It’s a crisp October evening in the South Carolina Lowcountry. The last vestiges of a deep pink sunset linger on high, wispy clouds. You and 20 good friends have gathered in a buddy’s backyard, warming your hands around the glowing coals of a wood fire pit. On top of the fire is a scraggly piece of sheet metal punched full of holes. But piled atop this makeshift grill is what everybody’s been waiting for – the first oysters of the season.
Welcome to a Lowcountry oyster roast, one of many soul-satisfying culinary experiences that make this region’s cuisine so ridiculously delicious. Instead of eating the fresh oysters raw or simply steaming them, the local mollusks are piled on the sheet metal grill and covered with a wet burlap sack. The finished product – a seasoned, fire-roasted/steamed oyster still clinging to its shell – is shoveled onto newspaper-covered picnic tables and devoured as quickly as Southern manners will allow.
Charleston is the undisputed culinary capital of the South Carolina Lowcountry, a loosely defined stretch of land that includes the state’s seven coastal counties and small sea islands. Lowcountry cuisine is the product of the region’s abundant fresh seafood, staple crops like okrah, hominy and rice, and the indelible influence of African and Caribbean flavors.
There’s nothing pretentious about Lowcountry cooking. It’s the textbook definition of “down home,” if such a textbook exists. Take, for example, Frogmore Stew (a.k.a. Beaufort Stew or Lowcountry Boil). This recipe, which contains no frogs, was born in the Frogmore community on St. Helena Island, also the birthplace of Gullah culture.
A huge pot of water is set to boil with generously seasoned water. Into that pot are thrown fresh corn, red potatoes, spicy smoked sausage and shrimp with their shells on. Like the oyster roast, Frogmore stew isn’t a knife-and-fork affair. The whole mess of goodness is piled onto a communal table where friends and family pick away at the steaming delicacies.
Jimmy Hagood, owner and chief barbeque master of Food for the Southern Soul, which caters oyster roasts and whole hog roasts and retails Lowcountry food products, says the essential Lowcountry meal has to be shrimp and grits. Although you’ll find it on the menus of white tablecloth Charleston restaurants like the Charleston Grill and McCrady’s, “the simpler the better,” says Hagood, who sings the praises of fresh-out-of-the-water shrimp sautéed with a little butter and Worcestershire sauce over creamy, slow-cooked grits.
Hungry yet? Come visit us and we’ll save you a spot around the fire pit. No reservations required.