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Seafood Boil: Your Instant Summer Dinner Party

Summer entertaining shouldn’t keep a host stuck in the kitchen, slaving over a fussy menu. It should be easy, fun, and utterly delicious for all. That’s what makes a traditional seafood boil a win for simple summertime entertaining: no plates, no silverware, and no pretense allowed!

What is a seafood boil, exactly? It can look different depending on the region or available ingredients. The common factor is a flavored broth or steam ― whether that’s water and seasonings, beer, or even seawater ― that imparts character to whatever kind of seafood cooks in it.

In Louisiana, that can mean crawfish boiling in water with plenty of cayenne and hot sauce. In Maryland, it’s crab steamed over beer and Old Bay Seasoning (a commercially-produced blend of paprika, celery salt, crushed red pepper, and black pepper, named after a passenger ship that traveled Chesapeake Bay). For a New England clambake, a pit of steaming seaweed flavors clams, lobsters, and mussels. And in the Carolinas, lemon and vinegar flavor a boil of shrimp.

Most boils also include wedges of corn, sausage (like hot links or chorizo), and potatoes. All of it ― the seafood, liquid, seasonings, veggies and sausage ― gets tossed into a pot and boiled for a short period of time, then strained and spread directly onto a table covered in kraft paper or newspaper. The feast is usually served with a selection of flavored vinaigrettes, cocktail sauces, creamy dips and ― our favorite! ― melted butter in which to dunk tender seafood.

Unlike most meals, at a seafood boil, eating with your hands at the table is not only allowed ― it’s encouraged. And with minimal prep, cooking or clean-up, the host can get in on the fun with everyone else. So how can you set up for the perfect seafood boil this summer? Try the tips below, and then get crackin’.

Change up your seafood.

Even traditional seafood boils vary their ingredients based on what’s plentiful and available. If you live in the Pacific Northwest, that might mean Dungeness crab, clams, prawns and salmon. Around the Great Lakes that could be chunks of trout, perch, halibut or salmon. And in California, that might be crab, clams, lobster and shrimp. The options really are endless, but the more local your seafood supply, the fresher it will be.

Experiment with seasonings.

While Old Bay Seasoning always works well in a seafood boil, if you have the time, why not make your own blend? Try our House-Made Seafood Boil Spice Mix with fennel, juniper, oregano and bay. This mix will boil away in your stock pot, lending flavor to your seafood and scenting your kitchen with the heady aromas of the Mediterranean.

Drain your boil well.

It goes without saying that once your seafood boil is cooked thoroughly, it needs to drain before being served. But instead of laying the drained contents of your boil pot directly onto the table paper, consider drying everything briefly on a towel. Then return it to the pot and lay it on the table. That way the paper won’t become a wet, soggy mess. Just remember: if you choose to dry your boil this way, be absolutely certain that the towel hasn’t been washed with scented detergent or tossed with dryer sheets. The last thing you want to eat is something that smells or tastes like soap!

Give dipping sauces flair.

With Challenge Butter as a base, dipping sauces can take your seafood boil to the next level. For herbal notes, try our Dill, Ouzo and Chive Flower Butter. For south-of-the-border flavors, give the Smoked Salt, Lime and Chili Butter a spin. Or for a wine-country vibe, try the Red Wine-Basil Butter.

Plan ahead for easy clean-up.

Cleaning after a seafood boil is as easy as wrapping everything up and depositing it in the trash. Plan ahead with plenty of newspaper, butcher paper and tape, and consider providing guests with paper napkins and/or wet wipes for clean fingers and easy disposal.

Keep it simple, keep it communal.

While you may be tempted to pull out the fine china and cutlery, a major part of a seafood boil’s charm is in eating with your hands, directly over the table. What’s more, the charm lies in doing it together with friends. Dining together without the use of plates or serving ware makes for lots of good memories ― and lots of laughs. (One exception: tools for cracking and picking crab or lobster. If you choose to include either in your boil, provide little wooden hammers and shellfish picks for easing out the meat.) Sharing the meal together, without plates or serving ware, makes for lots of laughs ― and lots of great memories.

