Tabasco Q Shrimp with Grits and Slaw

Menu Mix: The lowdown on Lowcountry food

The motto for the foodways of the Lowcountry could be “eating from the land and sea.” With strong influence from West Africa, this region has been called the cradle of Southern cuisine.

The lowcountry stretches from Wilmington, N.C., to Jacksonville, Fla., and is home to the well-known Lowcountry shrimp boil and the not-so-well-known cuisine of the Gullah Geechee.

Seasonal and specific to the coastal climate, Gullah cuisine is the traditional cooking of direct descendants of enslaved Africans.

With shrimp, crabs, clams and oysters readily available, Lowcountry food has long been associated with seafood. From the land, indigenous vegetables like okra, corn and lima beans, plus important crops like rice, have all shaped this way
of eating.


Photo: Thinkstock

Shrimp Boil 101


SHRIMP-TASTIC: Lowcountry shrimp can take many forms, including a fancy plate of shrimp and grits. Photo: Tabasco

A Lowcountry shrimp boil is a great way for students to get to know each other.

“The Lowcountry boil is all about family, friends and traditions in a rustic, casual setting,” says Scott Barrineau, area marketing coordinator at the University of South Carolina in Columbia.


Shrimp can also take the form of a fun, casual shrimp boil, like they have at the University of South Carolina. Photo: Sodexo

Tom Gilbert, executive chef with Sodexo at USC, says must-haves include sustainable shrimp, local corn, potatoes, Old Bay seasoning, newspapers, large cauldrons, house-smoked andouille sausage, charcoal grills and not much more. It’s meant to be simple, and that’s part of a shrimp boil’s beauty.

“Prep work is really pretty simple,” Gilbert says.

Cocktail sauce that’s heavy on horseradish and a lot of lemons is just about the only thing needed to add extra jolts of flavor to the boil before digging in.

The dining team then piles a lot more Southern hospitality onto plates in the form of boiled peanuts, jalapeño corn muffins, pecan pie, peach cobbler with ice cream and banana pudding.

Plates by the Gullah Chef

Chef BJ Dennis is a Charleston caterer and Gullah Geechee foodways advocate. He’s known as the Gullah Chef, and he creates menus that pay tribute to Gullah cooks from generations past with dishes like smoked oysters with pepper-vinegar sauce; shrimp, greens and rice; and Senegal-style fish or goat curry.

Here are three of his latest creations:


Photo: Vezznani Photography/Thinkstock

Okra Soup: This soup has roots in Africa. Dennis made this for a recent food event in New Orleans.


Photo: Gumbo

Coconut rice croquettes with green tomato jam: This shareable small plate is something you don’t see every day; perfect for adding an unexpected touch of the Lowcountry to your next catered event or dinner.


Photo: Vezznani Photography/Thinkstock

Crab and okra purloo: A cousin to pilaf, pilau and just about every rice dish around the world, purloo is the Lowcountry version that uses gold rice and whatever vegetables and meat looks best. In this case, it’s okra and crabmeat.

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