When I offered to cook for a dozen or so family members this past Mother’s Day, I pondered the perfect recipe long and hard. Ideally, the meal would be festive and fun while allowing time for me to enjoy the special day, too.
Crab fests have long been a summer tradition in both my husband’s and my family. Piles of Old Bay crusted crabs are strewn over newspaper-covered tables and everyone pounds, picks, and enjoys one another’s company for hours.
My older son recently developed an allergy to crabs, so I’d been contemplating an alternative that was equally festive but allowed him to partake. Crab fests aren’t nearly as much fun for the person relegated to eating chicken.
Of course, finding a worthy replacement for the crab loving set is no easy task. But a discussion with a shrimp company for which I was doing recipe development work provided some helpful inspiration.
In a conversation earlier this year with several of The American Shrimp Company’s Louisiana-based employees, I asked a simple question: What’s the most popular way to enjoy the abundant supply of wild caught shrimp in the South? Without hesitation, they offered up the Low Country Shrimp Boil.
This immediately brought back memories of my first shrimp boil. The requisite ingredients were placed in a mesh bag and tossed into a big pot of boiling water until the potatoes were tender. The potatoes tasted fine but the shrimp and corn were rather tough!
Timing is the real secret to success in this otherwise easy recipe that was inspired by an Old Bay recipe. Adding the various ingredients in stages assures that nothing is over or undercooked. Meanwhile, the seasoned cooking water infuses great flavor.
As with any regional recipe, variations abound from one family to the next. Tony Chachere’s Creole Seasoning is sometimes used instead of Old Bay, which inspired this recipe. (Note that the former has a higher salt content and I have not tested it in the following recipe). Vegetables, proteins, and stock flavorings can be adjusted according to preference. One Louisiana native told me that his relatives add broccoli to their shrimp boil; others opt for crab legs. Smoked sausage is a common addition that I knew would be popular with my family.
From my three-year-old niece to my 82-year-young dad, this meal was a bigger hit than I ever expected with our Mother’s Day crowd. Thanks to my guests’ stamp of approval, I am sharing today with Happy Father’s Day wishes. The simple prep is a gift to the cook as well as the guests, and it would be equally well suited to Fourth of July and Labor Day festivities or any casual backyard get-together.
P.S. I’ve included a handful of notes and tips following the recipe. The added lines of type are not an indication of a complicated recipe but offer details that may be helpful whether preparing this for a small group or a large crowd.
Yield: 8 servings
- 4 quarts water*
- 1 (12-ounce) bottle or can of beer**
- 1 lemon, quartered
- 1 head or garlic, halved (with skins on)
- 1/2 cup (62 grams) Old Bay Seasoning
- 2 tablespoons kosher salt
- 8 medium red potatoes, quartered***
- 1 large or 2 small Vidalia onions, peeled and cut into 4-8 wedges, depending on size (leave root end to better keep them in tact)
- 2 pounds smoked sausage, cut into 1- to 2-inch lengths****
- 8 ears corn on the cob, husked (cut in half if desired)
- 4 pounds large wild caught American shrimp, uncooked with shells ON (look for packages marked “Easy Peel”—they work GREAT!)
- Options for serving: cocktail sauce, spicy mayo, Tabasco sauce, lemon wedges, rolls, cornbread
- Add the water, beer, lemon, and garlic to a 12 to 14-quart stock pot (the bigger the better), and bring to a boil.
- Add the Old Bay, salt, potatoes, and onions; cook over high heat for 8 minutes. (Throughout this process, you want to maintain a steady boil. If high heat creates too ferocious of a boil, adjust the heat down slightly.)
- Add the smoked sausage; continue to cook on high for 5 minutes.
- Add the corn to pot; boil for 7 minutes.
- At this point, the potatoes should meet little resistance when pierced with a sharp knife. Add the uncooked shrimp in shells, and cook for 3 minutes or until just pink.
- Immediately (and carefully) drain the cooking liquid, and then pour the contents of the pot into several large bowls or shallow pails. Sprinkle lightly with additional Old Bay and serve.
- *I often prepare the pot several hours in advance, measuring out the water and then adding the garlic, lemon, and beer. I measure the salt and Old Bay and place it in a small bowl next to the pot. Salt can corrode some pot finishes so, when in doubt, it’s best to add the salt once the water has come to a boil.
- **For a non-alcoholic version, you may replace the beer with additional water or use chicken broth. For a gluten-free option, you may use your favorite GF beer. Also, the FDA considers Corona Light to be gluten-free because it meets their standards of less than 20ppm. Just don’t use an IPA, gluten-free or regular, as a hops-heavy beer tends to turn bitter when cooked.
- ***When I can find them, I prefer to use 2-1/2 to 3 pounds of very small red or new potatoes (no larger than 1 to 1-1/2 inches in diameter). These can be left whole, which results in a slightly superior texture once cooked.
- ****I like to use a combination of spicy Andouille and mild kielbasa. Choose based on personal preference. When mixing, cut one variety on the diagonal and one straight across so those who don’t like spicy foods know what to avoid.
- Additional Tips:
- Keep your timer nearby, as it ensures that all the components are perfectly cooked. I serve this with a quick homemade cocktail sauce (ketchup, horseradish to taste, and a dash of Worcestershire sauce) and spicy mayo (mayonnaise and sriracha sauce to taste). You could serve with melted butter, too, although my butter-loving family never asked for it.
- The Old Bay in this recipe provides flavor but very little heat. For those who prefer more spiciness, cayenne pepper may be added to taste—or serve with Tabasco sauce.
- This is truly a meal in itself. I like to round it out with a basket of rolls or cornbread.
- For a fun, festive, and easy dessert, my sister-in-law recently brought chocolate covered strawberries (she dipped them in melted Wilber Buds!) and ice cream and root beer for root beer floats. Both were huge hits.
- Line the table with newspaper for easy cleanup.
- The recipe may easily be cut in half for an easy weeknight meal, although my family considers any leftovers a treat.
- Preps in 15 minutes, cooks in about 45, which includes the time it takes to bring the cooking liquid to a boil. For a large crowd, double the recipe but use two separate large pots—and be sure to have two timers. Despite best planning, the water is likely to come to a boil at two separate times, and it’s far easier to ensure success when the cooking times are closely followed.
- Christina from The American Shrimp Company mentioned that many people boil mushrooms in addition to the customary potatoes, lemons and corn, and that some even boil whole cans of green beans, hot dogs, and oranges. It all comes down to personal preference and family tradition.
- Christina also told me that her aunt is Tony Chachere’s granddaughter and they live in his old home.
- Depending on location, this meal may be referred to as a low country or southern shrimp boil. My friends in Louisiana say they usually just call it a shrimp boil. (Whatever you call it, it’s likely to be a newfound hit!)
- If you think butter will be expected for the corn, you could try my butter bread trick—cut pieces of sandwich bread into squares about the size of a pat of butter and top with…a pat of butter! Small, sturdy crackers may be used in lieu of bread. This makes for no-mess buttering and no wait for the lone dish of butter to be passed. 😊