Steamed, baked stuffed, tossed with mayo on a toasted roll. This time of year lobster is in demand from Bar Harbor to the Berwicks. But, just as ice cream flavors are getting remix ed, lobster is getting a fresh makeover. In the height of tourist season chefs from across the state are getting crafty with Maine’s famed crustaceans and thinking outside the roll. Here are eight unique twists on the state’s iconic shell fish.
1. The dish: Lobster dumplings, $9
The place: Empire Chinese Kitchen, 575 Congress St., Portland
The breakdown: Tender lobster meat, scallions, sesame oil and lobster roe is the nucleus for this savory Cantonese dim sum. Tucked into house-made tapioca and rice flour dough and steamed, these pillows of love have “wonderful mouth feel,” says Empire Chinese Kitchen co-owner Theresa Chan. “There is no fresher lobster dumpling.” Dipped in a sweet ginger soy sauce, it’s “a luxury dim sum,” that keeps this urban spot bumping.
Claim to fame: The Travel Channel’s Andrew Zimmern of “Bizarre Foods America” picked these lobster dumplings for his Portland in 10 Plates feature in Food and Wine magazine this month.
2. The dish: Fried lobster tail on a stick, $10
The place: Wicked Tails, 4 Spring St., Kennebunkport
The breakdown: Drench a choice lobster tail in flour, black pepper, cayenne pepper, salt and paprika and fry in canola oil. “It’s simple to execute and tastes excellent,” said chef Brendan Levin, who invented this portable revelation in the month-old Dock Square take-out joint. “It’s great food for people to walk around the port window shopping, or while sitting on a bench,” he said. Me? I downed mine on the spot and it was the best pick-me-up I’ve had in weeks. Served with a side of Sriracha aioli, this tail is worth chasing.
Claim to fame: Opening softly last month, the food paparazzi can only be minutes away.
3.The dish: Lobster Lo’Maine, $29
The place: Academe at The Kennebunk Inn, 45 Main St., Kennebunk
The breakdown: Lo mein never had it this good. Lobster meat, marinated pork bellies, scallions, cilantro and sesame seeds mingle with ginger vinegar and a white miso dressing on a bed of noodles for an upscale Maine version of the Asian classic. Chef/co-owner Shanna Horner O’Hea is building a gourmet lobster empire with pot pies and white pizza wowing the likes of Oprah. Lobster Lo’ Maine is this season’s newcomer. “Lobster is a great protein that is so friendly with so many different applications,” said O’Hea. “I’m thrilled with the response. People are really enjoying it.”
Claim to fame: The dish impressed crowds at Portland’s Harvest on the Harbor last year — it was O’Hea’s Lobster Chef of the Year entry.
4. The dish: Puerto Nuevo langosta tacos, $27
The place: Zapoteca, 505 Fore St., Portland
The breakdown: Portland chef Shannon Bard continues to turn heads with her fresh take on Mexican food by way of Maine. For her trademark dish, a whole lobster is cooked in beer and sauteed in duck fat with a pat of chipotle butter. Served with tequila sauce, lime and avocado in corn tortillas with a side of Mexican street corn, it’s a bold barrier breaker. Though lobster purists might balk at doctoring the sweet meat of the sea in this fashion, Bard didn’t become a media darling by playing it safe. “People expect something unique and innovative,” she said. “That’s what I do.”
Claim to fame: The Wall Street Journal singled out her lobster tacos in a food story this month. The dish will be featured in her new cookbook, “Gourmet Mexican Kitchen,” which comes out in February.
5. The dish: Spicy lobster burritos, $14.95
The place: El El Frijoles, 41 Caterpillar Hill Road, Sargentville
The breakdown: A traditional Mission-style burrito filled to the brim with lobster meat has spawned a new term “Maine Mex.” Michael Rossney’s inventive burritos are inspiring food-centric road trips to his hideaway between Deer Isle and Blue Hill. It’s a local taste of black beans harvested up the road at Horsepower Farm, rice, and cheddar cheese. Penobscot lobster is cooked in a “secret sauce” consisting of butter, chile achiote paste and garlic. The bounty is wrapped into a hefty flour tortilla bomb with house salsa and crema. ”Burritos are a mainstay of our native cuisine,” said Rossney, who moved here from the Bay Area 10 years ago. As he learned in San Francisco’s Mission District, torpedoes are not stuffy. “Peel it like a banana and eat it like street food.” No bib required.
Claim to fame: Travel Channel’s “Food Paradise” features El El Frijoles’ spicy lobster burrito August 26th.
6. The dish: Surf and turf burger, $16
The place: Elevation Burger, 85 Western Avenue Plaza, South Portland and 205 Commercial St., Portland.
The breakdown: Move over Big Mac, there’s a new Mac Daddy in town. A 3.2 ounce grass-fed burger topped with a hearty helping of lobster salad, organic bacon, lettuce and tomato on a potato bun has Maine’s signature dish written all over it. This surf and turf in paradise is a tourist magnet. “We sell 30 a day,” said Drew Litman, manager of the new Old Port restaurant. “It’s something different that people are not used to. It’s a great play on the textures,” said Litman.
Claim to fame: Elevation Burger is a franchise based in Virginia. But you can only get the surf and turf burger in Maine.
7. The dish: King of clubs, $20
The location: Archer’s on the Pier, 58 Ocean St., Rockland. The Brass Compass Cafe, 305 Main St., Rockland.
The Breakdown: A triple decker threat. Maine lobster, slab bacon, lettuce and tomato on homemade white bread stands alone as a tower of power in Lobster City. The king of clubs has reigned for more than a decade on Main Street.
“It’s been popular at the Brass Compass for 11 years. I did a throwdown with Bobby Flay and it became the most wonderful sandwich in the world,” said owner and creator Lynn Archer. “People come and take pictures of it; they want my autograph.”
This crush on crustaceans is a source of pride for Archer, who like many Rocklanders, grew up in a lobstering family. “My grandfather, my son, my father are all lobstermen. It’s our whole family lifestyle. You always look at ways to use it up. Back in the old days, it was like ‘oh lobster again?’ Now it’s a very important part of my life,” she said. And the king of clubs is her ace in the hole. “It melds together perfectly. It’s a damn good sandwich.”
Claim to Fame: Bobby Flay Throwdown winner 2011.
8. The dish: Lobster consomme, $109 as part of five-course lobster tasting menu
The location: Natalie’s at Camden Harbour Inn, 83 Bayview St., Camden.
The breakdown: Taking an old-school French dish and adding a new-school twist sums up this sexy soup from executive chef Chris Long. “Our interpretation of consomme adds an emulsion, which are bubbles, like a cappuccino,” said Long, who also happens to be the current Lobster Chef of the Year .
Part of an elegant, prix fixe lobster tasting menu, this consummate consomme makes lobster bisque seem passe. Long starts by roasting lobster shells and deglazing with sherry wine. “Throw in some white wine, some onions, fennel, leeks and cover it with water for one hour,” he says. Next, Long strains the stock and reduces it by half. Whipped egg whites, corn puree and fresh lobster knuckle meat come next. Topped with a corn and lobster emulsion, you taste summer in every, frothy spoonful.
Claim to fame: Served and co-created by the state’s reigning lobster chef of the year.