A Real Keeper: Shrimp & Corn Frogmore Stew - No. 143
Some beach recipes are worth replaying every single time.
I’m thrilled to introduce my good friend Susan Puckett to Between the Layers as guest columnist no. 3. Susan is an Atlanta cookbook expert, aficionado, and critic. And today she shares a rare recipe she repeats at the beach.
By Susan Puckett
The New York Times recently reported that cherished recipes of deceased loved ones are being etched on their gravestones. One such memorial in an Iowa cemetery includes instructions for making Mom’s Christmas Cookies.
I shared this story with my 87-year-old mother, who in turn shared it with my sister Julie. They ended up talking on the phone for more than an hour about our own family recipes worthy of immortalizing.
A few days later, Julie emailed her a photo of a pound cake she’d just baked. It could have been one in a million, but my mother recognized it right away, and she was thrilled. It looked just like the ones that awaited us in our grandmother Willie Mae’s Hattiesburg, Mississippi, kitchen. They reminisced about how we liked it even better after it started to turn stale, and our grandmother (Mawmaw) would slice it, butter it, toast it for breakfast, and serve homemade strawberry preserves to the side.
The recipe isn’t inscribed on Mawmaw’s headstone. But the card it was written on lives on, thanks to our younger sister Patti, who photocopied it and included it in booklets she made for family members after Mawmaw’s funeral in 1998.
Where are the memories when you don’t repeat a recipe?
I keep my copy of that booklet in a safe place. But I have yet to make that pound cake even once, sorry to say. I’ve been too busy making other people’s recipes.
I write cookbooks for a living, help other people do the same, and review cookbooks weekly for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. But I have no signature dish of my own.
This dawned on me when Anne suggested that I write a piece about my personal favorite recipes.
If she’d asked me to tell my husband Ralph’s specialties, I could have rattled off several: shrimp Creole, Appalachian-style bean soup, tomato pie. They’re the ones he has down to a science and turns to whenever it’s his turn to cook. I’m more inclined to take my chances. And now, even when I’m trying to remember that last delicious recipe, I’m drawing a blank.
Maybe he could nudge my memory.
We repeat the same vacation each year…
Over dinner one night, I posed a question.
“Honey, of all the things I’ve ever cooked, what stands out as the most memorable?”
He set down his fork and furrowed his brow. “Hmmm. There have been so many good ones it’s kind of hard to keep track,’’ he stalled. ‘’I’ll have to think on that.”
“Let me rephrase that,” I persisted. “If there were one dish I’ve made in the past that you wish I would make again, what would it be?”
Minutes go by…
Finally Ralph ticks off spaghetti and meatballs. Country-fried steak. A classic roast chicken. My attempt at a coconut cake like the one his mom always baked for his birthday.
“And I’d definitely say the Frogmore Stew you made at the beach is a keeper.“
A beach feast to repeat, too
For one week of almost every summer for the past 14 years, Ralph and I have rented a beach house on sleepy Edisto Island in South Carolina with his siblings, their spouses, and any offspring that can make it. We’re scattered, like many American families, and this time at the beach lets us reconnect and bond.
Early on, we fell into a routine of each family taking turns cooking one night. While the others picked spaghetti or burger night, our contribution centered around whatever seafood looked fresh at the little market that sits on the dock where we rent kayaks.
I tend to overcomplicate, but I’ve found that’s almost not possible with the famous shrimp boil of the region called Frogmore Stew, and I promise, no frogs have to die to make it! Countless versions of this dish abound, often under other names like Lowcountry Boil or Beaufort Boil. Its origins are said to go back to the cuisine of the Gullah-Geechee people of the islands along the Georgia and South Carolina coasts. This one refers to the Frogmore community on St. Helena Island, and was coined in the 1960s by Richard Gay, the owner of the Gay Fish Company there. I go with that name because it’s the most colorful.
We buy the shrimp and Old Bay at the seafood market, and the handful of remaining ingredients—kielbasa, corn, potatoes, onion—at the Bi-Lo. Beach houses come equipped with a giant pot, a colander, and a few very dull knives, too, quite enough to accomplish the task!
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We got to replay this recipe just last week for beach vacation number two—this time arranged by his daughter at a new venue in Florida, so all three of his kids and their spouses were present to celebrate their dad’s milestone birthday. Couples took turns cooking as usual, and for his birthday present, I feted him with a meal I already knew he would love—Frogmore Stew!
Why reinvent a classic recipe that’s been made in beach houses up and down the coast for generations? Why dig through cookbooks searching for another recipe to test?
Food writers search for inventiveness and originality, but often it’s the simpler recipes that make the lasting impressions. It’s not necessarily how great a particular dish is but the memory associated with it that resonates most.
Will I be remembered for my Frogmore Stew 10, 20, or 100 years from now? I’ll leave that for the beachgoers to decide. I’ve written down the recipe and shared it just in case…
What’s your favorite recipe to repeat?
Thank you, Susan! I appreciate all the guest columnists who have stepped in this month while I’m finishing up a new book.
