Shrimp Low Country Boil Recipe
This Southeastern favorite has several names: Lowcountry boil, tidewater boil, Beaufort stew, and Frogmore Stew. Though I recommend you never refer to it as Frogmore Stew in front of your kids – most children will be freaked out thinking that it contains frogs, and a few will be disappointed that it doesn’t. This shrimp boil is milder than its Creole and Cajun cousins, which typically contain crawfish, far more seasoning, hot sauce and prodigious amounts of cayenne pepper. This recipe is milder and more kid friendly (for children who haven’t been raised on Tabasco sauce). To make this dish more budget friendly, I add chicken thighs to provide protein and reduce the proportion of shrimp so it’s a highlight, not a main ingredient.
A traditional Low Country boil is generally designed to feed a large crowd, requires a large pot, a propane tank, copious amounts of shrimp, sausage, corn, potatoes, seasoning and beer and an attentive cook with a timer (who must first boil the potatoes, then wait a certain number of minutes to add the sausage, then the corn, and lastly the shrimp). Its delicious, but shrimp is expensive, it requires set up and clean up time, the cook has to spend their time monitoring the pot and the clock, instead of spending it with family and friends, and if they get distracted or miscalculate, the meal could be ruined. My version is designed for a family size meal, to fit in a 6 quart electric pressure cooker, it can be prepared virtually on a whim, the pot doesn’t need to be monitored while it cooks, and all but one of the ingredients are pressure cooked at the same time, then you toss the shrimp into the broth to let the residual heat cook it. The chicken and potatoes are tender and pleasantly flavored by the whole spices, pressure cooking does wonderful things to enhance the flavor of the sausages and the corn has been steamed and is piping hot. And by adding chicken thighs to the boil, and reducing the amount of shrimp, you have plenty of protein to make the meat and potato lovers in the family happy – its protein that gives that satisfied, full feeling – without breaking the dinner budget.
Ingredient Substitutions. Chicken: Don’t substitute white meat (breast meat) for the chicken thighs. Chicken breast has less fat and flavor, its flavor is too mild for the spices in the boil, and it can more easily overcook under pressure. You can also use whole chicken legs, but keep the drumsticks attached to the thighs during pressure cooking (otherwise they might overcook) and separate the leg pieces after cooking. If you want to use boneless thighs reduce the cooking time under pressure by a minute. Sausage: Smoked Andouille sausage is traditional for this dish, but you can substitute most other kinds of smoked or spicy sausage, and if you have younger children, you may want to substitute in a few large sweet Italian sausages (not the small, breakfast size sausages, but large, fat links) for the kids. Potatoes: I recommend waxy potatoes – red (new) potatoes, Yukon Golds or fingerlings – for this recipe. Russet potatoes will not hold their shape and remain intact as readily. Shrimp: Shrimp with shells have more flavor, but you can use peeled shrimp. You can also use cooked shrimp: instead of poaching it, put it on top of the other cooked ingredients so their heat will warm up the shrimp. Use whatever size shrimp you can get on sale for a good price: since you are sautéing them or poaching them in the cooking liquid after pressure cooking, you can more readily pull them off the heat as soon as they are done. You could also used canned cooked shrimp, in a pinch, but I’d recommend rinsing it well before using it to remove excess salt and any off flavors from the canning process. Boil Seasoning: This recipe is designed to use Zatarain’s Crawfish, Shrimp and Crab Boil Seasoning, which primarily uses whole spices. If you want to use Old Bay Seasoning instead, its spices are ground, and that’ll change the amounts to be used.
Pressure Cooking Lesson: Importance of Layering and Food Size. When cooking on the stove, you can add food in stages to accommodate cooking times, stir the pot frequently to prevent food from sticking to the bottom of the pot, and the food is naturally circulated throughout by the bubbling and churning of the cooking liquid. None of these things are possible when pressure cooking. We imagine pressure cooking food churning around in the pot as it undergoes a vigorous boil. In fact, food cooked under pressure experiences remarkably little agitation: highly pressurized steam forms at the top of the pot (this is why you should not exceed the fill line), which then presses down on the cooking liquid, increasing its surface tension, and holding the food in place.
When pressure cooking, you’ll often find that your ingredients have very different cooking requirements. Even the smallest whole potatoes take about 15 minutes under pressure, chicken thighs need 6 minutes, sausage and corn take just a couple of minutes, and shrimp, depending on the size, can tolerate even less. When pressure cooking, its not practical to either cook all the ingredients separately or to keep depressurizing and re-pressurizing your machine to add ingredients one by one. Instead, to compensate for differences in cooking time, cut the potatoes into smaller pieces (increasing the surface area of the potatoes increases the speed at which they cook, reducing the cooking time). Rather than cutting the sausage and corn into smaller pieces, as is traditional, pressure cook them whole to help prevent them from overcooking.
