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8 & $20: Lobster Rolls With Chardonnay

Make the New England summertime classic at home
Photo by: Mia Baer
Going heavy on the herbs and veggies in the lobster salad brings out a leaner side in both the dish and the wine.

Esther Mobley
Posted: June 23, 2015

Eight ingredients, plus pantry staples. That's all it takes to make an entire meal from scratch. Add in a good bottle of wine for less than $20, and you've got a feast for family or friends. That's the philosophy behind our "8 & $20" feature. We hope it adds pleasure to your table.

I grew up in Boston, a place where certain mundane features of daily life—such as Dunkin’ Donuts coffee—can inspire fanatical devotion. I won’t discuss coffee here, but one Boston treasure that undoubtedly earns its revered status is the lobster roll.

The lobster roll is a nearly perfect summertime food. Light yet intensely buttery, at once crunchy and delicately textured, it combines exquisite, precious lobster meat with buttered hot dog buns. Now imagine eating one while sitting at an outdoor café overlooking the Boston Harbor, the briny smell of the Atlantic Ocean wafting by. What could be better?

Last week, in Brooklyn, a few of my Massachusetts expat friends joined me to make our own lobster rolls. The bad news for squeamish cooks is that you have to use live lobsters. The good news is that the recipe is pretty much foolproof from there. Get the pot boiling, drop the lobsters in (if that makes you feel too guilty, you can more humanely kill them quickly just before cooking), and in 10 or so minutes, they’ll be bright red and ready.

The rolls’ filling is based on the cooked lobster meat, mayonnaise and lemon juice. I added generous helpings of celery, chives and parsley, but those elements are up to you. The hot dog buns must be buttered, but the cooking method is flexible—on a griddle, in a toaster or on a grill would be fine. Cramped New York City apartment-dwellers, we threw ours on the George Foreman grill. We made some coleslaw to serve alongside (or, as one of my friends brilliantly proposed, on top of) the rolls.

A better Bostonian would have paired it with a Narragansett beer, but I grabbed three different white wines to try with the lobster rolls. First we opened a Torrontés, an aromatic wine from northern Argentina. It tasted fresh and spicy, with lots of nuanced peach, lychee and pear notes. But the food emphasized the wine’s spiciness to an unpleasant degree, and it lost its subtlety. Not the best match.

Next we tried a white wine from the Douro, a blend of the indigenous Portuguese grapes Gouveio, Roupeiro and Rabigato. I loved this wine from my first sip: It was creamy and round, bursting with bright citrus flavors and a sleek line of acidity. The wine struck a nice harmony with the lobster rolls, melding with the herb flavors of the salad, so that fresh-tasting elements came out in both. I thought this was a home run, but one friend didn’t like that the wine lost some of its creamy fullness and that the briny seafood flavor retreated.

Our final option was Chardonnay—an obvious lobster pairing that, for novelty’s sake, I had secretly hoped would not prevail. But I couldn’t deny that this was a great partnership. From Chile’s Casablanca Valley, the wine was textbook New World Chard: fat, buttery, nutty, laced with brioche and vanilla flavors. Though a little overwrought on its own, with food the wine turned fruitier, slightly leaner and spicier. “Soft and pillowy” is how one friend put it. The flavors of the bun, the seafood, the herbs and the wine all persisted, with no one element overpowering the others. It was, as the saying goes, wicked good.

Lobster Rolls

Pair with a New World Chardonnay, such as Viña Casablanca Chardonnay Casablanca Valley Nimbus Single Vineyard 2013 (88 points, $15)

Total time: 35 minutes
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 15 minutes

Approximate food cost: $60

  • 2 1 1/2–pound live lobsters
  • 1/2 cup chives, chopped
  • 1 celery stalk, chopped
  • 1/2 cup parsley, chopped
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 3 1/2 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 4 hot dog buns
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • Salt and pepper to taste

1. Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil. Add the lobsters. (To more humanely kill the lobsters immediately beforehand, one at a time, place them perpendicular to you on a cutting board. Tuck the lobster’s tail underneath its body. Quickly insert the tip of a large chef’s knife at the point where the head meets the body and slice vertically through the lobster's head.) Cover the pot and cook for about 10 minutes, until the lobster shells are bright red. Remove the lobsters from the pot, set on a baking sheet and allow to cool.

2. While the lobsters are cooling, combine the chives, celery, parsley and lemon juice in a large bowl.

3. Once the lobsters have cooled somewhat, crack the shells to remove the meat. (Remember, the tail is the best part!) Chop them into 1/2- to 1-inch pieces. Add them to the bowl with the other ingredients.

4. Mix in the mayonnaise incrementally. You may end up using less than 3 1/2 tablespoons, depending on your taste.

5. Spread a pat of butter on each of the hot dog buns, then heat them for about 2 minutes on a griddle or grill, allowing the butter to melt and the bread to get toasted.

6. Spoon a generous serving of lobster salad into each toasted bun. Serve immediately. Serves 4.

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