As a kid, my family often packed up our vehicle and took a road trip to beat the summer heat of Texas and Virginia. Our destination was New York, where my grandparents lived. One side of the family lived on a lake, while the other side lived near farmland about 10 miles away. As a kid, it was the best of both places — a way to cool off and wide open spaces to run around and explore.
During almost every trip, both sides of my family would come together for a meal.
My Uncle Tony, descended from Italian immigrants, always brought the spiciest Italian sausage I ever had.
My mother’s mom would sometimes bring dessert, usually featuring something out of her own garden or a local farm.
My family would stop by the local fish market to pick up some of their delicious fried fish, which for some reason never seemed to be greasy.
The host grandparents always included what I thought was a New York staple — a seafood boil. I recently learned that the dish is just as prevalent in the South, especially in the coastal regions.
This blend of vegetables, sausage, shrimp and sometimes crab was boiled in a large pot. When it was done, you’d drain out the water and then dump the pot out on a table lined with newspaper.
Seafood boils differ across regions of the United States in the types of seafood used, the kinds of side dishes served and the way the seafood is prepared. Seafood could be boiled, steamed, baked or eaten raw.
For example, in the Louisiana and Southern Gulf region, they can include crab boil seasoning packets that contain cayenne pepper, hot sauce, salt, lemons and bay leaves. In some locales, Italian salad dressing, ketchup, or a mix of both is preferred.
In the Mid-Atlantic and Chesapeake Bay region, Old Bay is popular. In New England, there may be very little or no seasonings used, although beer can be used in the boiling liquid.
As someone who is really into food traditions — having my kids experience some of the homemade foods I had as a kid — I’ve attempted the seafood boil with varying levels of success.
I don’t keep 7-quart pots in my kitchen, so I usually have to split the food into several pots. I don’t keep certain seasonings in my house because my kids only recently started liking spicy dishes. Some people don’t eat sausage or are allergic to onions.
Luckily, a seafood boil doesn’t have any strict rules, just that you cook some seafood and vegetables and have fun.
Below I have included several recipes for a seafood boil. One is more traditional, another utilizes a crockpot, or slow-cooker, while the other uses the oven.
If your potatoes are large, try cutting them into six wedges instead of quartering to ensure even cooking.
If you aren’t a fan of shrimp tails at the table, purchase tail-off shrimp or remove them before cooking.
Enjoy the big flavors of a shrimp boil — without the big production — any night of the week.
1/2 cup concentrated Louisiana-style shrimp and crab boil seasoning
4 pounds medium red potatoes
2 to 3 medium sweet onions, such as Vidalia, peeled and quartered if large
2 1/2 pounds cured, smoked pork sausage links, cut into 3-inch pieces
8 ears of corn, cut in half
4 pounds medium shrimp
■ Fill a 7-gallon pot halfway with water (or use two large pots and divide the ingredients between them). Add the seasoning and bring to a rolling boil. Add whole potatoes to the pot. Allow water to return to a boil and cook for 5 minutes. Add onions and sausage. Bring the water back to a boil and cook 15 minutes. Add corn, bring the water back to a boil and cook until the potatoes are done, about 10 minutes.
■ Add the shrimp, bring the water back to a boil. Cook until the shrimp turn pink, about 3 minutes. Drain through a colander; discard the liquid. Serve on newspaper or a platter.
SLOW-COOKER LOW COUNTRY BOIL
12 small red potatoes (1 1/4 lb.)
10 cups water
1 can or bottle (12 oz.) regular or nonalcoholic beer
4 to 5 tablespoons seafood seasoning (from 6-oz. container)
2 stalks celery, cut into 4-inch pieces
1 onion, cut into quarters
2 lemons, cut in half
1 lb. cooked kielbasa sausage, cut into 1-inch slices
6 frozen corn-on-the-cob, cut into 3-inch slices
2 lb. uncooked large shrimp in shells, thawed if frozen
Cocktail sauce, if desired
■ Spray 7-quart slow cooker with cooking spray. Place potatoes in slow cooker. Add water, beer, seafood seasoning, celery and onion. Squeeze lemons over mixture in slow cooker; add lemon halves to slow cooker.
■ Cover; cook on low heat setting 3 hours. Add sausage and corn. Cover; cook 2 hours longer.
■ Increase heat setting to High. Add shrimp to slow cooker; stir gently. Cover; cook for 15 minutes or until the shrimp are pink. Turn off the slow cooker; let stand for 15 minutes. Drain. Serve with cocktail sauce.
SHEET-PAN SHRIMP BOIL
4 tablespoons butter, melted
1 ½ teaspoons Cajun seasoning
1 lb. small new potatoes, quartered
1 package (14 oz.) kielbasa sausage, cut in 1/2-inch slices
1 lb. uncooked deveined peeled extra-large shrimp, with tails left on
1 cup frozen organic corn kernels (from 10-oz bag)
1 lemon, thinly sliced
■ Heat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Spray 18×13-inch rimmed sheet pan with cooking spray.
■ In a large bowl, mix 2 tablespoons of the butter and 1/2 teaspoon of the Cajun seasoning. Add potatoes; toss to coat. Place potatoes skin sides down in asingle layer on the pan. Roast for 18 to 22 minutes or until very tender when pierced with a knife. Remove from the oven; stir. Add sausage to potatoes, and move to one side of the pan, making room for shrimp and corn.
■ In the same large bowl, mix the remaining 2 tablespoons butter and remaining 1 teaspoon Cajun seasoning. Add shrimp, and toss to coat; stir in frozen corn. Arrange in a single layer in the pan next to potatoes and sausage. Roast 8 to 10 minutes longer or until shrimp are pink and cooked through and potatoes are browned and fork-tender. Stir to combine.
■ Top with lemon slices. Serve hot.