In my household, there’s really only one way to entertain big groups in the summer — get the grill going, or steam up a massive one-pot-meal of seasonal seafood (sometimes both!). As much as I love a good burger, I usually lean towards the latter.
Why? The delicious, epically time saving innovation of built in sides. I don’t have to worry about what I’m serving alongside my hotdogs or steaks, because a seafood boil includes veggies (corn and onion), a starch (potatoes), a meat (sausage), and as much shellfish as your party can eat. All cooked at once, in less than 30 minutes.
It’s so easy, I find myself wishing I could get away with seafood boils in the dead of winter. But perhaps the magic of a big, messy feast of tender shellfish and sweet summer corn is that it’s best enjoyed outdoors, in the lingering sunshine of a long, lazy day.
The only rule to seafood boils is that there aren’t any rules, but here are some of my best tips. When you’re picking shellfish, go for one main event and one supporting player. Lobster is an obvious choice for the hero (I often use lobster tails, as pictured, because they’re generally cheaper and truthfully I hate killing the live ones), but crab can be a showstopper too. Mussels or clams are great for support — the shells are pretty, they’re inexpensive and feed a ton of people.
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Oh, and get a big loaf of crusty bread to dip in the extra broth and butter. You’ll thank me later.
RELATED: 5 Steps to a Simple Seafood Boil
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I like to use a massive steaming pot, like this (very inexpensive) option from Granite Ware, because getting a small amount of liquid to steam up is much less time consuming than getting a full pot to boil, and I prefer the taste of steamed seafood over boiled. If you must boil, make sure your pot is big enough for everything, or else use more than one small pot — overcrowding will make it hard for everything to cook through.
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A set of seafood tools (mallets, picks, crackers, scissors) makes everything easier — a lobster tail is a thing of beauty when you’ve cut off the shell with seafood scissors rather than tearing the thing apart.
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- 1 lobster, lobster tail or large crab per person
- 8 clams or mussels per person
- 1 ear of corn per person cut into thirds
- 6 small, two bite potatoes per person (or one large, cubed)
- 1 small-medium shallot per person, quartered
- 1 tbsp butter, plus additional butter for dipping
- 1 lemon, plus additional lemon for serving
- 6 cloves of garlic, smashed
- 1 pack of sausage of choice (about 12 ounces), such as kielbasa, chorizo, or spicy Italian
- 4 sprigs fresh tarragon
- In the bottom of a large steaming pot, melt the butter over medium high heat and add the garlic, sausage, and shallots. Simmer until fragrant, about two minutes.
- Add two cups water to the pot and squeeze in the lemon (alternate — you can use a bottle of beer instead of the water and lemon if preferred). Bring to a boil, add the potatoes, and cook for 5 minutes.
- Put the corn, lobster (or crab), mussels (or clams), and tarragon into the steamer portion of the pot and place over the boiling base of potatoes, shallots, garlic, and sausage. Cover and let steam for 10-15 minutes, until the mussels/clams have opened and the lobster is bright red.
- Remove from heat and serve dumped onto a large platter or newspaper covered table. Reserve some of the cooking liquid for dipping seafood and bread. Serve with melted butter (optional: add some of the cooking tarragon to the butter dishes) and lemon halves or wedges.
Now, what to drink? Crisp beer and champagne always have a place at my table, but adding a simple cocktail to the mix is truly the icing on the cake. I always cook up my seafood boils with tarragon, because tarragon and shellfish may be my all time favorite flavor pairing, and tarragon almost looks like it comes from the sea.
It also happens to go very well with gin, and so a Tarragon Tonic has become my drink of choice for this particular feast. The secret is to use lots of the herb, so you can be gentle with it, instead of smashing a tiny piece all over your glass and oxidizing the poor thing to smithereens.
- 2 oz Ice cold gin (stored in freezer)
- 5 oz Ice cold tonic water (stored in the coldest part of the refrigerator)
- 3 Sprigs of fresh tarragon
- 1 Squeeze of lime
- Rub the tarragon sprigs gently around the inside and rim of a chilled glass, reserving one for garnish.
- Add the ice cold gin to the glass, then gently pour the tonic water into the gin by titling the glass and pouring it down the side.
- Gently add ice (slide it slowly down the side of the glass) and lime (adding them last keeps the carbonation high and mixes the ingredients best).
- Garnish with tarragon and (optional) peppercorns or juniper berries.