There's something about the waning days of summer that always strikes a little melancholy into my heart: all those lazy days I should have taken full advantage of, gone for another year. All those long golden afternoons I should have fallen asleep with a trashy paperback splayed open on my chest, instead of working. All those dripping vanilla swirl cones and tall, sweating glasses of lemonade I had yet to consume. All those sparkling turquoise afternoons by the pool. All those tender, butter-drenched lobster rolls I had yet to eat.
Oh, oh, the lobster rolls.
I never had a lobster roll until I was well over the age of thirty (I KNOW, I KNOW), but it has quickly become one of the main symbols of summer in my world. I mean, come on. The tender, briny-sweet chunks of lobster--it needs to be overflowing, okay?--the lightest touch of mayo holding everything together, a background note of Old Bay seasoning, a little pop of acidity from a freshly squeezed lemon. The soft, pillowy roll, almost as sweet as a brioche, browned in butter on both sides because why the heck not? The accompanying crunch of crispy kettle-cooked potato chips. Summer is for hedonism. Once upon a time I made the decision to leave New York over a lobster roll, seated at a sidewalk table at the neighborhood cafe with Tim, savoring my edible symbol of summer alongside a viciously cold glass of rosé. I remember staring wistfully down at the roll and thinking, perhaps a touch over-dramatically, this is it for me and lobster rolls, isn't it?
There aren't a lot of opportunities to eat lobster in Phoenix.
A few weeks ago, we ventured back to the East coast as a newly-minted family of three, and I was giddy because, well......I mean, have you been paying attention? LOBSTER ROLLS. My goals for the vacation were laughably simple: survive two cross-country plane rides and two six-hour car rides with a toddler in tow, swim in open water, introduce Henry to the ocean, read at least one book cover to cover, eat a lobster roll. Reader, I did it. Here's to setting the bar super-low, haha!
The lobster roll was suitably amazing (thanks for the memories, Chatham Fish & Lobster), but almost as soon as I was done savoring it, I had a few thoughts:
1. What if you had a shellfish allergy? One half of the couple we stayed with over the summer has this allergy. No lobster for them!
2. What if you had trouble paying $20+ for a sandwich? Let's face it, twenty bucks is fair market value for a roll overflowing with delicious lobster pieces, but the end of the month tends to be hell on the budget. Sometimes fancy crustacean is just not on the menu.
3. What if you lived in the middle of the desert? I'll just say this, Phoenix is 2,500 miles from New England, and I'm not eating any of the local lobster offerings around here. What then?
Here's my genius solution, involving a secret culinary weapon (warm radishes, guys, it's a thing) that's a favorite of mine. Sauteing radishes gently in butter mellows out their natural spiciness, leaving a sweetness and a firm-tender texture that reminds me so much of lobster, it's bizarre. Choose a mild variety like globe radishes (the kind you're most likely to find at the supermarket, anyway) rather than a spicy variety like French breakfast. A quick dip in salty-sweet brine before cooking gives radish chunks just the right flavor, plus their naturally rosy color makes them an amazing vegetable substitute for the real thing. Add finely diced celery, a hefty spoonful of mayonnaise and a few shakes of Old Bay, and you can make your summertime dreams come true on a (vegetarian-friendly, allergen-free) budget!
Vegetarian Lobster Rolls
Makes: Makes 4 rolls
- 2 cups trimmed, quartered radishes (about 20)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 1/2 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning, plus extra for garnish
- 1/2 cup finely diced celery (use the tender stalks & leaves at the heart of the bunch for best flavor)
- 1 tablespoons chopped chives, plus extra for garnish
- 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
- 4 top-split rolls
- Lemon wedges, for garnish
- Place radishes in a bowl, cover with cold water. Add salt and one tablespoon of honey (reserving the rest), stir until dissolved and let sit for an hour. Drain radishes, rinsing a few times to remove all brine.
- Melt two tablespoons of butter (reserving the rest) in a saute pan over medium heat, add radishes and Old Bay. Cook, stirring frequently, until radishes are softened (about 10 minutes). Remove from heat, toss to combine with remaining tablespoon of honey, let cool to room temperature.
- Place radish mixture in bowl with celery, chives and mayonnaise, mix until combined.
- Wipe out saute pan and melt the remaining tablespoon of butter over medium. Place rolls, cut sides down, in butter and cook until browned, flipping once.
- Divide radish mixture among the rolls, sprinkling with extra chives and a dusting of Old Bay. Definitely serve these alongside a handful of kettle chips and a nice crisp, dry rosé or a bitter ale. Happy last days of summer!!