For me, there’s no better gathering in the heat of the summer than a good ol’ boil. At our house, it’s Frogmore Stew… aka: a low country boil. This type of boil originated in coastal Georgia and South Carolina. The big difference between Frogmore Stew and the type of boil you would find in Louisiana is crawfish, as they aren’t typically found in the former. What you do find in this type of boil is shrimp, sausage, potatoes, onion and corn on the cob. There are plenty of recipes and variations out there, but most use Old Bay Seasoning to add flavor. I like to use mostly beer as the liquid for my boils, but you can get away with water if you’d like. I’m going to do my best to walk you through my method of putting on a boil…
Before you begin, you’re going to need to make sure you’ve got the right equipment. If you want to do a boil for a small group, you could get away with a large pot on your stove top (this is also a great way to do a practice run before doing a big boil). If you’re like me and you want to make it a party, you’re going to need some more specialized gear. First-and-foremost is the fryer/steamer kit. It’s the same type of setup you would use to fry a turkey outdoors: consisting of a propane burner stand (and propane tank), a large (typically 30 quart) stainless pot and a steamer basket. You’ll also want a wooden stir paddle, which serves double duty as you can use it to both stir your boil and use it to lift the steamer basket out of the boil when your food is ready.
Once you have all of your gear it’s time to start thinking about ingredients. Some folks swear by head-on shrimp, but I personally like to go with just the tails. Purists love whole shrimp, but you are sure to have some people at your boil that will be completely turned off by those little beady eyes staring back at them, so I tend to go with what’s going to please most everyone. I like nice big tails… in the photos you’ll see here I used Key West pinks, which are perfect for boils. I live in Florida, so this variety is readily found here fresh well into June (and frozen after that). I’ve been to other boils where the cook throws in rock shrimp... if you like ‘em, throw them in too!
The next consideration you’ll need to make is spice: both in the type of sausage you’ll use and the amount of Old Bay Seasoning in the pot. Some people will try to make their boil kid-friendly… me, I like to just throw some hot dogs on the grill for the kids so the boil can be done right. I like spicy sausage... You can choose from Kielbasa, Andouille or whatever other type of pre-cooked link sausage you like. Old Bay Seasoning isn’t super spicy, but it does have some kick and I like to use a lot of it, as this is what gives your boil flavor (otherwise it can be pretty bland).
When it comes to how much you should buy of each ingredient, I plan out a typical meal for each guest at the boil (maybe factor in a couple extra just in case unexpected guests drop in). This formula is what works well for me:
Shrimp: ½ pound per person
Sausage (cut into ¾-1 inch pieces): 1 link per person
Red or (small) Yukon Gold Potatoes (cut in half): 2-3 per person
Corn on the Cob (cut in half): 1 to 1 ½ ears per person
Yellow or Vidalia Onion (sliced): One per every 5 guests (optional)
Old Bay Seasoning: ¾ cup per 10 guests
Lemon (halved): 1 per 10 guests (optional)
Beer: use as little or as much as you want to replace water in the boil (optional but recommended)
Plan your boil to run a smoothly as possible: prep all of your ingredients in advance. Allow enough time to get your liquid up to a full boil (this can take a while), then add another 30 minutes cook time before everything is ready for your guests. Make sure you have someone to help you when the time comes to lift the steamer basket out of the pot and get it to the table (make sure you have potholders on hand). The traditional way of serving is to dump the contents of the boil onto newspapers spread out on a table.
Now I’ll break the process down into steps (pay careful attention to what goes in when):
STEP 1: Prep your liquid. Don’t fill your pot more than halfway, as you’ll be putting a lot of stuff in there once it gets to a boil. It’s better to have to add a little more water than have to remove boiling liquid during the process. I buy a cheap case of beer then make up the difference with water once it’s all in the pot (get some helpers to assist you with this step!).
* A note about safety: You are boiling a lot of liquid over an open fire, so play it safe. Make sure kids aren't allowed anywhere near the setup and make sure everyone stays clear when you transfer the steamer pot to the newspaper.
STEP 2: Light the burner and start heating the pot. You can add the Old Bay while you’re waiting for the liquid to boil.
STEP 3: Once your liquid has come to a full boil, here is the order you will add your ingredients and how long to boil at each stage (have a timer handy). Everything stays in the pot until it’s done. Stir occasionally with the paddle:
1) Potatoes (and optional lemons and onions):
cook for 15 minutes, then add:
2) Sausage: cook for 5 minutes, then add:
3) Corn: cook for 5 minutes, then add:
4) Shrimp: cook until pink, around 3 minutes (don’t overcook them!)
Turn off the burner and have your assistant help you lift the steamer basket out of the liquid (hold it over the pot and let it drain a bit before moving it). Carefully move the basket to your table and, using potholder mitts, dump the food onto the newspapers you spread out on the table.
We serve ours up with homemade cocktail sauce and melted butter. It’s also traditional to serve crusty bread, such as French baugette, at a boil.
The best part, in my opinion, about serving up a Frogmore Stew is the celebratory nature of this type of meal. Excitement builds as each ingredient is added to the pot and you’re sure to get some cheers of excitement as the meal is dumped onto the table in front of your guests.