Sweet, steamed lobster is tossed with cukes, red onions, grilled corn, grilled bread, fresh tarragon and parsley, and a mix of tomatoes that have been marinating in a vibrant tarragon vinaigrette.
This huge colorful salad, filling yet light, has a mash-up vibe of a Tuscan vegetable garden meets seafood shack.
The sweet chunks of lobster work in harmony with the summertime bounty of corn, tomatoes, and cucumbers. This is a casual main course meal that takes a little time because of the many components.
Get the tomatoes marinating first, then work at your leisure. A great meal to make over a relaxing weekend at home!
What is Panzanella?
At its heart, Panzanella is an Italian peasant dish of soaked stale bread with ripe tomatoes, onions, and cucumbers dressed with olive oil and vinegar.
Our version uses crusty grilled bread (you can still use day-old if you’d like) and has the additions of lobster and grilled corn.
Lobster and Grilled Corn Panzanella Snapshot
A tangy tarragon vinaigrette, flavors the tomatoes as well as coaxes them to release their juices, adding another layer of flavor to the vinaigrette.
Red onion does double duty, working as a substitute for the shallot I would normally add to a classic vinaigrette. Half of the onions is tossed in the dressing and will gently wilt as they lend their flavor to the tomatoes while marinating. The other half gets tossed in at the end providing a sharp freshness and sweetness to the salad.
Cucumbers provide texture and a refreshing crunch.
Grab a loaf of discounted day-old crusty bread at the bakery section of the supermarket and bring it back to life with a short toasting on the grill.
Tarragon, often overlooked and underutilized, happily pairs with both the tomatoes and lobster.
Corn is grilled in its husk to “steam” before being shucked and grilled a second time for a light smoky char. Since you have a pot out for the lobster, you are also free to steam or boil the corn and then char on the grill as well.
How to Buy and Store Lobster Tails
Lobster tails, especially in their frozen state, are more easily accessible than whole fresh lobsters.
If purchased already thawed, keep lobster tails on ice in the refrigerator, replacing ice as it melts, until ready to use, preferably within the next day or two.
If purchased frozen, lobster tails can be thawed on a plate or in a bowl in the refrigerator in 24 hours. If you need them to thaw more quickly, place the tails in a zip top bag and then place in a bowl of cold water. They should thaw within 2 or 3 hours.
Although any lobster tail will work here, there are differences between cold and warm water lobsters.
- Warm water lobsters have white or yellow spots and yellow bands.
- Cold water lobster tails are usually a brownish color with an orangish red tinge. They are sweeter and more flavorful but are more expensive and can be difficult to find. They are my preferred lobster and worth the extra effort in my opinion!
Why Steam Lobster Tails?
I prefer to steam lobster tails as it’s a gentler method of cooking. I know what you’re thinking. Why not grill the lobster tails? Grilling tails can make the meat tough (and to be honest so can boiling). Boiling works better for whole lobsters.
Using a Whole Lobster
I live in the Northeast and whole live cold-water lobsters typically go on sale throughout the summer. At some markets, they’ll even steam them for you free of charge.
Whole lobsters can be a cheaper than frozen tails but are a little more work. If, however, you don’t mind the effort and whole lobster is available to you feel free to cook the whole lobster then use the meat in this salad. We have a guide on how to boil whole lobster to help you through this process.
Ingredient Swaps and Substitutions
Panzanella in its most classic form is a dish of stale bread, tomatoes, vinegar and olive oil. Feel free to make it your own, adding onto that base with all the bounty that the summer offers.
- Use any kind of ripe juicy tomatoes, even heirlooms. Cut them up into bite-size pieces before marinating.
- English/seedless cucumbers or standard cucumbers (peeled and seeded) can be substituted for Persian cucumbers. (I prefer Persian cucumbers because I find them sweeter and crisper, and they also require less prep work. They also seem to hold up longer both in storage and don’t get soggy as quickly in salads.)
- Chardonnay, champagne, tarragon, sherry, and red wine vinegars can be used for the dressing
- If you like a softer bite than red onions, use shallots.
- Crusty breads such as baguette or country boule can be substituted for ciabatta or Italian bread. Avoid soft breads like brioche which can turn to mush.
- Swap the lobster for grilled shrimp, chicken, chickpeas or skip the protein all together.
- Swap the tarragon and parsley for dill or basil
- Add anchovies and capers to the vinaigrette
To make this ahead of time, cook the lobster tail, grill the corn up to 24 hours ahead of time. Two hours before you want to serve it, combine the vegetables and the vinaigrette, then just before serving add the bread and the lobster. Stir to combine.
Eventually, the bread will get soggy. If that doesn’t bother you it will keep in the fridge for up to 2 days.
