Shrimp season is underway, and what better way to celebrate than with a big pot of Frogmore Stew?
Frogmore used to be a small town on St. Helena Island near Beaufort, South Carolina, though the Post Office officially abandoned the name in the 1980s. (The name itself is likely derived from Frogmore Estate, a 33-acre plot of private gardens adjoining Windsor Castle in England.) The name lives on today as the classic Lowcountry South Carolina dish.
Richard Gay of the Gay Seafood Company claims to have invented Frogmore Stew back in the 1960s, putting out copies of the recipe at his seafood market and selling all the necessary ingredients. For all I know, he may be telling the truth.
Why it's called a stew I have no idea. It's nothing like Brunswick Stew, another Southern delicacy, which is, indeed, very stewy. The alternate name for Frogmore Stew, "Lowcountry Boil", is much more descriptive, since there's no liquid or sauce left once you've finished cooking the "stew". But, doesn't "Frogmore Stew" have a much nicer ring to it?
And, no, there are no frogs involved.
Everyone has a little bit different recipe for Frogmore Stew, but I prefer to keep it simple: just sausage, corn, and shrimp. The version I cooked up a the beach last weekend went something like this:
3 lbs. shrimp, unshelled
1 lb. smoked beef sausage, sliced into 1-inch pieces
6 ears of sweet corn, husked and cut into thirds
1 Tbsp Old Bay seasoning (don't overdo it here)
The cooking is simple: bring about a gallon and a half of water to a boil and get your kitchen timer ready. Add the sausage and Old Bay seasoning and boil for 5 minutes. Then, add the sweet corn and boil another 5 minutes. Then, add the shrimp and boil 3 more minutes. Drain, put in a big bowl, and serve with cocktail sauce and good crusty bread.
Some recipes call for adding potatoes, but I prefer to boil those separately and toss with a little butter and dill before serving--no need to spice up the potatoes with the Old Bay seasoning.
Of course, some have gotten seduced away from the simplest form of the dish. The Lee Brothers' recipe for Frogmore Stew, for example, is a gussied up version involving onions, crab, Yukon Gold potatoes, plum tomatoes, andouille sausage, serrano chiles and a bunch of other stuff we can hardly spell down here in the Lowcountry. I'm sure it's pretty good, but I'm not sure good fresh, local shrimp needs such adornment.
Boil it up, serve it in a big bowl, and go ahead and put a roll of paper towels right on the table. Your guests will thank you for it.