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As a flatlay photographer, lobster rolls are a dream sandwich. That vibrant red from the lobster meat, the glisten of melted butter, and those split-top buns exploding with filling—how could that not catch your eye? But living over here on the West Coast, I have literally never seen one of those split-top brioche buns at the store. And a lobster roll just isn’t the same (it definitely does not photograph the same) without a bun that is stuffed from the top. Sure, you could use a hot dog bun. But one day, I thought of something even better: Hawaiian rolls.
Not only are Hawaiiian rolls the perfect soft texture, but their sweetness goes so perfectly with the naturally sweet, succulent meat of a crustacean. They usually come in packs of 12 all stuck together, so I view that as an invitation to choose my own bread eating adventure. Pulling off a row of 3 of them leaves you with the perfect sized bun for a lobster roll. Then, what you do is take a reliable bread knife and slice downward from the top to create that split-top bun, making sure to only slice halfway down so the bottom base stays all connected. Now that’s a lobster roll…roll!
But there’s still a way to make it even more awesome. I recently ordered from Michael Mina’s Tokyo Hot Chicken and saw that they have shichimi Togarashi spiced Hawaiian rolls. I decided to make my own version using Spice Tribe’s Kissed by Binchotan Japanese Chili blend; it’s Spice Tribe’s take on the classic Japanese shichimi Togarashi spice blend and the name is a reference to the blend of spices commonly being used on yakitori (grilled chicken skewers) after the meat had been kissed by the binchotan charcoal. Giving the tops of the Hawaiian rolls a little brush of egg white helps adhere all the seasoning nicely; then, popping the rolls in the oven for just a few minutes not only gets the rolls nice and warm, but it bakes on that spicy chili blend so it stays on until it gets to your mouth, instead of getting chili powder all over your hands. The end result is a bun that is not just a mere vessel for your delicious buttered lobster, but a complex flavor delivery of its own, contrasting the sweetness of the dough with some fiery, roasty heat.
After stuffing with lobster tossed in smoky maple butter, serve them up as a long roll and leave it up to the lucky eater to decide if they want to attack it whole or split it up into delightful mini lobster roll sliders.
As for this lobster filling, I know there are different styles on the East Coast like the Maine style that is cold with mayo and maybe celery, or the Connecticut style with plain butter served warm. Obviously this is not either of those and I am not trying to upset anyone over there but I really think people should keep an open mind and appreciate all the delicious ways to eat lobster rather than getting all caught up with which one is the “best” one. I will say though, my version is pretty dang good.
Some time ago, I had some grilled oysters from Hog Island Oyster Co that were filled with a chipotle bourbon brown sugar butter and my seafood eating life was changed forever. That combination of a smoky sweet butter with shellfish is so, SO good, and I have been replicating that idea at home in various formats ever since. So, this lobster roll is meant to capture that flavor combination that I love so much. Since I already made the buns of the lobster roll spicy from the Togarashi chili blend, I opted to go with Spice Tribe’s Super Smoky Pimenton de la Vera Paprika in the flavored butter. This is truly such a good smoked Spanish paprika—it has a nice fruity note to me and it does not shy away from the smokiness, and it’s got that chili flavor without the heat. Mixing it with the maple syrup and the butter, it becomes one of those condiments that I desperately wish was socially acceptable to drink on its own.
I recommend serving these lobster rolls with shrimp chips—an iconic snack for Asian American kids of my generation, for sure. They are quite mild in flavor but I think that their subtle shrimpiness goes great with these lobster rolls. Toss them in some furikake or shredded nori and some extra Spice Tribe Kissed by Binchotan blend to give them an extra kick. Now you’ve really got yourself a Pacific Coast lobster roll feast.