Growing up in the Bronx, NY you get used to certain things. You know that there is a pizza place on almost every corner and every one is different. Some have more cheese, some a little tangier sauce. So you go to the one that caters to your taste on that day. We knew where to get the best egg cream, or where to get the best Coke (back in those days the coke was mixed at the counter. One tap for the syrup and the other for the seltzer). We knew which deli made the best sandwiches and which one would even “trust” you to pay later. But these are different times now. The Bronx is only a memory and my wife and I have settled into this foreign country called North Carolina. No more egg creams or Manhattan Specials. We traded that off for bar-b-cue and a one pot meal called a Low Country Boil. My grandfather is spinning in his grave right about now!
Originally called Frogmore Stew this dish originated in a small fishing community on St. Helena Island named Frogmore, near Hilton Head and Beaufort, South Carolina. It is also sometimes called Beaufort Stew. There are many variations of it ranging from Louisiana to New England, but the idea is the same all over: a meal for a bunch of people who don’t mind getting a little messy as long as the flavor and the fun of being together is more important. That is why this is so often used after a church function or for a fundraiser.
Here in North Carolina this is a simply prepared meal which takes just a few minutes. Ingredients are pretty basic but you can add some things to suit your taste. What is important though is the timing. You do have to be careful not to cook it too long, which I will go into in just a little bit.
INGREDIENTS: (forget the how much. That is not important)
GOOD kielbasa cut into ½ to 1 inch pieces
Shrimp ( cooked and cleaned is OK, but raw is better)
1 large onion, sliced
Potatoes, preferably small yukon gold, but red is the best, cut into 1 inch cubes
Old Bay Seasoning to taste about 2-4 tablespoons is plenty depending on the amount of water.
Less if you don’t like it
Corn on the cob (don’t DARE use frozen)
1 bottle of beer (optional)
Now, as I said above, timing is everything here. Normally the longer you cook something the better it comes. But with this, too much cooking will give you pulverized potatoes, mushy corn, tough shrimp and tasteless kielbasa. Timing! The name of the game.
Fill a large stock pot about ¾ full with water and the beer, give or take depending on how much stuff you want to add. Add the potatoes and sliced onion. Boil for about 10 minutes and no longer.
Add the corn on the cob. Bring this back to a boil and let it simmer for about 3 minutes, That’s all. Keep in mind that the potatoes are still cooking here. Now add the kielbasa. Then the shrimp and let that go for about 5 more minutes. Turn off the heat and just let it rest for about 5 minutes more. Drain off most of the water, leaving just a bit to keep everything hot and hold the flavor.
Serve on a plate with plenty of good spicy mustard (try the one with bourbon). Actually if we are really following tradition, this is eaten outside on a picnic table. If you are lucky enough to do that, line the table with a few layers of newspaper and, after you dump out the water, pour all the ingredients onto the newspaper to serve. Everyone can then just dig in. The aroma will call everyone to the table and the mixture of all the ingredients will make a nice, simple presentation. No fuss here. Just timing. Remember, we’re not making MASHED potatoes here. But cook it too long, and that’s what you’ll get.
Some variations do include crab or crawfish. But best to keep it simple the first time. You can always play around with it later. This is a dish you will probably want to go back to anyway. Oh, and keep some hot sauce on the side. Gives it a nice touch.
And there you have it. A simple meal prepared in minutes and ready to enjoy. And enjoy it you will. I am not really a beer fan, but a cold one goes real good here, or an ice cold coke. I can think of it as kind of a substitute for a plate of spaghetti or a really good meatball and a glass of wine. But here in the south, this is down home cookin’ that satisfies the senses and just says “Have a good time. Dig in, y’all.”