& How Living in Charleston, South Carolina Transformed My Approach to Food
Life in Charleston, South Carolina
Charleston, South Carolina, not only nurtured my love for cooking but also elevated it from a passion to a profession. Residing in the Lowcountry fundamentally altered my outlook on food. It deepened my understanding of its origin, its impact on my well-being, and the profound sense of community and relationships it can have. A Lowcountry boil embodies the spirit of both the people and the environment itself.
I grew up in a suburb of Washington DC in the 80’s and 90’s in a household where canned and frozen foods were standard. We always had apples, oranges, carrots, and celery. Browned bananas would collect in the freezer, but I was not aware produce had seasons. Big grocery store chains carried everything throughout the year, and I was a kid, so why would I know any difference?
There was a disconnect between farms, fishermen, and my finished plate.
Moving to Charleston opened my eyes to what food could represent. I wanted to embody the spirit of Southern hospitality – the warmth, the kindness, the openness, especially at my kitchen table. The access to incredible locally grown produce and freshly caught seafood taught me about sustainable and seasonal fresh ingredients that I have carried with me while traveling and living abroad.
The Lowcountry's Bountiful Produce
From juicy peaches to gooey okra, the freshness of these ingredients became an integral part of both the Charleston culinary scene and my cooking. Seasonal fruits and vegetables have long been incorporated into Southern cooking, but there were major initiatives to bridge the gap between farm and table with projects like Coastal Conservation Leagues GrowFood Carolina.
South Carolina's Fresh Seafood
Charleston’s coastal charm provides an abundance of freshly caught seafood – shrimp, crab, oysters, and fish sourced directly from the Atlantic.
Each type of seafood contributes to the richness of traditional Southern recipes like the shrimp traditionally found in a Lowcountry boil, winter oyster roasts, and she-crab soup.
Best Seasons for your Lowcountry Boil
There are two seasons for shrimp in Charleston, June- August and September- December making this an excellent time for an outdoor festive gathering. Everything in one pot makes collective eating that much easier and when its ready to serve, simply line the table with newspaper to help absorb the juices and there is your cleanup as well. No dishes, no cutlery.
How to Host a Lowcountry Boil
Mastering the art of hosting a Lowcountry Boil gathering is about creating the right ambiance, fostering a communal atmosphere, and ensuring everyone enjoys the experience.
Many of my friends and family still live in Charleston and one of my favorite meals when I return is the Lowcountry Boil. It is undemanding, forgiving, and a no-fuss feast with a communal vibe so we can focus on what is important, which are the friends and memories made around the table.
Check out these additional crowd-pleaser recipes.
The Gullah-Geechee Influence on Southern Cuisine.
The Gullah Geechee people are descendants of the West and Central Africans who were enslaved in coastal plantations around the Carolinas and Georgia. Due to the remote island systems and winding intercoastal waterways of the Lowcountry, these populations were uniquely able to hold onto African traditions and shape much of what we call “Southern cuisine” today.
Thriving on local resources, the Gullah Geechie diet included seafood, game, fruits, vegetables, rice, and spices. The Lowcountry boil is rooted in this culture and showcases regionally grown and harvested elements like shrimp, sausage, corn, and potatoes.
Memorable Moments Beyond the Kitchen
If cooking isn’t what you’re in the mood for head to Bowens Island Restaurant. They offer a tasty Lowcountry boil and one of my favorite spots in Charleston. The marsh views are great, the atmosphere is casual, the beer is cold, and the food is good.
I invite you to share your own experiences with Southern cuisine or the Lowcountry Boil. Whether you have questions, favorite recipes, or anecdotes to share, reach out and comment below.
- 1 Stock pot or Dutch Oven
- 1 Pairing Knife
- 1 Large Spoon
- 1 cutting board
- 1 chefs knife
- 1 Steamer basket or Colander
- 1 lb. Shrimp
- 4 Whole Ears of Corn
- 12 Small Red-skinned Potatoes
- 1 lb Hot Smoked Andouille Sausague
- 1 Yellow Onion
- 3.5 liters water
- 2 whole Bay Leaves
- 2 tbsp Salt
- 3 tbsp Old Bay Seasoning
- 1 tsp White Pepper
- 1 whole Cayane or Calabrian Chili
- 1 Lemon
- cocktail sauce (prepared or homemade)
Clean & Devein Shrimp Keeping Shells On
- Rinse Shrimp under cold water
- Using pairing to cut a small slit down the back through the shell and along the vein line.
- Lift out the black vein with the tip of the knife.
Prep Veg and Sausage
- Peel husks and threads of corn. Cut corn in half or thirds if large.
- Wash potatoes.
- Cut sausage in 3/4" coins.
- Peel and quarter onion.
- Cut lemon into wedges for garnish when serving.
Make the Lowcountry Boil
- Bring pot with water, salt, old bay, bay leaf, onion, chili, and white pepper to a boil.
- Add whole potatoes, cover, and boil for 12 minutes.
- Add sausage to pot and boil for 6 minutes
- Add corn to pot and boil for 4 minutes.
- Add shrimp and boil until they are pink and float for 2-3minutes.
- Lift the steamer basket or strain the liquid out using a colander.
- Serve immediately with lemon wedges and cocktail sauce.Serving options: put the mixture back in the stock pot or pour it onto a large tray or a newspaper-lined table.