When I moved down South to Sullivan’s Island, which is a stone’s throw from Charleston, I stumbled across a host of Low Country Boils. They reminded me of the New England Lobster Bakes I grew up with up north, but I found the ‘boil’ to be bland.
A boil is every bit as social as a Lobster Bake and brings people together for special occasions or for no reason at all. Both events spur everyone to really enjoy themselves for a good stretch of time. So in that regard, the boil is a home run. But LPB strongly believes that every event should ‘hit’ the five senses and to be honest, the boil comes up somewhat lacking in the taste catagory.
A boil is heavily seasoned with Old Bay or variations of it and includes corn, clams, shrimp, sausages and a lot more. It is all cooked together in water that has been enhanced with bay leaves, spices, herbs and so on. We determined the food could be greatly enhanced by changing the entire methodology, creating an alternative to a one-pot meal of ingredients that just shouldn’t be bubbling together. We turned to seven key ingredients that are separately marinated then grilled, baked or sautéed.
Improvements to this age-old tradition will add extra prep time, labor and expense. Now, of course, you can gather a handful of houseterns to do all the work, but what kind of fun is that? But yes, I get it. We have taken an easy-to-make dinner and made it a bit more complicated. However, it makes a big difference in the taste of the dish. Easy means average. This is not easy, per se, and certainly not average.
The old political saying “it takes a village” is key to the success of this meal. One person cannot do it alone and it’s also a fun part of the night when you assign each dish to different guests to make. With wine flowing, this elevates the interaction of guests and makes for a very fun evening.
Here are the main attractions to our version of this Southern tradition:
- Grilled little neck clams with shallot basil butter
- Grilled marinated mustard and basil shrimp
- Grilled Old Bay bacon scallop kabobs
- Grilled fresh kielbasa
- Roasted herbed potatoes
- Sautéed salted shishito peppers
- Grilled grain mustard Old Bay corn on the cob
- 2 pounds of little neck clams, put in ice water with 1/2 cup of flour a half-hour before grilling, so they spit the sand out
- 2 cups of fresh basil, finely chopped
- 16 ounces of unsalted butter (two sticks)
- 3 shallots, peeled and finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon of red pepper flakes
- 2 tablespoons of chives, finely chopped
- 2 pounds of fresh peeled and deveined shrimp from a fish market
- 1 cup of Dijon mustard
- 1/2 cup of parmesan cheese, freshly ground
- 1/2 cup of extra virgin olive oil
- 1 teaspoon of kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon of freshly ground pepper
- 1 teaspoon of red pepper flakes
- 2 pounds of FRESH scallops (frozen scallops are the devil’s revenge)
- 2 pounds of hickory smoked bacon, baked at 400 degrees for 12 minutes to partially cook
- 1/2 cup of Old Bay seasoning
- 2 tablespoons of olive oil
- Mini wooden skewers soaked in water for 30 minutes
- 2 pounds of freshly-made kielbasa from your butcher. Your local supermarket will not have this.
- 2 pounds of small potatoes, should be about a 1/2 inch or cut to that size
- 2 tablespoons of fresh thyme, finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon of fresh rosemary, finely chopped
- 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon of freshly-ground black pepper
- Shishito Peppers:
- 1 pound of shishito peppers
- A shower of kosher salt
- 4 ears of fresh farm stand corn
- 1 cup of dijon mustard
- 1/3 cup of Old Bay seasoning
- 1 teaspoon of kosher salt
This mosaic does not come together easily, but if you source out each item to different groups at your party, it creates a fun start to a great night. You have seven items to prepare. Make the bacon and marinate the shrimp and scallops in advance. When guests arrive, throw a glass of wine or cocktail in their hand, put the ingredients out, print out these instructions and assign tasks according to the skill sets of your guests. (For those without proper skills, assign them to serve drinks!)
Turn the grill to medium high and the oven to 400 degrees. Create 7 piles of ingredients and get it going.
