Thursday, June 30, 2011

Sunset Park Shrimp Boil

All images © Valery Rizzo

Laura and Brian live in a one bedroom, railroad apartment, in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. The best thing about the three story, building they live in is the fabulous large communal backyard which all the tenants share. Besides being a singer, songwriter and keyboard player for the indie-pop band Sunset Victim, also of which Brian plays guitar and my husband the drums, Laura is an amazing garden designer and foodie extraordinaire. Originally from Georgia, she has been lucky enough to find many of her friends from her home state also living in Brooklyn so every year her and Brian throw a huge southern style shrimp boil in their yard.

Laura has a friend, also named Laura, also from Georgia, who comes over before hand to help prepare all the food and a very, very large vat of Bloody Mary cocktail. Guests are encouraged to make or bring a dish, or drinks of their own and then Laura cooks up a smorgasbord of amazing food, to accompany the star attraction, the shrimp boil. The spread included deviled eggs, five spiced pecans, pickled wild ramps (which are also wild leeks and picked on the back end of Brian’s parents property in Connecticut), a fennel salad with baby red oak and baby chard with an Agave, Dijon vinaigrette (made and brought by Laura’s friend Liz), New York cheddar cheese grits made with a local dried salemme pepper, a Crudité of radishes, asparagus, celery and sugar snap peas with a blue cheese shallot dip, baked bacon rapped dates (made and brought by her friend Sasha), The shrimp boil which consisted of three different types of jumbo shrimp, wild Beaumont (Texas shrimp), New Caledonia Pacific water wild blue shrimp and a South American shrimp, Andoullie, Andouillette sausage and kielbasa from der Kommissar in Brooklyn, whole heads of organic garlic and cobs of corn, locally grown organic yellow onions and Yukon gold potatoes.

For dessert there was a rhubarb upside-down cake, which Laura adapted from a Martha Stewart recipe. Instead she uses a fairly local Beurremont butter, sour cream from Hudson Valley, organic cane sugar and farm eggs from Eli Hershberger, which she says are bigger and have a marigold colored yolk that just makes all your cakes brighter and more golden. All of these ingredients she finds at the Park Slope Food Coop.

It was a beautiful afternoon of friends and family, laughing, eating, drinking and cooking all with the anticipation of the moment when the boil is done and the interior basket gets hoisted out of the boiling water and dumped into a garden wheel barrel filled with newspapers and then all at once the hungry guests attack.

The recipes below were all written by the very talented Laura Comerford, with the except of the Upside-down Rhubarb cake which I actually made for this post because the cake Laura made at the shrimp boil was gone before I even made my way over to the table. I made it as per Laura's instructions which was made verbatim from a Martha Stewart Living recipe and changed slightly to include more orange zest and organic and local ingredients.

These’ll make a Southerner out of any Yankee!

serving size:  6 generous helpings
prep & cooking time:  40 minutes
bake time:  20-30 minutes
 1 1/2 cups local &/or organic whole milk
1/2 cup local &/or organic cream
2 cups water
1 1/2 tablespoons sweet cream local butter
1 cup stone-ground grits*, NOT INSTANT
1 clove garlic, finely minced
1 bay leaf, or a 4-5 leaf twig of wild bayberry leaves**
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt (You can always add more to your liking)
1/8 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
dash of cayenne or red pepper flake, (I like Connecticut cultivated Salemme pepper,
1 teaspoon fresh thyme or oregano, finely minced
1 cup local sharp cheddar or cheddar-type cheese, plus more for grating on top (For New Yorkers, Cato Corners' Bloomsday is super tasty too and the sharper the better, to work with the creaminess)
1 large egg, or 2 small eggs
1/4 cup diced wild onion tops or scallion (optional)
sprinkling of homemade bacon bits (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. If you don't have a Dutch oven, butter an oven-proof crock and set aside. Otherwise, in a Dutch oven or a large sauce pan, add milk, cream, water, salt and grits.  Cover. On medium-high heat, bring to a gentle boil. Uncover, reduce heat to low, add bay leaf or bayberry leaves and garlic.  Cover and simmer, stirring frequently for about 30 minutes. Feel free to add more milk or water when necessary.  

2. While simmering, grate a cup of your local cheddar-type cheese. After grits have absorbed the liquid, are tender and have a firm and creamy consistency, stir in 1 cup of the grated cheddar. Remove from heat, add thyme and peppers and allow to slightly cool.