Then instead of mixing the ingredients together, layer them so that those that can take the most heat are on the bottom of the pressure cooker, where temperatures will be higher and more prolonged (because of proximity to the heating element) and the most delicate go at the top, farthest away from the source of heat. The chicken thighs are layered on the very bottom, then the potato chunks, the sausages and then the ears of corn. Shrimp, the most delicate ingredient of all, which can become tough if overcooked, is either pan sautéed over medium low heat, or poached in the hot broth after pressure is released.
Gluten Free Version of the Shrimp Boil. The Zatarain’s boil seasoning, corn, potatoes, chicken and shrimp are all naturally gluten free, so as long as they don’t have some kind of sauce on them, you shouldn’t have a problem with most of the ingredients. Here’s a wonderful link to a list of Unsafe Ingredients for Gluten Free Diet where you can double check the packaging. The problem is likely to be the sausage, but here is a great article regarding Gluten Free Sausages to help you find a GF brand available locally. If your family is avoiding gluten voluntarily, sausages without gluten should suffice; if you are cooking for someone with celiac disease or gluten sensitivities, it might be safer to choose a brand that tests for the presence of gluten and/or produces the sausages in a GF environment to avoid cross contamination.
GMO Free Version of the Shrimp Boil. If you want to avoid genetically modified food, buy organic. Organic chicken is readily available and you can purchase organic shrimp, Bristol Farms sells organic potatoes (check your local farmer’s market as well), its corn that will be hard to get. If you prefer, you can substitute small, whole organic zucchini or yellow summer squash for the corn. If you’re on a tight budget and need to prioritize your organic purchases, I’d recommend the corn and potatoes as your top priorities. Corn always tops every list of the genetically modified foods to avoid, and although potatoes aren’t yet genetically modified, they always make the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen List (for produce with the most pesticides), so they’re worth buying organic if you can as well.
Shrimp: Its difficult to get much of a bargain on shrimp, but your best bet is to purchase them during the peak season. Here’s a chart of Shrimp Seasonality in the Gulf Coast States so you can know when to check for the best prices. Don’t be prejudiced in favor of “fresh” shrimp instead of frozen: in most cases, the “fresh” shrimp was frozen on the shrimp boat and has been defrosted by your butcher. You might as well purchase the frozen shrimp and store it in your freezer until you’re ready to cook it. I just purchased several 2 pound bags of frozen 41/50 shrimp this week (09/20/14) from Smart & Final for $15.00 – that’s less than the sale price of steak this week.
Smoked Andouille Sausage: I’m not aware when’s the best time to purchase smoked Andouille sausage (perhaps around Mardi Gras), so all I can advise is checking your sales circulars each week. And remember that all the meats in this recipe can be frozen. Buy the sausage in advance, freeze it, and wait for corn and shrimp season. The USDA says sausage will last several months in the freezer (although smoked sausage actually may last even longer) so use the expiration date on the package as a guideline – properly packaged frozen sausage should last even longer without loss of quality.
Shrimp Boil Seasoning: Shop smart, and if you’re willing to buy in bulk, you may be able to save on the seasoning. A single 3 ounce package in my local grocery store was ridiculously priced, whereas I got a 12 pack of the 3 ounce boxes of Zatarain’s Shrimp and Crab Boil Seasoning for far less per package than my store wanted for them (there’s also a 6 pack of Zatarain’s Seasoning if you’d prefer a smaller amount).
I’ve already written about this elsewhere on this site, so for tips on getting the best price on chicken and corn, see my Chicken Shopping Tips and Corn Buying Tips.
6 – 8 chicken thighs or 3 – 4 whole chicken legs
2 pounds waxy potatoes (red, Yukon Gold or fingerling)
4 smoked Andouille sausages
2 – 4 ears of sweet corn
8 ounces shrimp (“fresh” or frozen) (raw or cooked)
7 teaspoons Crawfish, Shrimp and Crab Boil Seasoning
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
½ teaspoon coarsely ground pepper
2 – 3 tablespoons beer or white wine (optional)
1 – 2 tablespoons butter (optional)
2 dried bay leaves
Electric Pressure Cooker
12″ Silicone Tipped Tongs
6 inch chef’s knife
10 – 12″ skillet (optional)
- Open the 3 ounce package of shrimp and crab boil seasoning, stir the contents and divide it in quarters (2 level tablespoons and 1 level teaspoon each). I put the quarters I won’t be using in small glass jars for future use.
