Summer officially kicks off with Memorial Day, and it is the perfect time for outdoor gatherings with big groups of family and friends. I think a shrimp boil makes a nice switch from the classic burgers-and-dogs grill fest. I have a big outdoor table on my patio, and this has become a favorite way to entertain. I simply cover the table with brown paper and scoop the boil ingredients onto it. Everyone gathers around the table, eats with their hands, leaving the shrimp peels and corncobs behind. When we’re all done, I just roll up the paper and take it straight to the garbage. It’s easy, fun and about the least amount of clean-up I’ve ever done after a party.
For an interesting twist, I make my own spice mix for the boil, add beer for an extra hit of flavor and serve a tangy beer sauce for dipping on the table. Don’t bother with a fancy, expensive beer, you’re basic Bud works fine, but serve a good, ice-cold local beer to drink. Corn, sausage and potatoes are the classic ingredients in a shrimp boil, but the last time I did this, I found some gorgeous artichokes and fresh asparagus, which made for a very nice addition. A friend recently clued me in to the idea of adding raw peanuts to the boil to make spiced up boiled peanuts, and I’m definitely going to give that a try. I also put some hot sauce on the table for the spicy folks and a few baguettes from a local baker. Put the beer sauce in shallow bowls spread across the table. Its great for dipping shrimp and potatoes or asparagus or artichokes, or slathering on the corn.
Here are my instructions for a shrimp boil, which easily feeds 12 people:
I use a 22-quart water bath canner on an outdoor burner, but you can use any very large stockpot and a burner on a grill, or do it inside on the stove. You can also divide the ingredients between two stockpots if you don’t have one big enough. I use a frying basket to scoop out the cooked food, but a large metal strainer with a long handle will work (protect your hands with an oven mitt around that hot boiling water). Grill tongs and a large slotted spoon come in handy too. If you happen to have a special shrimp boil pot with a straining basket, lucky you!
Line your outdoor table with brown paper, which you’ll find at a big box store in the mailing supplies section, or several layers of newspaper. Put several rolls of paper towels on the table, accessible to all the dinners. You’ll need lots of paper towels! If you need to do this indoors, scoop your ingredients into big bowls.
1 six pack or 3 (40-ounce) bottles lager beer 1 recipe Shrimp Boil spice (see below)
4 lemons, cut in half
3 heads of garlic, the tops cut off to reveal the cloves
2 pounds of smoked sausage cut into one-inch pieces
4 corn cobs into three pieces each (or thaw frozen corn cob pieces)
2 pounds very small red potatoes
4 artichokes (optional)
4 pounds of fresh, beautiful shrimp with the peels on, but heads removed
1 pound asparagus spears (optional)
3 pounds of beautiful, fresh peel on, head-off shrimp
Pour the beer into the pot, and add enough water to fill the pot halfway – remember you will be adding lots of food to the pot, so don’t fill it up. Stir in the Shrimp Boil Spice, the lemons and garlic heads (and the artichokes if using) and bring to a boil over medium heat. This can take up to 30 minutes, so leave your self plenty of time. If it comes to a boil before you’re ready to cook, just turn it down to a simmer until ready to go.
When the liquid is boiling, drop in the sausage and potatoes and bring back to a boil. Boil for about 5 minutes then add the corn. Boil for another ten minutes, then test a potato to see if it is tender all the way through. When the potatoes are tender drop in the asparagus, if using, then the shrimp and give everything a good stir. Cook just until the shrimp are pink and cooked through, about 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and scoop out all the delicious food onto your table and dig in.
For the Beer Sauce:
1.55 ounce jar ground mustard powder
½ cup beer
3 green onions, white and light green parts, chopped
1 Tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 Tablespoon hot sauce (I like Crystal)
2 cups mayonnaise
Put the mustard and the beer in the carafe of a blender. Blend for a few seconds to combine. Drop in the onion pieces and add the Worcestershire, hot sauce and mayonnaise and blend until completely smooth and combined. Transfer to a bowl, cover and refrigerate for several hours to allow the favors to blend and mellow. This is best made a day ahead, but can be made up to two days ahead.
For the Shrimp Boil Seasoning:
2 tablespoons celery salt
1 tablespoon dry mustard
2 teaspoons ground black pepper
2 teaspoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons sweet paprika
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon ground mace
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
Combine all the ingredients in a jar with a tight fitting lid. Cover the jar and shake until all the spices are blended. This will keep covered in an airtight container for up to a week.