If all you know of Southern food are barbecued ribs, fried chicken, black-eyed peas, collard greens and grits, you aren’t seeing the whole picture. These are certainly delicious mainstays of Southern cuisine, but they’re hardly indicative of the rich depth and diversity of Southern food.
One tradition that’s enjoying a burgeoning appreciation outside of its regional birthplace is the seafood boil. And before we hear New Englanders grumble about clam bakes and clam boils, know that a Southern, and specifically Louisiana, seafood boil is a whole other delectable beast of its own. It can include crawfish, lobster, crabs and shrimp—both fresh and saltwater types along with corn, potatoes and a lot of spices.
Making your own seafood boil is a kind of inexact science. Seafood boils reflect their creators’ tastes and the contents of nearby waters. That said, some practical advice can help take yours from good to great. We turned to The Boil’s executive chef and co-owner Mike Khuu. He’s been teaching the Tristate area about real Cajun seafood boils for a few years now, and he was kind enough to share his tricks of the trade:
Even if you live nowhere near the Bayou, there’s no need to sink money into seafood from far away; boils are all about enjoying what’s around you. Chef Khuu advises taking advantage of local seafood. “The flavor and juiciness that you get with local proteins takes any dish to the next level,” he says.
Don’t Forget Your Vegetables
“A flavorful broth is the key here” says the chef. And the way to make sure your broth is on point? “Be sure to add plenty of onions, garlic, artichoke mushrooms, okra, broccoli, corn, potatoes, string beans leeks or whatever you have on hand,” he says. “The more vegetables, the better for a delicious depth of flavor.”
Spice Things Up
Sure, there’s the classic combo of lemon and butter. But “don’t skimp on the spices,” Khuu warns. “Combine cayenne, ginger, onion, garlic, celery seeds, salt and paprika to achieve a signature Cajun kick.”
Share the Love
Khuu believes that community is at the heart of a great seafood boil. “Beyond the recipe, it provides an opportunity to gather, much like the barbecues of the Northeast,” he says. The point of all this food and preparation isn’t to make a feast for just a few, so invite your whole Close Friends list and share your sweet, salty and succulent bounty.