A native son shares the secrets
to South Carolina’s signature seafood boil
When the weather’s nice around the holidays in Charleston, South Carolina, Jeremiah Bacon can quickly get on board with moving the Thanksgiving feast outside and swapping the traditional turkey and sides for an oyster roast and steaming heap of frogmore stew. Despite its name, frogmore stew contains no frogs, nor is it a stew; rather, it’s a seafood boil with roots in Gullah cooking. Recipes vary by cook, but the basics tend to be this: Fresh shrimp, sausage, corn, potatoes, and onions take a swim in water laced with Old Bay. When everything’s cooked, the pot is drained and the good stuff is served, preferably outside on newspaper but always in a welcoming pile with lots of napkins nearby. While measurements don’t have to be perfect, there is one non-negotiable rule: local and fresh ingredients only.
For Bacon, who grew up shrimping, fishing, and crabbing just outside of Charleston on Johns Island, the recipe is ripe for interpretation. He turns to his classic culinary training to elevate the boil just enough to ensure the ingredients really shine. The chef has always had a deep connection to the water—and a real respect for its bounty—so his frogmore stew is bound to take advantage of whatever’s in season, be it shrimp, crabs, or clams. “I’m not a stickler,” he says. Of course, there’s also corn, and potatoes have their place, but he prefers the small, creamy varieties—cut potatoes will be waterlogged by the time they’re served, he says. He opts for shallots over onions (“they’re milder, and have a nice sweetness to them”). And when it comes to seasoning the boil beyond Old Bay, he garners inspiration from a court bouillon, adding in celery, garlic, bay leaves, whole black peppercorns, and lemon juice. Before digging in, he sets out an assortment of accoutrements: melted butter, cocktail sauce, lemon juice, salt, and, for the corn and potatoes, espelette. The Spanish chile powder offers a little color, sweetness, and mild heat. It’s an ingredient he came to love while working under Eric Rupert at New York’s famed Le Bernardin—during the only period he found himself away from home. Sure, it may not be how his mom made it, but that’s the beauty of the boil.