If you were lucky enough to get to visit my mother’s house in Beaufort, South Carolina, and she was happy to have you there, odds are that she would serve you the great staple special dinner of my upbringing: Frogmore Stew. And you would be very happy to have it, indeed, especially since my Mom would likely have gotten the shrimp in the Stew still wriggling-fresh off of one of the ubiquitous shrimp boats that ply the waterways of Low Country South Carolina.
I periodically see watered-down, neutered versions of Frogmore Stew on menus here in Upstate Yankonia and environs, though it almost always carries another name, something like “Low Country Boil” or “Carolina Seafood Stew” or something like that. For some reason “Frogmore” seems to be word that can’t be used to describe food up here in the North, I guess because it evokes images of frog legs or other amphibian delicacies.
But Frogmore Stew is actually named after a little village on St. Helena Island, South Carolina, near the site of the historic Penn Center. Eating any boiled combination of corn, shrimp, potatoes and sausage under any other name does a grave injustice and disservice to the good folk of the South Carolina coastal islands who created this tasty, simple, practical dish.
Want to make your own? Here are a pair of recipes, one the way I first encountered the dish, and one the way that might make more sense if you don’t cook over fires in your yard.
The Very Authentic Low Country South Carolina Version
1. Buy a fishing boat and a big iron pot.
2. Fish all day.
3. Boil a lot of beer and anything else tasty that you can pick from your garden over a wood fire in the big iron pot, preferably doing it all in your front yard, waving at truckers who blow by you on their way to the All-Nite Eat n’ Grope up the road a spell.
4. Add the fruits of fishing all day to the boiling mess.
5. Boil until everything looks done.
6. Pour the contents of the big iron pot out onto newspaper spread out over your picnic table. (It’s okay to use a door mounted over two sawhorses if you don’t have a picnic table).
7. Get drunk and eat until someone gets sick.
8. Laugh at them.
The Sorta Authentic Portable Version
1. Buy a pound and a half of shrimp from a Fish Lady at grocery store. Get shrimp in the shell, and nothing small to the point of being difficult to shell. Frozen works okay if they don’t have anything fresh (it just won’t proposition you while you’re cooking.)
2. In a large pot/dutch oven, mix a bottle and a half of amberish beer (nothing too stout or chewy) with an equal amount of water. Warm slowly, to bleed the fizz from the beer. Note: The chef can drink the other half bottle of beer.
3. Once flat, bring the beer/water mixture to a boil, and add:
* A generous pour of Old Bay Seasoning;
* A hearty crunch of fresh ground black pepper;
* A bundle of green onions; and
* An 8-10″ hunk of reasonably non-fatty smoked sausage, cut into bite-sized pieces.
4. Once the pot is bubbling along nicely again, add five new potatoes, cut in half. Boil for five minutes or so, then remove to a separate bowl and draw enough liquid from the big pot to cover them. Cook them on high in the microwave for about four minutes more, or until they are easily pierced with a fork or a particularly hurtful remark.
5. While potatoes are cooking in the microwave, add three or four ears of corn to the big pot (you may need to add some more water or beer to cover). Boil the corn five minutes. Remove from the pot, keep warm.
6. Pull the green onion remnants out of the big pot. Discard.
7. Pour the shrimp into the big pot — once it reaches a boil, keep it going for three minutes if you’ve used fresh shrimp, and five minutes if you’ve used frozen shrimp. Either way, they should be uniformly pink.
8. If your pot is big enough, toss all the ingredients back in for one more minute. If not, put the corn and potatoes in a colander and drain the shrimp and sausage over them.
9. Serve immediately all tossed together. Eat with fingers (as a utensil, not a side dish). Helpful condiments include cocktail sauce and butter/bacon/chives.