Lobster and Grilled Corn Panzanella
- For the vinaigrette
- 1/4 cup white wine vinegar
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon fresh tarragon, finely chopped
- 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
- For the salad
- 2 pints grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
- 1 small red onion, thinly sliced, divided
- 4 ears of corn on the cob, unhusked
- 2 (8-ounce) frozen uncooked lobster tails, thawed and rinsed
- 5 (3/4-inch thick) slices Italian loaf or ciabatta
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
- 4 Persian cucumbers, halved and cut crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces
- 1 teaspoon fresh tarragon, chopped
- 1 tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped
Make the vinaigrette:
In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the vinegar, garlic, tarragon, mustard, salt and pepper.
Continue to whisk while slowly drizzling in the olive oil in a steady stream until the vinaigrette is emulsified.
Marinate the tomatoes and onions:
In a large wide shallow serving bowl, combine the tomatoes, half of the onions, and 1/2 cup of the vinaigrette. Set aside to let the tomatoes marinate and exude their juices as you prepare the rest of the salad.
Prep and soak the corn:
Peel off and remove the outermost layers of corn husk while keeping the majority of the husks still on the corn. Trim the corn silk tassels and tips of the husks hanging beyond the tip of the corn. Trim off the base of the corn so that it can stand flat when held upright. Only trim enough of the base so that the remaining husks don’t fall off.
If your corn is very fresh, there’s no need to soak them as they should still be very moist. If they’re several days old, you may want to plump them up by soaking them in cold water for 20 to 30 minutes prior after preparing (as instructed above) to grilling.
Prepare the steamer basket:
In a pot large enough to hold the lobster tails in a single layer, add 1 to 2 inches of water so that a steamer basket isn’t submerged. Add about 1 tablespoon of salt to the water.
Place the steamer basket into the pot. If you don’t have a steamer basket, loosely scrunch some foil into balls and place them in the pot so they sit above the water level, giving the lobster tails a perch to rest on.
Cover the pot and bring the water to a boil over high heat.
Steam the lobster:
Place the lobster tails into the steamer basket, with the bottom side down, cover, and steam until the shells are red and the meat is opaque, about 10 minutes.
Transfer the lobsters to a shallow bowl or plate and let cool until you’re able to handle with hands but still warm, about 5 minutes.
Remove lobster meat from shell:
Turn the lobster tail onto its back with the softer shell facing up. Using a pair of sharp scissors, cut along both edges of the soft shell from the wide end to the fan tail.
Grab the soft shell from the wide end and peel the soft shell off. Pull the meat out. Cut a long slit down top side of the tail meat. Use the tip of a small knife to remove the gray-black string of digestive vein if there is one.
Cut the lobster into bite-size pieces.
Prepare the grill:
Preheat the grill for high direct heat. You want it at 500°F.
Grill the bread:
Using a pastry brush, lightly brush both sides of the bread slices with oil and sprinkle with the salt. Arrange the bread in a single layer on clean grill grates and close the grill lid.
Grill the bread on both sides, until the bread has grill marks and is slightly toasty and slightly charred, 30 seconds to 1 minute per side. This is not the time to walk away as the bread can burn very quickly.
Remove the bread from the grill and set aside to let cool. Cut into 1/2-inch pieces.
Grill the corn:
Place the corn in a single layer on the grates, using long tongs if necessary. Close the lid and grill, turning the corn a couple of times to cook evenly, 8 to 10 minutes total.
Using tongs, remove one ear of corn from the grill and carefully peel back some of the husk to peek at the kernels. The kernels should have changed from a flat to shinier bright color. Remove all of the corn and set aside to let cool slightly, about 4 to 5 minutes.
One the corn is cool enough to handle, pull the remaining husk and silk off. It may help to grab the corn by the base with a kitchen towel if it’s still hot and you want to get things rolling.
Return the corn to the grill, turning once or twice to get some smoky flavor and char on the kernels, 2 minutes. Don’t grill them too long or they’ll dry out. Remove corn from the grill and set aside to cool.
Cut corn kernels off the cob:
Working with one ear of corn at a time, hold the corn upright with the tip facing up in a wide shallow bowl. Using a sharp knife, I prefer a serrated one, cut downwards pressing the side of the knife against the cob as a guide, to separate the kernels from the cob.
Assemble the salad and serve:
Add the remaining onions, cucumbers, bread, lobster, and corn to the bowl of marinating tomatoes and onions and toss to coat evenly.
Sprinkle the tarragon and parsley over the salad and toss again. Season to taste with salt, if desired. Taste the salad and add additional vinaigrette as needed. Serve.