3. In small bowl, beat the egg. Gradually add 3/4 cup of grits mixture to beaten egg, blending as you go. It's important that the grits have cooled slightly so that the egg doesn't cook on contact of the warm grits. Add egg and grit mixture to grits and blend thoroughly. The addition of the egg is actually optional, but it lends a fluffy, souffle-like finish to these dreamy grits. If not using Dutch oven, transfer to buttered crock, sprinkle with 1/4 cup grated cheddar (or parmigiana reggiano if you'd like a contrast in flavors) and bake for 20-30 minutes, or until cheese is golden or crisp. Sprinkle with coarsely cut fried bacon and scallions.   

*I'm lucky to have a source. When I go home to Georgia, I always leave with "the goods". My sister Lisa gave me a delicious bag of grits from the Logan Turnpike Mill in Blairsville, Georgia, where by the way, the country's largest sorghum festival is held in October! 

**When serving, be careful of the bay and bayberry leaves. They can sometimes have sharp edges and are not meant to be ingested whole. In Russian tradition, it's good luck if you get the bay leaf in your borscht and I apply the same fortune to wild bayberry leaves in my grits.

The ramp and dandelion have the same early spring season. As a result, they make an excellent culinary pairing. When using the buds, the dandelions lend a slightly floral honeyed contrast to the pungent, earthy ramp.

1 cup raw sugar
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1 cup water
1 teaspoon kosher salt

The above brine will yield approximately 4-5 jars of pickled ramps. Double the recipe if you have more ramps. Bring the above to a boil and have ready the following:
Clean well & trim roughly 3 lbs of wild ramps. Make sure your source is safe and reliable. When cleaning, trim right above the root & cut right below the leaves where the plant turns white. Don't discard the greens: roast, saute, use in quiche, make eggs Florentine...too many things to do with these to throw them on the compost heap. 

As many dandelion buds as you can find. They’re elusive buggers! Again, make sure your source is reliable; that no pesticides or herbicides have been used. 
And any or all of the following combined to make a heaping tablespoon:
Fresh rosemary
Fresh thyme

Celery seed or wild celery seed

Bay leaf or wild bayberry leaf

Whole chili pepper, dried or fresh (I use 3 small, dry Thai chilis per jar)


Coriander seed

Dill seed

Stuff all the above in a super-clean mason jar that will just accommodate all of the 
ingredients, including the brine. Pour hot brine over ingredients in the jar. You can cool
 down to room temperature in an ice bath, or you can simply cool down, undisturbed, on 
a countertop. It may behoove you to cover the mouth with cheesecloth, as little fruit flies 
just love the smell of these pickles. Store, covered tightly, in the refrigerator. Keeps 
for up to 3 months. You can do a gazillion things with these: serve with grilled cheese 
sandwiches, burgers, dice in deviled eggs, serve in a bloody Mary…or eat out of the jar!

This recipe is straight from Bon Appetit march 2001. Great, easy recipe that can be made in advance, i.e., two days or the night before, making it a great time-saving additon to the boil spread.

Makes 2 cups

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 1/4 cups thinly sliced shallots (about 4 ounces)
3/4 cup mayonnaise
3/4 cup sour cream
4 ounces blue cheese, room temperature

Heat oil in heavy medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Add shallots. Cover and cook until shallots are deep golden brown, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes. Cool.
Whisk together mayonnaise and sour cream in medium bowl to blend. Add blue cheese. Using rubber spatula, mash mixture until smooth. Stir in caramelized shallots. Season dip to taste with salt and pepper. Cover dip and refrigerate until flavors blend, about 2 hours. (Can be made 2 days ahead. Keep refrigerated.) Serve dip chilled or at room temperature.

Yankee-tonk Low Country Boil, or, When a displaced Southern Girl wants a taste of the Summer South, with help from the fabulous Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook. This recipe can be tailored to the number of folks you're feeding.

Outdoor tripod gas cooker (with propane)
10 gallon stock pot with lid
Many oven mitts
Long-handled wooden spoon
1 or 2 long-handled sieves or wooden spoons (for scooping out contents)
Wheelbarrow or large trough, (if you don't have these, you can use an old table)
Newspaper or craft paper
The great outdoors, or a backyard

6 gallons water, roughly, (you want to fill your stock pot about two thirds full with water)
1 cup Old Bay Seasoning
1 cup kosher salt
1/2-1 cup whole dried chili peppers (habaneros, scotch bonnets, serranos etc...) gauge how hot you can stand it...
6-8 tablespoons ground cayenne
3 tablespoons celery seed
2-3 tablespoons black peppercorn, crushed if desired
2 heaping tablespoons coriander seed
15 bay leaves, scissor cut into the water
2-3 cups whole plum tomatoes, (or if you have a bumper crop of tomatoes, quarter them and call it a day)
8 lemons, quartered
8-10 lbs. medium yellow waxy potatoes, quartered
12 large yellow onions, cut into wedges
1 large bunch of celery, leaves and all, very coarsely chopped
5 pounds andouille or kielbasa sausage, cut on the bias into 1 1/2 inch pieces
18 ears fresh corn, shucked and halved crosswise
8 pounds headless shrimp (26-30 count), shells on
100 top-neck or hard-shell local clams, cleaned

