September 25, 2013

Soup to Nuts: Make mine lobster, Mac

Quiz: What's a comfort food that shouts 'Maine!?' (Hint: the state's chefs are getting ever more creative with it.)

By Meredith Goad
Staff Writer

Mollie Sanders of Kittery Point considered her lobster mac and cheese a work in progress.

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Chef Steve Corry’s lobster macaroni and cheese first appeared on the menu at Five Fifty-Five in 2004 and has become one of the restaurant’s signature dishes.

Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

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Chef Charles Doherty of Trackside Station in Rockland favors Morgan cheese for his spin on the dish, Thai My Lobster.

Meredith Goad/Staff Writer

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First, she had to get over the old adage that seafood and cheese should never be paired together, ever.

Then she had to figure out ways to make lobster the star of the dish.

"Just simmering the lobster in butter, and then you make the roux from that butter, that kind of gives that lobster taste through the whole casserole," she said.

Soon Sanders, who works at Maine Shellfish and whose family owns a lobster business in Portsmouth, faced her ultimate test: Feeding her lobster mac and cheese to a bunch of chefs.

"I had to go to a funeral of a local lobster restaurant owner who passed away, and they asked me to make something," Sanders said. "I knew it was going to be full of chefs, and I was terrified because there's nothing worse than cooking for chefs -- I live with one, so I know -- so I made this lobster macaroni and cheese and everybody was going absolutely crazy about it."

Sanders was one of the nearly two dozen contestants in the lobster mac and cheese contest held Sept. 14, during the week-long Lobsterpalooza celebration held in the midcoast region. Her version of this classic fall comfort food was one of my favorites in the amateur division.

Another was "Meme's Lobster Mac 'N Cheese" from Deanna Zoe Smith of Tenants Harbor, whose dish took third place with its subtle touch of lemon and generous helping of lobster. (With the price of lobster so low these days, why skimp?)

Louise MacLellan-Ruf won first place with her "Lobster Mac and Cheese Rockland Style," which contained a few unusual ingredients that helped her entry stand out.

As a judge, it was interesting to see how many different ways people can interpret this seemingly simple dish. Some contestants brought delicious mac and cheese, but it took a lot of digging to find the lobster.

Others tried things way outside the box, like Allison Lakin's Maine Lobster Sformati, which used lasagna noodles standing on end in a muffin tin to hold a lobster-ricotta mixture. Chef Max Miller from The Landings in Rockland used squid ink pasta in his Lobster Black Mac & Cheese.

The winner in the professional division, chef Chaz Doherty of Trackside Station, went with an Asian interpretation for his "Thai My Lobster," which the judges unanimously agreed deserved first place. Doherty has also shared his recipe, which he developed on the fly with a couple of chef friends during a beer-fueled brainstorming session. It includes a coconut milk bechamel made with red curry paste, lemon grass, rice flour and other atypical ingredients for a lobster mac and cheese.

No one really knows how long lobster mac and cheese has been around, but some speculate it may have evolved from Lobster Thermidor, which is sometimes made with a cheese crust, or Coquilles St. Jacques, a scallop dish that's topped with grated Gruyere or Swiss.


One thing's for sure: In the past few years it has exploded in popularity, appearing on menus all over the country. Locally, it was chef Steve Corry's version that first appeared on Five Fifty-Five's menu in 2004 that made people perk up and take notice.

Corry's locally famous lobster mac and cheese was inspired by a dish Thomas Keller made at The French Laundry in Yountville, Calif. (Corry's wife and business partner, Michelle, used to work there.)

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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Deanna Zoe Smith of Tenants Harbor keeps it simple for her version of the dish, Meme’s Lobster Mac ‘n Cheese.

Meredith Goad/Staff Writer

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Mollie Sanders of Kittery Point used some mild cheeses for her Mollie’s Decadent Mascarpone Baked Shells with Maine Lobster because of “that old Italian thing of no cheese with seafood.” But she likes the “snappy bite” of a cheddar. “People are used to putting something tart with seafood, like tartar sauce or lemon juice,” she said, “so I liked the brightness of a real sharp cheddar.”

Meredith Goad/Staff Writer


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