Susan Puckett is the former food editor of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and author of Eat Drink Delta, and has authored or co-authored many other books. She recently collaborated with food blogger Suzy Karadsheh on The Mediterranean Dish Cookbook. You can learn more about her, here.
May I suggest Green Goddess Dressing on a salad to serve alongside? (Thank you, Kathleen, for that recipe that still has everyone talking!) And Atlantic Beach Pie or Texas Sheet Cake seem to suit the convivial beach tone of Susan’s Frogmore Stew if you’re looking for dessert. Susan was nice enough to share a salad she makes with leftovers from the shrimp boil, too.
I do wonder when we cook on repeat, is it a recipe we crave or one others ask for? Or do we repeat because a recipe is made so many times it becomes second nature?
Like those Morning Glory Muffins I shared recently. My sister Susan’s been baking them in Nantucket for visiting houseguests. She preps the batter the day before, stashes it in the fridge, then bakes off fresh muffins the next morning.
This Thursday for paid subscribers, before summer ends, I’m focusing on my pantry and three favorite recipes that start with just a can of tuna. Not as elegant as Frogmore Stew, but in the same summer vein, and tuna’s always in my pantry!
Hope you have a good week!
- xo, Anne
Susan’s Frogmore Stew
To come up with this keeper of a recipe, I scanned a few recipes online, set an extra roll of paper towels on the table and, with Ralph’s help shucking the corn and tossing a salad, our feast was ready in under an hour. It was by far the most hassle-free family beach meal I’d ever produced, and I probably scored more sister-in-law points that night than any other. The leftover shrimp were great cold the next day, and the excess ingredients easily transformed into a potato salad for burger night.
Makes 10 to 12 servings
6 quarts water
2 12-ounce bottles of cheap beer
2 lemons, quartered
3 bay leaves (optional)
3 tablespoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons whole black peppercorns (optional)
½ to ¾ cup Old Bay seasoning or other seafood seasoning, plus more if desired
2 pounds small (about 1 ½ inches in diameter) red, white, or gold new potatoes, scrubbed (or cut in half or quartered if large)
2 sweet onions, peeled and quartered
2 pounds kielbasa, andouille, or other smoked sausage, cut in 3-inch pieces
8 ears corn, shucked and broken in halves or thirds
4 pounds large or jumbo shrimp, unpeeled
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, melted, for serving
Lemon wedges, cocktail sauce, and hot sauce, for serving
1. Fill a 12-quart stockpot with water and beer (or two 6-quart pots with 3 quarts each, and divide remaining ingredients between them).
2. Add lemons, bay leaves, salt, peppercorns, and ½ cup Old Bay seasoning (or more if your crowd likes lots of spice); cover and bring to a rolling boil. Add the potatoes, return water to a boil, and cook for 7 minutes.
3. Add the onions and sausage, return the water to a boil, and cook 5 minutes longer.
4. Add the corn, return the water to a boil, and cook about 5 more minutes, until the corn and potatoes are tender when pierced with a knife.
5. Add the shrimp, give it a stir, and cook about 3 minutes or until the shrimp turn pink.
6. Drain in a colander. If desired, return the stew to the pot and toss with melted butter, or serve the butter separately in small bowls or ramekins at the table.
7. Dump the stew onto a newspaper-lined table or large platters, or serve from large bowls directly from the pot, dust with extra Old Bay if desired, and serve with lemon wedges, cocktail sauce, and hot sauce.
Susan’s Potato, Corn, and Tomato Salad with Herbs
Here’s a twist on potato salad born in a beach house, where kitchen tools and groceries were limited to the bare basics. Rather than the usual mayonnaise-y dressing, this one is supplemented with colorful summery offerings and tossed in a super-simple vinaigrette. The only seasonings are salt, pepper, a garlic clove, and a handful of fresh herbs — in this case, cilantro, because that was all that was available. This recipe is highly open to modification as needed. Fresh, light, and energizing, it pairs perfectly with a burger, grilled fish, or your protein of choice — on vacation or back at home, all summer long.
Makes 6 to 8 servings
1 pound small or baby red potatoes, scrubbed
4 to 5 medium ears corn, shucked
1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
1 bunch green onions, trimmed and thinly sliced
½ cup coarsely chopped cilantro leaves (or basil or parsley)
¼ cup olive oil
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 clove garlic, minced (optional)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1. Place the potatoes in a large pot, cover with salted water, and bring to a boil over high heat. Cook for 15 minutes, or until tender when pricked with a fork, but not mushy.
2. Remove the potatoes to a paper towel-lined to a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking.
3. Add the corn to the same pot and continue boiling for 5-7 minutes, until tender but not soft.
4. Remove the potatoes to a dish cloth or paper towel-lined plate to drain; add the cooked corn to the ice water.
5. Cut the potatoes in half or in quarters depending on size, and place in a large bowl. When the corn has cooled, slice off the kernels with a sharp knife. Add the kernels to the bowl.
6. Add the halved tomatoes, green onions, and cilantro. In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, vinegar, garlic (if using), 1 teaspoon salt and several grindings of black pepper. Pour over the vegetables, toss gently, and adjust seasonings to taste.