Lobster rolls are perhaps the most iconic Maine summer treat. This year, though, lobster rolls are exceptionally expensive due to high demand, with some seafood shacks selling the rolls for $34 a piece. Though lobster rolls are delicious, there are many more ways you can get a taste of Maine this summer without breaking the bank.
For example: consider the crab roll, which is made from delicious crabs caught right off the coast of Maine.
“I always think the crabmeat roll is underrated,” said Sara Jenkins, chef and owner of the restaurant Nina June in Rockport. “It’s really the same thing: crabmeat folded in with some mayonnaise. The crabmeat roll will often come on a hamburger roll, so you often get that much more [meat].”
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The seafood bounty of Maine doesn’t end there, of course. Fried clams are another Maine summer delicacy.
“The Maine way is whole belly clam, simply done [and] tossed in fresh fat,” said Nancy Harmon Jenkins, a food writer and cookbook author based in Camden, as well as the mother of chef Sara Jenkins. “That may be something that people aren’t aware of.”
However, Sara Jenkins warned that even fried clams can get expensive during the summer. Instead, she opts for steamer clams.
“The steamers to me are always super, super uniquely Maine,” Sara Jenkins said. “They’re weird and you have to peel them and know how to dip them. That’s kind of the fun of it.”
A Maine seafood delicacy that is on the rise is oysters, Nancy Harmon Jenkins said. The Maine Aquaculture Association recently launched the Maine Oyster Trail to highlight the variety and quality of oysters throughout the state.
“They’re delicious,” she said. “They have a brininess that a lot of southern oysters don’t. You really feel that ocean flavor in them.”
Sam Richman, chef and owner of Sammy’s Deluxe in Rockland, said that another underrated Maine seafood is mackerel.
“A lot of people don’t eat them because they think of them as a fishy fish, which couldn’t be further from the truth,” Richman said. “They’re a cousin of tuna. If you get them when they’re fresh, it’s just like soft melting fat and a beautiful clean flavor. We probably do more with mackerel than any other fish. They get smoked and we’ll serve them on their own or warm with some condiments.”
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If you simply must have lobster, Richman said to consider a lobster stew or bisque, which uses less lobster meat and can be comparatively cheaper.
“A lobster roll is not a very economical way to use a lobster,” Richman said. “The meat is great but the broth that you get from the shells and body is really the flavor you get from the lobster. Lobster bisque where you make a stock and use the meat stretches it further. Instead of one lobster feeding one or two people, make a lobster bisque and it feeds four or six people.”
If you’re looking for a non-seafood treat, consider red snapper hot dogs, a Bangor tradition (though many food experts — Richman and the Jenkinses included — do not care for them).
“The best place to eat them is home on the grill,” said Sandy Oliver, food historian and columnist for the Bangor Daily News. “They’re very popular and there’s no reason not to throw them on the grill and eat ’em up.”
Of course, no summer meal would be complete without dessert. If you are here early in the summer, you have to have a traditional Maine strawberry shortcake.
“A proper Maine strawberry shortcake has to be made with slightly sweetened baking powder biscuits,” Nancy Harmon Jenkins said. “Hot biscuits, butter, crushed berries, whipped cream with a little bit of vanilla.”
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Later in the summer, Sara Jenkins said, you can find “[wild] blueberries out the wazoo” in desserts. Oliver said that if you want to try a truly Maine blueberry dessert, opt for blueberry cake instead of blueberry pie.
“Maine blueberry cake is something that seems to be a little unique to us,” Oliver said. “There’s variations on that which are pretty typical in Maine, like molasses blueberry cake, sweetened with molasses instead of sugar.”
Ice cream is also perfect for a summer day. You can’t really go wrong with a wild blueberry ice cream, but if you want a truly Maine flavor, go for Grape-Nuts.
“Grape-Nut [ice cream] is very specific to Maine,” Nancy Harmon Jenkins said.
Another thing to consider is that perhaps it is time to make a new Maine food tradition for you and your family that takes advantage of all of the locally-grown and produced food we have in the Pine Tree State.
“We have so much more to offer than just lobster, you know?” Sara Jenkins said.