Let’s say you’re needing to feed a 100 people. . . or maybe 50, or 25, or even 12, as I did at the farm this past weekend. Here’s a great holiday cookout meal for a group. The recipe became popular back in the 50s, after a National Guardsman from Frogmore—a village on St. Helena Island off the shore of South Carolina—cooked the dish. Needing to feed a hundred soldiers, he boiled a mixture of new potatoes, corn chunks, smoked sausage and fresh shrimp with spicy seasonings. His fellow guardsmen loved it! Culinary history was made.
A Meal of Many Names
The coastal meal is known as Frogmore Stew in the Carolinas; Low Country Boil in Georgia; a Tidewater Boil in Virginia; a Crawfish Boil in Louisiana; and a clambake in New England. The quick and easy summer cookout is packed with flavor, as it should be with a heavy infusion of Old Bay seasoning, Zatarain’s Crab Boil, garlic, lemons, onion, and bay leaves.
Get Out the Largest Pot You’ve Got
The first requirement for this feast is a large pot—one the size of a tuba, as Louis Armstrong used to describe the vessel he used for his red beans and rice. The bigger the crowd, the bigger the pot. You’re going to need 6 quarts of liquid (half water; half beer) to get the boil started. You can leave out the beer, but why? The secret to a good Boil is not only in the seasonings, but the timing. Potatoes enter first; the shrimp debuts—raw and unshelled—just minutes before showtime.
When finished cooking, traditionalists drain the whole mess and serve it from a newspaper-lined table along with ice cold beer. Everyone digs in. I was more discreet when I served mine this past weekend. I used a large, enamel serving dish that I got years ago when I made a paella.
A hat tip to Brook Harlan and his students at the Columbia Area Career Center Culinary Art Program for the superb andouille sausage we used. I also used frozen, shell-on, deveined shrimp, that were quite tasty after bathing in Old Bay and Zatarain.
Festivals honoring the one-pot seafood meal can be found up and down the Eastern sea coast each summer. One event organizer posted a recipe for 2,400 people: 1,200 lbs. shrimp; 2,400 ears of corn; 600 lbs sausage; and 72 oz. of Old Bay seasoning. The recipe I used had been pared down by “mathematicians” to feed 12-15 people. For more modest serving amounts, I found this recipe for Shrimp Boil Foil Packs, that calls for grilling the ingredients in individual foil packets.
The recipe below was devised in my farm kitchen after reading many other recipes and comments and analyzing our outcome.
Low Country Boil
- 12 cups water
- 12 cups beer
- 1 Tbs. Kosher salt, more later, to taste
- 4 stalks celery, cut in 3-inch pieces
- 4 bay leaves
- 3 lemons, quartered, squeezed
- 1/2 cup Old Bay seasoning
- 1 Zatarain Crab Boil packet (2 if wanting more spice)
- 4 cloves garlic
- 2 onions, quartered
- 4 lbs. small red potatoes, halved, unpeeled
- 12 ears fresh corn, cut in quarters
- 3 lbs. andouille sausage or other smoked sausage
- 4 lbs. large, fresh or frozen (deveined) shrimp
- In the largest pot you’ve got, heat water and beer to boiling and add bay leaves, lemons quartered and squeezed and tossed into the pot. Add Old Bay seasoning, Zatarain pouch (or use liquid variety for even more intensity) and garlic. Bring back to boil and let simmer for 15 minutes.
- Add the onions and potatoes. Return to boil and cook 15 minutes.
- Add corn chunks and sausage. Return to boil and cook 5 minutes.
- Add shrimp and cook for 3-4 minutes or until shrimp turns pink.
- Drain, discarding liquid, Toss out on paper-covered picnic table or large platters and drizzle with melted butter, if desired. Salt as needed.