Combine water, salt, spices and tomatoes in stockpot. Using the lid will speed initial boiling time. Over high heat, bring a to boil. Remove lid. Taste and adjust the flavor accordingly. In this order, add potatoes, onions and celery, cook about 7 minutes, or until slightly softened, but not tender. Give a stir to distribute the vegetables. Add sausage and clams, cook for about 10 minutes. Keep checking for the clams to open. As soon as you notice them opening, add corn and cook for about 3 minutes. Check your potatoes now too, they should almost be fork-tender. Finally add shrimp and cook until it just turns pink, about 3 minutes.

Have ready and close, a newspaper or craft paper-lined wheelbarrow. If you don't have these, use an old table that you don't mind pouring hot, wet contents onto. As efficiently as possible, scoop out contents with long handled sieves or spoons, into wheelbarrow. You may want friends to help with this. Grab a plate and start pickin'. Hands required! 

Again this recipe is a Martha Stewart Living recipe and just changed slightly to include local and organic ingredients. The cake has a crumb topping that actually ends up on the bottom. Each bite has a surprisingly crunchy texture.

Makes one 9 inch cake
Serves 10

For the topping
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted (I used fairly local Beurremont butter)
1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 cup organic cane sugar
coarse salt

For the cake
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for buttering pan
1 pound rhubarb, trimmed and cut on a very sharp diagonal about ½ inch thick
1 3/4 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
coarse salt
1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest, plus 1 tablespoon fresh orange juice
2 large organic or farm fresh eggs
1 cup organic sour cream

Preheat oven to 350°. Make the topping: stir together butter, flour, sugar, and 1/4 teaspoon salt until moist and crumbly.

Make the cake: butter a 9 inch round cake pan (most importantly 2 inches deep). Dot with 4 tablespoons butter (cut into pieces). Toss rhubarb with three-quarter cup sugar; let stand for 2 min. Toss again, and spread in pan.

Whisk together flour, baking powder, and 1 1/2 teaspoons salt. Beat remaining stick butter and cup sugar with a mixer on medium speed until pale and fluffy. Beat in zest and juice. Beat in eggs, one at a time, until incorporated, scraping down sides of bowl. Beat in flour mixture in 3 additions, alternating with sour cream, until smooth. Spread evenly over rhubarb. Crumble topping evenly over batter.

Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean and top springs back when touched, about 1 hour. Let cool for 10 min. Run a knife around edge of cake, and invert onto a wire rack. Let cool completely.

Deviled egg recipe soon to come


  1. Can't wait for the recipes..! Your photos are really telling the story, seems like you guys shared a lovely afternoon.

  2. You really captured the essence of the Shrimp Boil with this great post...nice job!!!

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. This looks like so much fun! I have always wanted to do some sort of a clam or shrimp bake. Ideally I would be on the beach and cook the lobsters and seafood in the sand. With a raw bar in addition. Very Martha Stewarty with little american flags in our lemonade spritzers. While sitting in an adorandack chair in front of a beautiful home. Green grass and fireflies. hehehe dreams :) This is perfect and you are so lucky you got to be a part of it here in good old BK. YUM

  5. Thanks Frederike, Ivan and Nicole, glad you liked it so much, Laura's amazing recipes to follow next week!

  6. Valery your photos are so fantastic and so fun! Looks like such a good time, there really isn't anything better than delicious, no fuss food shared with friends and family is there?! Looking forward to the recipes :)

  7. Valerie, found you from a comment you left on Clare's site about a wedding she shot in Tuscany.

    Your work is beautiful! I look forward to following you..and I see Nicole F commented before me. I read her blog too!

  8. Thanks Averie, I look forward to you following:)

  9. That food looks really good:)

  10. Looks amazing! And I love that you have a friend Laura from Georgia that has a friend Laura from Georgia. Tell her that you also have a friend Lara from Georgia!


  11. Lara...that's great! you Georgians are pretty cool.

  12. What a feast. Love your photos, they make me feel like I was right there :)

  13. great story and photos! what fun!

  14. Thanks Jen!! it was really fun, later this month Brian and Laura are getting married up in the catskills and having a pig roast which should be fun as well :)

  15. Great pictures. I think you have enjoyed shrimp a lot. I loved it.