- Clams, 6-8 minutes: put a tablespoon of olive oil in a sauce pan over medium heat, add shallots and red pepper flakes and sauté till translucent, then add the butter and basil. When fully melted and bubbling, let simmer for 5 minutes to bring the flavor together. At the same time, put the clams on the grill. When they open widely, put in a large bowl. When complete, shower the clams with the delicious butter mix
- Shrimp, 3 hours: Well before the guests arrive take all of the ingredients and whisk together, mix in the shrimp and refrigerate for 3 hours. Pierce the shrimp on the water-soaked skewers, grill for 2-3 minutes each side, based on their size
- Scallops, 3 hours: At the same time as you marinate the shrimp, add the scallops to a large bowl, toss in olive oil and Old Bay seasoning. Toss and refrigerate for three hours. Roast the bacon in advance as well. Turn the oven to 400 degrees and lay the bacon out on a baking sheet lines with tinfoil, bake for 12 minutes. Let the bacon cool. When guests come, have the scallop team wrap the bacon around the scallop and pierce with the water soaked skewer to keep together. Grill for 4 minutes before flipping and cooking for another 2-3 minutes, depending on size
- Kielbasa, 12 minutes: Bake the fresh kielbasa at 400 degrees for 10 minutes in advance of guests arriving. Finish them off on the grill, 2-3 minutes each side
- Potatoes, 25 minutes: Spread the potatoes out on a baking sheet lined with tinfoil and in a separate bowl mix all of the ingredients, pour over the potatoes, mix and roast in a 400 degree oven for 20-25 minutes depending on their size
- Shishito Peppers, 7 minutes: Put a dutch oven over a high flame and add olive oil, allow it to get very hot, but not smoking. Add peppers and blister them, remove and shower with salt
- Corn, 5-8 Minutes: Shuck the fresh corn and mix other ingredients together and rub on each ear, grill until done. The fresher the corn, the faster it cooks. You want some kernels blackened. Cut into thirds
The traditional way to serve a proper boil is to cover your outdoor table with newspapers before tossing everything in the strained pot right down the middle of the table. People just dig in with tongs to fill their plate and go off to eat. We switched that up a bit and layered the ingredients on the two large platters and placed in the center of the table. We put the potatoes on the bottom, followed by shishito peppers. Put the corn and kielbasa around the edge, staggering them along the side, adding the shrimp and scallops. Finally, put the clams and butter sauce on top, sprinkle with chives, basil leaves and serve.
We have come up with some other recipes from things you will see on the menus of some of the great spots down here in the South.
- Spicy Lamb Sausage Gravy over Biscuits: Our take on a southern classic, replace the sausage with lamb. A perfect kick to start the morning right.
- Tomato Bread: You can’t swig a dead coyote down here without hitting a place serving avocado toast. Since South Carolina is a tomato-growing hub, we came up with a better and more local version.
- Patty Melt: If you find yourself downtown Charleston late night, be sure to pop into Rarebit Restaurant and get their delicious patty melt. If you are not in the area, you can now make your own.
- Bagel with Cucumber: The Co-Op on Sullivan’s Island has a great breakfast menu and I put the bagel at the top of the list. We fancied-up the cream cheese just because that’s what we do. If you really want to fire it up, make tzatziki cream cheese for the bagel.
- The Burger: Every town in America has their special burgers. It’s no different down South, except Little Jacks Tavern won one a best burger in America award, so we take a page out of their menu, add a sauce we somewhat replicated from Casa Tua Club in Miami and presto, our favorite burger. Little Jack’s also makes an amazing crudités platter, so we used it as an inspiration for this recipe.
- Sausage and Fennel Bolognese on Rigatoni with Herbed Ricotta: Sullivan’s Island is the size of a postage stamp, but The Obstinate Daughter Restaurant is one of the best known and highly-regarded spots for great food. We took at a crack at their down home, hearty bolognese, while adding some tricks we learned from C London, a great Italian spot, while adding an herbed ricotta from a small joint in Napa Valley.
- Chicken LP-Bog: I had never even heard of this dish until moving down South and it is a keeper. We tinkered with it a bit, adding some extra flavor from another continent, but otherwise it has the bones of the traditional dish. No pun intended.
- Pimento Dip: This is a dip that can be used in so many ways. Frankly, I only make it if I cannot get to a store that sells Pawley’s Palmetto Cheese with Jalapeños, which is excellent and made just north of Sullivan’s Island.
- Tuna Poke: If you don’t mind waiting on the sidewalk for up to and hour then head to 167 Raw for a New England experience in the South. Everything on the menu is fresh, the fish is just out of the sea and the sauces and preparations are amazing. One of their best is the Tuna Poke when you order along (or make) with guacamole and chips.
- Dill Buttermilk Salad: Leon’s Fine Poultry & Fresh Oysters is a great spot for fried chicken and oysters, with a whole lot more. I love their salad with a fresh dill dressing over iceberg lettuce.
There is a lot more out there on this site for you to explore, so please enjoy!