How to Make An Amazing Seafood Boil at Home
The original one-pot meal, a seafood boil will be the most memorable dinner you cook all summer (and the one with the fewest dirty dishes). St. Louis Chef Kevin Nashan is coming in hot with tips for pulling it off.
Kevin Nashan is a closet historian. A couple of clicks into the website for his wildly popular restaurant, Peacemaker Lobster and Crab, you’ll find a detailed map. It illustrates the route of the Acadians, French settlers who traveled from New England to the Delta.
“The same people who were creating chowders were creating gumbos,” he explains with palpable excitement. “They got booted out of Maine in the 1800s and migrated down to Louisiana.” That’s why his menu spans the whole Eastern seaboard, closing a cultural circle opened years ago. As for bringing it all to landlocked St. Louis in 2014? Well, the city has French roots—but mostly, after years in high-end kitchens, Nashan was in the mood for a passion project.
Before opening, he spent a month with lobstermen in Maine, learning all he could about the crustacean. From the start, he knew boils would be a star on the menu. Nashan once worked in Spain, and his favorite food is paella, the iconic rice dish served family-style from huge pans. He sees boils as America’s equivalent, with versions on every coast. (Hello, Door County, Wisconsin, fish boil.)
“A lobster bake on the East Coast is different from a boil in New Orleans, where they would add a chicken carcass or artichokes,” he says. “There’s no wrong answer to what goes in. The only right answer is being delicious, and to be grateful for the food.” His version includes lobster (or crab or shrimp), tiny potatoes, spicy smoked andouille sausage, sweet corn, a hard-boiled egg and a slightly sweet buttermilk biscuit.
The formula works: Nashan won a James Beard Best Chef Award 2017. And, with doors shuttered and fans missing favorite dishes, this spring he had time to bring another percolating idea to life. Peacemaker has begun selling kits for at-home seafood boils—locally now, shipping nationwide soon. Though of course, you can assemble your own with a trip to the supermarket. Inspired? Read on for the complete how-to.
Recipe: Lobster Boil
This recipe is scaled for one (very hungry) person. Multiply quantities by the number of people you’re feeding—but as your party grows, you might want to dial down on some of the trimmin’s, or allow a half lobster per person to keep costs in check.
Step 1 Fill a large stock pot ¾ full with water and add ¼ cup of salt per gallon, to taste like the sea. Bring to a boil.
Step 2 Add 8 ounces small new potatoes (halved if large). Cook 10 minutes (5 if your potatoes are tiny). Add a ½- to 1-pound lobster, 4 ounces andouille or other smoked sausage, and 1 ear sweet corn (husked and halved). Cook 7 minutes. Add 1 egg. Cook 8 minutes, for 25 minutes total.
Step 3 Remove all the ingredients with a skimmer and transfer to a newspaper-lined table, platters or plates. Drizzle everything with melted butter, add a biscuit, and get cracking.
Communal or single?
Custom dictates spreading all the contents of the lobster boil on a newspaper-covered table and letting everyone dig in. We love the casual communality of this tradition, but in a post-pandemic world, folks may feel more comfortable with individual servings. Whatever you do, provide lots of napkins. If you don’t make a mess, you aren’t doing it right.
What the Heck is Clarified Butter?
You’ve probably seen those white bits in melted butter. They’re milk solids, and chefs often skim them out, leaving clear, liquid gold. From a culinary angle, clarified butter is good for frying; at a lobster boil, it’s mostly for looks. If you want to go the distance, clarifying butter only takes 10 minutes, and directions are everywhere online.
Essential tools of the lobster-boil trade.
Pot Bigger is better. You want a giant lidded stockpot or canning kettle.
Skimmer A wide spider skimmer is handy for fishing ingredients out of the pot.
Cracker Nashan insists you can crack it all with the back of a knife, but a little torque never hurt. A meat pounder or wooden mallet works too.
Picks Good for staying tidy and getting every last morsel, though purists would say your fingers are up to this task.
Your most pressing questions, answered.
Where can I buy the best lobster? Nashan says to order online or choose a market or independent fishmonger that carries live lobster regularly. The product will be fresher, and the staff better able to answer questions. (Keep in mind, a fresh lobster tail should feel heavy for its size; lightness is a sign of sitting around in the tank.)
What if my pot isn’t big enough? You can boil each step’s ingredients separately. Skim them out as you go and keep everything warm on sheet pans in a 200° oven, covered in foil.
What if I’m scared of live lobster? We respect your fear. Cooking any whole animal is daunting, and a live one with wriggling antennae and claws even more so. Use tongs to quickly and safely plunge the (still rubber-banded) lobster into boiling water. Then slam that lid on!
Nope, still terrified. Throw a shrimp boil instead! Buy shell-on shrimp and use a sharp knife to slice through shells and devein them. (Some fishmongers will do this for you.) Jumbo shrimp take about 5 minutes to cook to opaque; large just 3.
Recipe: Buttermilk Biscuits
Kevin Nashan makes a darn good biscuit, so even if you never boil a lobster, file this away.
Cut ½ cup butter into small pieces; freeze 15 minutes. Meanwhile, place 3 cups flour,
2 tablespoons sugar, 1 tablespoon baking powder and 1 teaspoon salt in a food processor. Add butter and pulse until the largest butter chunks are pea-size. (Or use fridge-cold butter and a pastry blender to do this by hand.) Transfer mixture to a bowl. Gently stir in 1 cup buttermilk; dough may seem dry. Cover and chill 15 to 20 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 450°.
On a well-floured surface, roll dough into a square-ish shape, about ½-inch thickness. Fold into thirds, like a letter. Rotate the dough 180 degrees, roll again, and repeat folding. Roll out again, this time to ¾-inch thickness. Cut into biscuits with a sharp 2½-inch round cutter. Gather and gently reroll scraps to cut a few more biscuits. Brush tops with melted butter, if desired. Bake until golden brown, about 14 minutes. MAKES 12.
How to Eat Lobster
Twist off the claws in one brisk, confident, no-mercy movement.
Crack each claw with a nutcracker to expose the meaty goodness.
Separate the tail piece from the body by arching the back until it cracks.
Bend back the flippers to snap them off the tail. Squeeze the sides of the tail until the membrane cracks. Grab each side of the tail and bend back to expose the sweet meat inside.
So, Chef: What Do You Drink At a Boil?
“First choice: An ice-cold lager. If you’re visiting us at the restaurant, 4 Hands Brewing does a Peacemaker beer that has tiny citrus notes and is made for a hot summer day. Otherwise, a Bud or a Busch. If I was going to drink wine, I love Vinho Verde: It’s got a little effervescence. It’s dirt cheap. And it’s not too acidic; it has really clean notes. For bubbles, I always tout Gruet from my home state of New Mexico. It’s one of the best sparkling wines in the United States. The rosé is so delightful. Your mind will be blown.”