Friday, May 23, 2008

Frogmore stew a.ka. low country boil

Frogmore stew is a Carolinas specialty and it's something that's been on my to-cook list for a while now. It finally made it onto the menu when I was shopping at Whole Foods earlier this week and saw that they were having a sale on local produce. I thought I'd simulate a CSA box and pick up whatever they had and figure out what to do with it later. This recipe stems from the corn on the cob from Pioneer Growers Coop in Belle Glade, Florida. I was suspicious when I saw corn at a farmers market a while back, but I was wrong. Live and learn.

Along with the corn, frogmore stew also contains redskin potatoes, sausage and shrimp. And that's it. No frogs, sadly. There are an enormous number of recipes for it on the web and, for once, they're not the same three copied and pasted all over the place. And even more oddly, despite them all being keyed in individually they were all exactly the same: potatoes, sausage, corn and shrimp, optionally crab and and optionally a lemon.

There seem to be two key points to getting this dish to turn out right. The first is the timing; Boil the potatoes for 20 minutes, then add the sausage for ten, then the corn for five, then the shrimp for three. The second is in the spices; not many recipes specified exactly what sort to shrimp/crab boil to use, but then not many had anything sensible to say about the timing either. The recipes that were written with care said to use both sweet and spicy boils. That's Zatarains and Old Bay if you're going mass market. My southern style boil is from Spice House. I'm still boiling as I type, but even a suburban boy from Delaware like me gets visions of picnic tables and surf from the smell coming off the pot. I used a couple Tablespoons of each for a gallon of water (for six medium red potatoes, half a pound of sausage, three ears of corn, and a pound of shrimp). That's probably on the high end, but I always bump up the spice a bit.

Most recipes aren't very specific about the sausage--just something smoked and garlicky. I had some andouille on hand as I had intended to make gumbo this week. I hit a few snags with that. First, I had a hard time finding the andouille. Oysters in bulk were tough to come by too. Maybe they're out of season? None of the supermarkets carried them and I didn't get a chance to check the fishmongers before I realize a bigger problem. And that's that there's just no way gumbo is a weeknight recipe, at least not with a chicken involved. With a chicken you have the choice of long or complicated. The long way is to start with a pot of water and boil the chicken for a few hours to make soup which you then add a bunch of other ingredients to to make gumbo. The complicated, and much better way, is to start by frying the chicken, shredding it and adding it at the end after making the gumbo with a pot of pre-made chicken soup. See, that way you get double the chicken flavor. So, I set that aside and I'll find some other use for that chicken.

OK, now that I've had my dinner, those times were spot on, everything was cooked quite nicely. The flavor infused by the boil spices were subtle. I may use even more next time. I served the dish with butter, sour cream and cocktail sauce and, to simulate the picnic style, got a bit sloppy about what went on what. Cocktail sauce on corn is surprisingly good. Sour cream on sausage, less so. All in all, not bad, but I think I must be missing some element that makes it a classic. Maybe it's because I didn't cook it over a bonfire on the beach with friends and family. I'll have to try that some time.

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