lobsters to the pot, two at a time, and cook, covered, for about 10 minutes. While they cook, prepare an ice-water bath in a container large enough to fit both lobsters. To check for doneness, lightly pull on one of the lobster's walking legs; it should come off without resistance. (To kill lobsters more humanely before boiling them, place one at a time on a work surface, belly-side down. Hold the center of the body with one hand and quickly insert the tip of a large, sharp chef’s knife vertically into the base of the lobster’s head, behind the eyes. Slice cleanly downward with the tip of the knife, then rock the knife handle down toward the work surface, through the head. The lobster will continue to move but will have been killed swiftly.)
2. Once cooked, submerge the lobsters in the ice-water bath for 3 to 4 minutes to stop the cooking process. (You can reuse the ice water but may need to refresh the ice as it melts.)
3. Using lobster crackers, remove the meat from the shell and roughly chop. (If not using immediately, cover and transfer to the refrigerator for up to 1 day.)
4. In a bowl, combine the crème fraîche, lemon juice and zest, celery and tarragon. Mix into the lobster as desired, taking care not to break up the meat more than necessary. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and chill.
5. Peel the onions, and slice them into 1/16-inch rings. Set aside in a medium bowl.
6. Place buttermilk in a small bowl with a pinch of salt and pepper. Pour buttermilk over onion rings and toss to coat.
7. In a deep pot using a candy thermometer, if available, preheat oil over medium-high to 335° F, 10 to 15 minutes. Do not fill the pot more than 1/3 of the way. (If you do not have a candy thermometer, you can test the heat of the oil by dropping a couple buttermilk-and-flour-coated onion rings into it; if they turn golden-brown in 1 minute, the oil is ready.)
8. While the oil is heating, place flour in a bowl and season with salt and pepper. A few at a time, remove onions from buttermilk bowl, shaking off any excess, and dredge in the flour, making sure to coat evenly. Shake off any excessive flour.
9. Carefully add the onions to the hot oil and fry until golden brown, about 1 minute. The onion strings will float in the oil, so use a mesh strainer to skim them out. Transfer to paper towels and season immediately with salt and pepper. (Onion strings can be made a few hours ahead and set aside on paper towels. Just before serving, reheat in a 350° F oven for 3 or 4 minutes, or until warmed through.)
10. Heat a saucepan over medium-low. Spread a thin layer of butter on the buns’ exterior, and toast bottom and both sides until exterior is golden brown and interior is warm.
11. Fill the buns halfway with romaine, add lobster salad and top with onion strings. Serves 10.
For the Tomato-Cucumber Salad:
- 6 shallots
- Olive oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 1 1/2 teaspoons honey
- 1 teaspoon mayonnaise
- 1/2 cup red-wine vinegar
- 1 1/2 cups canola oil
- 2 quarts heirloom cherry tomatoes, halved
- 6 cucumbers, seedless preferred, peeled and diced large
- 1 1/2 tablespoons Kalamata olives, chopped
- 1 tablespoon chopped fines herbs (equal parts parsley, chives, tarragon and chervil)
- 1 large red onion, thinly sliced
To make the Tomato-Cucumber Salad:
1. Preheat the oven to 375° F. Lightly coat shallots with olive oil, salt and pepper, and wrap in a foil pouch. Roast in oven until very tender, about 1 hour; a knife should slice through easily with no resistance. Let cool, then peel.
2. In a blender, combine the shallots, mustard, honey, mayonnaise and vinegar. With the blender on high, very slowly begin streaming in the canola oil. The mixture should slowly become thick, homogeneous and emulsified. If it becomes too thick for the blender, add water 1 tablespoon at a time until loosened. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
3. In a mixing bowl, combine the tomatoes, cucumbers, olives, fines herbs and onion.
4. Add the shallot vinaigrette just to coat the cucumber mixture; the salt in the vinaigrette will draw moisture out of the vegetables as the mixture sits. Let sit 12 to 24 hours before adjusting the vinaigrette (1 hour at room temperature, the rest in the refrigerator). Strain off any accumulated liquid. Be sure to stir and season again as needed. Serves 10.
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