The sight of a large table covered in newspaper set with mallets, seafood crackers and rolls of paper towels may have you asking, “What exactly is about to go down here?” It’s a seafood boil, and there are very few meals that bring people together quite like this one-pot meal.
A seafood boil is a go-to dish when celebrating special occasions because not only is it delicious, it is interactive and exciting. The act of gathering around a pile of food and eating with your hands is magical – and it’s an easy way to serve a lot of people without a lot of fuss. Everything you need is in one pot, service is simple and cleanup is easy, which means more time with your guests.
There are as many variations to this dish as there are shorelines. Most boils contain sausage, corn, potatoes and, of course, seafood. Seafood combinations can include blue crabs from Maryland, crawfish from Louisiana and lobsters from Mains, which can all be shipped directly to your door. Here in Coronado, clams, mussels and shrimp can be sourced locally.
Low-country boils, which some refer to as Frogmore stew, originated in the Carolinas and feature shrimp. New England boils contain lobsters, clams and mussels, while the Eastern shore of Maryland is all about blue crab. The gulf states do shrimp and crawfish. Whatever combination of seafood you choose, the result is always the same, delicious food and a great experience.
The needs for a seafood boil depends on the shellfish served. Lobster, crabs and crawfish will require crackers, mallets and picks, while shrimp, mussels and clams are all done by hand. Cooking in your kitchen with a large pot on the stove will work for small groups, but for large groups, a portable gas burner, a huge pot and a strainer basket outside will make things a lot easier. (There are large pots and strainer baskets made specifically for this type of meal.) Traditionally, the table is lined with at least three layers of newspaper or butcher paper. This allows for easy service and quick clean up, as you just roll everything up and throw it away.
Side dishes vary depending on the region. In New England you are likely to get bread and a bowl of New England clam chowder. In Louisiana, the sides range from cornbread to gumbo. And mac and cheese, potato salad or coleslaw all are usual suspects at any seafood boil. The seasoning for the boil will vary as well. Old Bay Seasoning and Zatarain’s are both classic with easy-to-follow instructions. Other ingredients include melted butter, lemon, salt and pepper and, of course, hot sauce. Cold beer, white wine, iced tea and lemonade all complement the meal.
Choose your favourite shellfish, follow a tried and true recipe, and as they say on the Gulf, laissez le bon temps rouler (let the good times roll)!
• Clyde Van Arsdall IV is executive chef and general manager of the Neiman Marcus Café.
RECIPE | COURTESY OF CHEF CLYDE VAN ARSDALL IV
Stovetop Seafood Boil
- 1 (12-ounce) can beer, pilsner or lager
- 2 sweet onions, quartered
- 4 lemons, quartered
- ½ cup seafood boil seasoning, Old Bay or Zatarain’s
- 2 bay leaves, preferably fresh
- 2 tablespoons whole black peppercorns, plus additional ground pepper for seasoning
- Coarse kosher salt
- 1½ cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter
- 6 cloves garlic, minced
- ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes or 1 finely chopped fresh red chile (jalapeño or Thai are good options)
- 2 tablespoons freshly chopped flat leaf parsley
- 3 pounds small new potatoes
- 1½ pounds smoked spicy sausage, such as Andouille or kielbasa, each cut into 6 pieces
- 6 ears fresh corn, shucked and broken into 3- to 4-inch pieces
- 3 pounds shell-on-large shrimp, or any variation of shellfish
- Hot sauce, for serving
- Fill a large pot with 5 quarts of water. (Add more if needed; the volume will depend on the size and shape of your pot.) Add the beer, onions, two of the lemons, boil seasoning, bay leaves, peppercorns and 2 tablespoons salt. Cover and bring to a rolling boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and let cook until the flavors marry, about 15 minutes. The liquid should be highly seasoned and aromatic.
- Meanwhile, prepare the garlic-sauce. Melt the butter in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes. Simmer until fragrant, 45 to 60 seconds. Add the parsley and season with salt and pepper. Remove from the heat and cover to keep warm.
- Once the cooking broth is flavorful, add the potatoes and cook, covered, until just tender, about 10 minutes. Add the sausage and corn, and cook until tender, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the shrimp and cook until pink, about 3 minutes. Drain through a large colander.
- Transfer the shrimp, sausage and vegetables to a large platter or for the wow factor, throw across the newspaper-lined table. Serve immediately with hot sauce, remaining lemon quarters and the warm garlic-butter sauce.
Where to order regional shellfish: