Michael Cimarusti's Lobster Roll Legacy Runs Deep

If one had to name a king of seafood in Los Angeles, it would have to be Michael Cimarusti. After making his mark at Water Grill and moving on to create the incomparable Providence, Cimarusti finally went lowbrow this summer with a modern clam shack in West Hollywood. Named after his maternal grandparents, Connie & Ted's is a tribute to the Narragansett summers of his youth where fried clams were plentiful and lobster rolls paired perfectly with the Rhode Island surf. As a lobster roll master, it only felt right to talk to Cimarusti and get his secrets to a perfect roll. Don't freak out, but there's some pretty rigid measuring involved...

Were lobster rolls a big part of your childhood?

More than lobster rolls, we'd eat a lot of fried clams, clam cakes, stuffed clams, a lot of chowder — the type of stuff I'm serving now at Connie & Ted's. We'd have lobster rolls every once in a while, too. We would go to the beach and, you know, it's the type of thing where back then I didn't appreciate what a good lobster roll is the way I do now.

What do you appreciate about a lobster roll now that you didn't before?

It's a ton of work. I think that's one of the things that makes them special. This past week, we sold just under 700. It's insane. That's 700 buns and 700 portions of lobster that we had to produce. I have an incredible amount of appreciation for the work it takes to process all that food. That's 750 pounds of lobster that we go through. Every one of 'em came in live and was cooked here every morning and portioned.

How much does the roll itself figure into a lobster roll?

I think the bread is incredibly important. You've got to have the right buns. We make 'em all here. The bread itself should be fairly soft, like a yielding sort of bread, but one that's toasted so it has good crunch on the outside. It's got to be split-top. You've got to brush it with butter and then griddle them. It gets them really nice and crispy on the outside and steamy and warm on the inside.

Are you using the whole lobster?

Everything. The knuckles, the claws and the tail. Everything gets chopped up together and portioned out.

Do you think one part makes for a better lobster roll?

No, not really. I mean, my favorite part of the lobster happens to be knuckles, but if you wanted to make lobster rolls out of only knuckles, you'd be going through thousands and thousands of pounds of lobster.

How do you pick out your lobster?

When you hold the lobster by the body, its arms should be up over its head. If the lobster is so weak it can't hold its claws up, then it's been out of the water too long and it's compromised. It should be a lively, vital animal. That's important.

Do you sell more hot lobster rolls or cold lobster rolls?

More hot, definitely. We sold 100 more hot rolls last week than cold ones.

How much lobster goes into each roll at Connie & Ted's?

It's a whole one-pound lobster.

If I'm trying to make my own lobster at roll, what kind of insider tips can you give me?

First, it's got to be fresh-cooked lobster. You don't want to cook it too much, just to the point where it's just barely done. For a one-pound lobster, we cook them for seven minutes in good, steamy water. It's hot, but it's not to the point where it's at a boil; it's just beneath a boil. And we do 3.25% salt — we actually weigh it out. For every thousand grams of water, you would use 32.5 grams of salt. It's the right amount of salt because it approximates the salinity of the ocean.

Then you want to put a little bit of acid in the water that you cook the lobsters in. We use champagne vinegar, but you can use white wine vinegar as well. You can use cider vinegar. You can really use any type of vinegar. Once you get the salt right, you want to taste the water and make sure that you can taste the acidity. If you can't really taste it, you've got to put a little more in. The acidity is important. It helps the protein of the lobster coagulate and pull away from the shell a little easier, and that's important. Then we ice 'em down and take the meat out of the knuckles, claws and tail. If you're only going to do a hot roll, you don't need to chill the lobster. Break down the lobster while it's still warm, dice it and pop it into the butter and then put it directly into the roll.

Where's your favorite lobster roll in the world?

Outside of Connie & Ted's, I'd have to say Neptune in Boston.

Your perfect lobster roll meal. Give it to me.

Start out with a half-dozen clams on the half shell with cocktail sauce. Then a nice little cup of New England chowder with clam cakes. Then I'd move into a hot lobster roll with probably a pickle on the side and a bag of potato chips with an IPA.

Are there any common mistakes that people make with lobster rolls?

You can overcook the lobster, obviously. If you're doing a cold roll, you can use too much mayo. You can put too much other stuff in it. With a hot roll, you can do too much butter – that also can be an issue. It's pretty simple, though. It's kind of hard to screw that up. They're so delicious. Such a simple and direct way to eat lobster.

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