- Wash the whole potatoes thoroughly then cut them into approximately 1 ounce pieces (this is approximate, mini potatoes can be cut in half, small potatoes in quarters, medium (6 – 7 ounce) potatoes into thirds and then halved again, and so on). If you want to brown the chicken before pressure cooking, cover the potato chunks with cold water and refrigerate until you’re ready to prepare the boil.
- Remove the skin from the chicken thighs (if you are doing whole chicken legs, use a paper towel to grasp the chicken skin on the thigh and pull it down over the drumstick). Pull off the skin by hand. Using your boning knife, either scrape or cut the excess fat on both sides of the chicken thighs.
- Optional: If desired, you can improve the flavor and appearance of the chicken by browning it. Divide the chicken in two batches. For each batch, sprinkle a little of the salt and pepper on both sides. Heat your pressure cooker pot, lid off, on “Browning” setting, or heat a skillet over high heat on the stove. Add a tablespoon of butter and one batch of chicken, turning frequently, until browned. Repeat with the second batch. You’re not aiming to fully cook the chicken, merely to add a little color to the chicken. Once all the pieces have been browned, turn off the machine.
- Add the spices, coarse kosher salt and coarsely ground pepper to the pressure cooker pot. Add two tablespoons of lemon juice and (optional) several tablespoons of beer or white wine.
- Layer the chicken pieces in the bottom of the pressure cooker, filling the available space as much as possible, even if it means squeezing the pieces in. (Browning will shrink the meat and make this easier.) If you browned the meat in a skillet, add the butter and chicken drippings to the pressure cooker, too. If necessary, add chicken in a second layer. If you have a younger child who is sensitive to spice, you may want to reserve a piece or two of chicken and some potato chunks to be added at the top (away from the spices). Add 1 cup of cold water.
- Layer the potato chunks in the pressure cooker, adjusting the placement of the pieces to fill any open gaps left by the chicken, and trying to keep the potato in a single layer as much as possible.
- Shuck the corn, remove the silks (use a Corn De-Silking Brush if needed), cut off the stem and trim the tip so they fit in the pressure cooker. Use a fork to prick multiple holes in the sausages to help prevent splitting. Layer the whole sweet corn and sausages into the pressure cooker, making sure you don’t exceed the maximum fill line. Add any reserved chicken and potato chunks to the top. Place the two dried bay leaves on top. Lock the pressure cooker lid and pressure cook at HIGH PRESSURE (10 PSI) for 4 minutes. If you are using frozen chicken, sausages or corn, pressure cook for an additional minute.
- Optional: If you wish to speed things up, while the boil is pressure cooking, sauté the shrimp and 1 tablespoon of butter in the same skillet the chicken was browned in over medium low heat. Even frozen shrimp will quickly defrost and cook, so don’t step away from the pan. Monitor the shrimp constantly, flipping it over frequently, and remove shrimp from the pan once both sides change to a pinkish color. If you like, use several tablespoons of butter and the shrimp juices make a delicious sauce you can dribble over the top of the shrimp boil.
- Once the timer goes off, set your kitchen timer for 8 minutes. You will use NATURAL PRESSURE RELEASE for 8 minutes then release the remainder of the pressure with QUICK PRESSURE RELEASE. If you have pre-cooked the shrimp, turn off the “keep warm” function. When the pressure has released, unlock the lid, holding it at an angle over the pot to allow any hot water to fall back into the pot. Discard the bay leaves. Remove the corn, sausages, potato chunks and chicken pieces. The corn is very hot and will continue to cook, so if you won’t be eating right away, I recommend submerging the corn in cold water for a few minutes to keep it from overcooking. If you’ll be eating shortly, plate up the ingredients.
- If you have pre-cooked shrimp, you can just sprinkle it across the hot food and let the residual heat warm it up. If your shrimp is uncooked, after you remove the other ingredients from the pot, add the shrimp to the hot broth, flipping frequently, to allow the residual heat to gently poach the shrimp. Once both sides of each shrimp have turned a beautiful pink shade, remove it from the cooking liquid and place on top of the other ingredients. Turn the machine off if you have not already done so.
- If you wish, you can cut up the corn and sausages, or serve them whole. Plate up the food, season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve with your choice of melted butter, cocktail sauce, hot sauce or remoulade. If you find the chicken, potatoes or sausage a little too spicy for your kids’ tastes, allow them to cool (heat intensifies many spices, cold does the opposite) and serve with glasses of milk.
CHICKEN TIP: In some applications, I leave the chicken skin on, but this is not one of them. There’s no point in getting the skin brown and crisp, because once you pressure cook the chicken parts, the skin will soften and turn rubbery again, so its best to leave the skin off entirely. But save the chicken skins in the freezer until you have enough to render it as part of stock: the rendered chicken fat makes great French fries, fried chicken, and the most delicious, crispiest chicken fried steak you’ve ever made.