Seafood Boil with Shrimp, Crab, Clams, Mussels, Sausage, and Corn

Serves 10

Ingredients

  • ¼ cup white Vermouth (optional)
  • ¼ cup Seafood Boil Spice Mix (see below)
  • Coarse sea salt
  • 6 ears corn, husks removed and silk pulled away, cut crosswise into 1-inch wheels
  • 3 links linguica sausage, cut into 1 ½-inch lengths
  • 3 pounds black mussels, scrubbed
  • 3 pounds Littleneck clams, scrubbed
  • 7 pounds 16-20 E-Z peel shrimp
  • Cooked and cleaned whole Dungeness crabs, lobsters, and/or King crab legs (optional)
  • Halved lemons, for serving
  • Melted flavored butters, for serving (see below)

Directions

  • 1
    Add the Vermouth (if using), spice mix plus an extra 2 teaspoons coarse sea salt to a large pot of boiling water.
  • 2
    Add the corn, sausage, mussels, and clams. Simmer for about 6 minutes, until the corn is done and the mussels and clams have gapped open. Dump in the shrimp, stir to distribute, and cook for 1 to 2 minutes more, until pink outside and opaque at the center.
  • 3
    Drain thoroughly in a large colander and serve immediately, or cool to room temperature and chill. Serve on a big, newspaper or kraft-paper-lined table with halved lemons for squeezing, and plenty of melted, flavored butter for dipping. Provide napkins for guests to wipe their hands. No other serving or eating utensils needed!
  • !
    If adding (separately cooked; see below) crab or lobster to the feast, be sure to provide little wooden hammers and shellfish picks, for easing all the tasty meat out of the legs, claws, and clusters.

Directions

  • 1
    Bring to a boil in a very large pot: one part white wine vinegar, distilled vinegar, or cider vinegar and three parts water, plus ¼ cup Spice Mix. Add the whole, live crabs and cook for 2 minutes, or until cooked through. Remove immediately and serve, or cool to room temperature and chill.
  • !
    Similar instructions apply to live lobster, or to frozen King crab legs: Cook lobsters for 9 minutes; two minutes should be perfect for defrosting (always-frozen) King crab legs.

Seafood Boil Spice Mix

Yields 1 cup

Ingredients

  • ¼ cup coarse sea salt
  • 2 Tablespoons fennel seeds
  • 2 Tablespoons juniper berries
  • 2 Tablespoons mustard seeds
  • 2 Tablespoons whole black peppercorns
  • 2 Tablespoons hot pepper flakes
  • 1 Tablespoon celery seeds
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 2 to 4 star anise pods (optional)
  • 10 fresh bay leaves, or 5 dried bay leaves

Directions

  • 1
    In a food processor fitted with the metal blade, add all the ingredients except the fresh bay leaves, if using. Process in short pulses until the mixture resembles a coarse powder.

Dill, Ouzo, and Chive Flower Butter

Yields ½ cup

Ingredients

  • 4 ounces (1 stick; 1/2 cup) Challenge Salted European-style butter
  • 1 ½ tablespoons finely chopped fresh dill
  • 2 to 3 teaspoons Ouzo, Pernod, Ricard, or Anisette (to taste)
  • 2 chive or other herb flowers, torn into petals

Directions

  • 1
    Melt the butter very gently in a small saucepan over low heat. Pour into a small heatproof ramekin.
  • 2
    Stir remaining ingredients into the melted butter and serve at once.

Smoked Salt, Lime, and Chile Butter

Yields ½ cup

Ingredients

  • 4 ounces (1 stick; 1/2 cup) Challenge Salted European-style butter
  • ½ teaspoon smoked salt
  • finely grated zest of one lime
  • ¼ to ½ teaspoon Sriracha Sauce or other favorite bottle hot sauce

Directions

  • 1
    Melt the butter very gently in a small saucepan over low heat. Pour into a small heatproof ramekin.
  • 2
    Stir remaining ingredients into the melted butter and serve at once.

Red Wine-Basil Butter

Yields ½ cup

Ingredients

  • 4 ounces (1 stick; 1/2 cup) Challenge Salted European-style butter
  • 1 small shallot, minced
  • 1 ½ cups fruity red wine, such as Zinfandel
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh basil

Directions

  • 1
    Melt the butter very gently in a small saucepan over low heat. Pour into a small heatproof ramekin.
  • 2
    Stir remaining ingredients into the melted butter and serve at once.