Boiling up seafood with corn and potatoes is a regular summertime tradition in the coastal South, though every region has its own version. In the Low Country region of South Carolina and Georgia, shrimp is the main focus. Known as "low country boil," it generally includes shrimp, potatoes, corn and sausage boiled with a crab boil seasoning. Served in a giant pile, low country boil is more than just a tasty meal -- it's a time-honored tradition that brings family and friends together around a steaming hot pile of food that can be enjoyed family-style and utensil-free.
Low Country Boil Origins
The origins of low country boil differ depending on who you ask. The only agreed-upon detail is that it was invented sometime in the 1960s in South Carolina. One of the stories claims that shrimpers in Beaufort, South Carolina were low on food, so one of the men threw everything they had -- potatoes, sausage, corn and shrimp -- into one pot and boiled everything together. The shrimpers then passed around the recipe to local restaurants. A more widely accepted version is that low country boil was created by Richard Gay when he was a National Guardsman trying to feed all the men in his unit. He took the recipe to his hometown of Frogmore on St. Helena Island and eventually built a seafood company around it. Low country boil is still commonly referred to as Frogmore stew to this day.
Everyone makes low country boil a little differently, whether it's adding a "secret" flavoring ingredient or using a certain type of sausage. However, the main ingredients remain the same -- red potatoes, smoked sausage, corn-on-the-cob and shrimp. The potatoes should be golf-ball sized and the sausage spicy, cut into pieces roughly one inch or so in size. The corn should be cut in half and the shrimp should be as fresh as possible. You can peel the shrimp, but leaving the shell on is often preferred as it holds more flavor. Old Bay or other crab boil seasoning is used to season everything as liberally or as light as you prefer. Somewhat common, but optional additions include halved lemons, quartered onions, beer, mussels, clams and crawfish.
Boiling It Up
Most low country boils in the South take place outdoors. A large pot is filled about halfway with water and heated on an outdoor burner or grill large enough to hold it. Add a generous amount of Old Bay or other crab boil seasoning and bring it to a boil. The ingredients need to be added to the pot at different times to avoid over and undercooking. Start with the potatoes, which need to boil for a total of 20 minutes, then add the smoked sausage and corn, which needs about 5 to 10 minutes, followed by the shrimp, which only needs about 3 or 4 minutes in the boiling water to be ready. Avoid overcooking the shrimp or they'll wind up rubbery.
Serve It Right
To serve low country boil traditional-style, you want to cover the entire table you will be using with a newspaper. Drain the pot of its liquid by pouring all the contents through a large metal colander. If you used a large steamer basket inside the pot, you only need to lift the basket and shake it a bit to drain the water. Pour everything, the potatoes, sausage, corn and shrimp in a huge pile on top of the newspapers in the center of the table. Allow it to cool slightly before digging in with your hands -- no utensils necessary. Add small bowls of cocktail sauce, lemon wedge and melted butter to the table, along with plenty of paper towels for wiping sticky fingers.