TIME SAVING TIP: To make meal preparation faster, the chicken can be browned in advance and then either kept in the refrigerator for up to three days or even frozen. You can put the frozen chicken parts straight in the pressure cooker – no need to defrost them – just add a minute to the cooking time under pressure.
PRESSURE COOKING TIP: Lorna Sass recommends allowing pressure cooked meat, except ground meat, to depressurize naturally: abrupt changes in pressure can cause the long proteins, which have untangled and “relaxed” during cooking, to contract and tangle up again, causing the meat to toughen up. Unfortunately, if you allowed the pressure cooker to depressurize all the way, some of your other ingredients might overcook in the process. This is a compromise technique: you reduce the cooking time under pressure, allow some of the cooking to occur during natural depressurization, then release the remaining pressure when the change won’t be so dramatic and is less likely to cause the meat fibers to toughen up.
- 6 – 8 chicken thighs or 3 – 4 whole chicken legs
- 2 pounds waxy potatoes (red, Yukon Gold or fingerling)
- 4 smoked Andouille sausages
- 2 - 4 ears of sweet corn
- 8 ounces shrimp ("fresh" or frozen) (raw or cooked) (tail on or off)
- 7 teaspoons Crawfish, Shrimp and Crab Boil Seasoning
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon coarsely ground pepper
- 2 – 3 tablespoons beer or white wine (optional)
- 1 – 2 tablespoons butter (optional)
- 2 dried bay leaves
- Stir to mix the shrimp boil seasoning and measure out 2 level tablespoons plus 1 level teaspoon. (There will be enough seasoning left for 3 more batches.)
- Clean the whole potatoes and then cut them into approximately 1 ounce pieces (mini potatoes are halved, small ones are cut in quarters, 6 – 7 ounce potatoes are cut in thirds and then halved again, and so on). Submerge the potato pieces in cold water until you are ready to pressure cook them.
- Remove the skin and excess fat from the chicken pieces.
- Optional: Season the chicken thighs with salt and pepper and brown them in either a large skillet or your pressure cooker. Set your pressure cooker, with the lid off, to the "Browning" setting, add 1 tablespoon of butter, and half of the chicken parts. Once you get a nice color on the surface, remove and reserve those pieces and brown the second half. Once all the chicken has been browned, turn off the machine.
- Add the shrimp boil seasoning, coarse kosher salt, coarsely ground pepper and lemon juice to the pressure cooker pot. Optional: add two or three tablespoons of beer or white wine to the pot.
- Layer the chicken in the bottom of the pot, squeezing the pieces in if need be, to try to get them in a single row if possible. Add any drippings if you browned the thighs in a skillet. Add 1 cup of water. If any member of the family is sensitive to spice, reserve a piece or two of chicken and some potatoes to add to the top of the pot (where they won't come into contact with the spices as much).
- Add the potatoes to the pot, tucking them into any spaces created by the chicken, adjusting them to fit as much of the potatoes into a single layer.
- Prick the sausages with a fork repeatedly to reduce the chances of splitting. Shuck the corn, remove the silks, cut off the stalk and trim the tip if needed to fit the corn into the pressure cooker. Layer the sweet corn and sausages into the machine, and then any chicken and potatoes reserved earlier, making sure not to exceed the fill line (if need be, remove the corn, pressure cook the rest of the ingredients first, then pressure cook the corn separately 3 minutes with the boil broth). Add the bay leaves, lock the lid and pressure cook at HIGH PRESSURE (10 PSI) for 4 minutes. If you are using any frozen ingredients (other than the shrimp) add 1 minute to the cooking time under pressure.
- Optional. To speed things up, you can sauté the shrimp over medium low heat, turning frequently, in the same skillet you browned the chicken in. As soon as the shrimp are cooked, remove them from the skillet.
- When the timer goes off, set your kitchen timer for 8 minutes. You will use NATURAL PRESSURE RELEASE for 8 minutes, and then use QUICK PRESSURE RELEASE to release the remainder of the pressure. If your shrimp is already cooked, turn off the "Keep Warm" function. When pressure finishes releasing, unlock the lid, discard the bay leaves, and remove the food. If there is going to be any delay in eating, place the corn in cold water to prevent overcooking.
- If your shrimp is cooked, place it on top of the rest of the ingredients and let the heat of the food warm it up. If your shrimp is raw, place it in the boil broth, turning frequently, until the hot broth poaches the shrimp. Remove the shrimp as soon as its cooked. Turn your machine off.
- You can cut up the corn and sausages now, or serve them whole. Season the food with additional salt and pepper to taste, and serve with your choice of cocktail sauce (ketchup might be better for smaller children), melted butter, hot sauce or Remoulade.