Brain: Out Of Office

Sweet Potato Rolls

Lobster from the icy North Atlantic...rolls from me

In an exquisite bit of time travel, my brain has flashed forward and is currently enjoying the long Memorial Day Weekend at the beach. Sadly, the rest of me has remained behind in the city, two weeks of work and worry away from such pleasures. I think I am not alone this year, as most people are recovering from a rather abusive relationship with Winter.

The reason I am convinced that my brain is elsewhere is because I have already started thinking about all the food that I associate with the fun of summer: hamburgers, hot dogs, ice cream sandwiches, and my New England faves, fried clams, and Lobster Roll.

While I love all of the above, Clam Roll and Lobster Roll are my travel folder summer meals. If I had to name a favorite food, they’d certainly be on the list. “The condemned man ate a hearty last meal of Lobster Roll. And then he had a Clam Roll and an ice cream sandwich.” Read that and you’ll know I’m gone.  I can’t actually name only one favorite food, but I think I have made my point.

Fried Clams are best consumed at a reputable clam bar, preferably overlooking a body of water, while jealous Sea Gulls circle overhead. But Lobster Roll remains within reach of the home cook, albeit with a hefty price tag dangling from one of the claws. Yes, my brain is down at the beach splurging on Lobster Roll.

The thing is, I feel very protective of Lobster Roll. It is so simple and basic, which explains why it is so easy to make it wrong. Lobster by itself is so perfect straight from the steam, cracked open, dunked in a touch of melted butter. When in doubt I try to not stray too far from that.

Some folks think that the same rules that apply to making Tuna Fish salad will still hold true when making Lobster Roll, but this is simply not the case. In Lobster Roll the mayonnaise should be kept to the barest minimum; just enough to coat may be too much. Some insist that you should dispense with the mayo altogether, and stick with a drizzle of butter. Not a bad idea.

For traditionalists though, a touch of mayo, and just the sparsest tumble of diced celery will suffice. No salt, thank you, the mayo and the lobster and the obligatory Wise potato chips served on the side have plenty. (French Fries? With Lobster Roll? On what planet?)

Phew! Glad that’s settled.

Oh wait! I forgot the most important part: the bread.

The real New England-style hot dog roll is baked side-by-side and sliced on top (as opposed to the side). When the rolls are pulled apart, more bread is exposed, so we butter and grill or toast the sides of the bun too. This holds true for hot dogs, Clam Rolls, and Lobster Rolls. Lobster Roll isn’t Lobster Roll without this key element. It’s the law (lower case “L”.)

The bun itself is all about texture. This is no place for whole wheat. Fluffy bread is good because the toasting creates a contrast of textures. But that should in no way imply that boring white bread is called for.

As a little treat, I decided to make my own hot dog rolls, and this called to mind the puffiest, fluffiest bread I could think of: potato bread. No, this is not a New England specialty; actually, I think it comes from Pennsylvania Dutch country.

Hold on there, buddy (you’re thinking), with all the great hot dog buns sold, why are you making your own? Is this one of those “Martha Stewart-raise-your-own-hens-so-you-can-have-the-best-scrambled-eggs” moments?

My answer: “Yes. No.”

Translation of ambiguous answer: rolls that you buy in the store are just rolls. Mine are artisanal. Yes, that’s right, I just dropped the “A” bomb on you. At $15.99 a pound, how often will I splurge on Lobster Roll? So I think it is worth it to create something special to mark the occasion. Also, New England-style top sliced buns are hard to find in New York. (You should feel free to use whatever rolls suit your fancy. No judgment from me, I promise.)

Potato bread tends to be very soft and fluffy because of the loose, gluten-free starch in the potatoes. Deciding to up the ante a bit, instead of using a regular potato, I used a sweet potato.  Its honey-like sweetness and carroty color would add a mellow tang to the bread. My intent was not to make an icky-sweet roll, just something sweetly laid back.

I diced and boiled the potato until it was cooked through, then drained it thoroughly before mashing into a smooth paste with a fork. Then I added it with some of the flour to the dough. Some potato bread recipes use a bit of the liquid in which you boiled the potato. Instead, I used milk for a touch of richness.

The result is a roll with a gentle sweetness, and a sunny saffron color which surprisingly coordinates with the rusty, salmon pink of the lobster. I have a few left over which I will pair with some Hebrew National hot dogs, or maybe some chicken sausage.

Meanwhile, I hope my brain is wearing sunscreen.

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Click here for my recipe for “Sweet Potato Hot Dog Rolls

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