Enjoy A Feast Of Local Flavor
Create a locally sourced Lowcountry feast right in your own home (or that big, beautiful kitchen in your vacation rental), and eat like a true local. By Stratton Lawrence. Photos by Hunter McRae.
Few places can claim a true, endemic food culture. In the Lowcountry, we’re blessed to be one of them. From oyster roasts to shrimp and grits, several American culinary traditions have their roots right here.
But Charleston’s cuisine scene has evolved far beyond those ubiquitous items. As the downtown restaurant Husk first demonstrated, eating exclusively local no longer demands any sacrifices — it just requires selective sourcing.
Sampling local ingredients is especially easy for residents and visitors to the Isle of Palms and Sullivan’s Island, thanks to restaurants like The Obstinate Daughter, shops like Simmons Seafood and local entrepreneurs like Melissa Bowman and her gift box curation company, The Blue Root.
Bowman, an Isle of Palms resident, long-time caterer and culinary school grad, gathers together goods from local purveyors and craftspeople to create The Blue Root’s custom gift boxes. To inspire residents and visitors alike to whip up some local Lowcountry cuisine, we asked Bowman to create a quintessential Lowcountry feast that you can easily replicate in your own home or vacation rental.
We gathered at The Bea’s Nest, a seasonal vacation rental on the Isle of Palms. The wide community counter and open indoor/outdoor floor plan allowed everyone to be part of the food preparation action, including Bowman’s two young children, and husband, Ty.
Over a sunny afternoon of cooking and conversation that flowed between the kitchen and outdoor dining table, we explored and prepared a bounty of locally sourced provisions. The results? Mouth-watering deliciousness.
All the ingredients here can be found on the islands or nearby in Mount Pleasant, or The Blue Root’s boxes offers a collection of purveyors to start your culinary exploration. “The boxes really evolved on their own, based on meeting people and finding out the stories behind these products,” Bowman says.
Although our feast is worthy of mimicry it also shouldn’t be limiting. Whether you catch a red drum or sea trout on a fishing charter or spot a basket of berries you can’t resist at the farmers market, there’s boundless creativity possible with ingredients sourced from the Lowcountry.
SOUTHERN CHEESE PLATTER WITH PICKLED SHRIMP
Bowman admits that when she first encountered pickled shrimp on a downtown menu, she was skeptical. “I thought it was the strangest thing,” she recalls. Curiosity got the best of her, however, and an order was placed. “It blew my socks off. I thought to myself, ‘This is the best thing I’ve ever tasted.’”
At home, Bowman started tinkering with recipes to nail the perfect blend of spicy and tangy. The best part about pickled shrimp? “It’s really easy and can be ready in 20 minutes.” Her method includes okra, peppers, shallots, cucumbers, mustard seed and dill.
For our feast’s arrangement, Bowman served shrimp from Simmons Seafood with a well-aged cheddar, a blue cheese and a dry jack from Counter Cheese Caves, a local distributor and favorite on menus at The Obstinate Daughter. Accoutrements included pecans from Holly Hill’s Molly & Me, benne wafers, a homemade jam made with green tomatoes (“I try to use them in ways that aren’t fried,” says Bowman) and a sweet potato mustard from Mount Pleasant’s Jack’s Cosmic Dogs.
Quick Pickled Shrimp
2 tbsp Old Bay seasoning
1 tbsp kosher salt
1 yellow onion halved
1/2 lb. shrimp, medium to large wild-caught
2 cups water
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
3 tbsp Tabasco green chili pepper sauce
1 tbsp Botany Bay sea salt
2 tsp sugar
Juice of 1 lemon
4 sprigs of dill (2 per jar)
10 slices of cucumber (5 per jar)
8 thin strips of red bell pepper (4 per jar)
1 shallot peeled and quartered (2 per jar)
5 okra halved lengthwise (divided between jars)
1 tsp whole mustard seed (1/2 tsp per jar)
2 16-ounce glass jars with lids
In a large pot of boiling water, combine Old Bay seasoning, salt and onion, and boil for five minutes. Add shrimp and boil for two minutes. Remove shrimp and immediately place in a bowl of cold ice water.
In a large bowl, combine water, vinegar, Tabasco, sea salt, sugar and lemon juice; stir until sugar is dissolved. Equally divide shrimp and remaining herbs and vegetables between jars. Top each jar with pickling marinade and seal with the lids. Lightly shake and then store in the refrigerator for 20 minutes before serving
There’s no need for salads to be complicated, says Bowman — just stick with what’s in season and embellish with a favorite soft cheese and a homemade dressing. Our salad, served in March, included radishes, fresh green peas (quickly blanched), mini cucumbers, beets and lettuce.
“All of these ingredients can be found at the farmers market,” says Bowman. That’s good news for island residents, thanks to the new Thursday farmers market in front of the Edgar Allan Poe Library on Sullivan’s Island.
Bowman finished her salad with feta cheese and a versatile herb vinaigrette. Although ours featured basil, any seasonal herb on hand will work just as well.
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup fresh white wine vinegar
1 tbsp chopped fresh basil
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 garlic clove minced
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp table salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
Combine all ingredients in a jar with a lid. Shake vigorously until well combined.
HONEY BASIL GLAZED RIBS
Thanks to the addition of the New York Butcher Shoppe (a Mount Pleasant-based regional franchise) on the Isle of Palms, it’s now possible to bring home top-shelf cuts without leaving the islands.
Bowman chose a hearty rack of pork ribs for the centerpiece of our feast, generously coating them in a dry rub of garlic powder, salt, pepper, coriander, basil, cayenne and brown sugar.
Although ribs are often smoked, Bowman chose to bake hers, a method anyone can replicate at home. But before cooking — and intermittently during the process — the meat received a generous brushing with a reduction made from Bee City honey and Cannonborough Beverage Company’s Honey Basil soda.
Honey Basil Glaze
Pour 3/4 bottle of Cannonborough Beverage Company’s Honey Basil soda into a pot at medium/high heat until it’s reduced to 3/4 cup of syrup. Add a tablespoon of local honey immediately upon removing the pot from heat, and finish with a few fresh basil leaves to ramp up the flavor.
Drizzle over dry-rubbed ribs before wrapping ribs in foil and baking at 225 degrees Fahrenheit for four hours. Uncover, re-glaze with a brush and cook again for 40 minutes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit, reglazing every 15 minutes.
FARMERS MARKET SQUASH GRATIN
If you’re like most farmers market shoppers, there’s a squash, zucchini or onion hiding at the back of your produce bin. Gratins are an easy, quick way to assure these staple veggies don’t go to waste. “I almost think of it as a cottage dish,” says Bowman. “It’s so simple but so good.”
Her preparation begins with Lowcountry Olive Oil, and then cooking onions down until they are translucent. She lines the bottom of a baking dish with onions and then adds “a pretty layer of squash and tomatoes over it,” all pre-tossed in the oil and Botany Bay sea salt. Panko bread crumbs are sprinkled over the top, along with salt, pepper, thyme and parmesan cheese, before a quick bake in the oven. No recipe required — be creative.
LEMON SUGAR COOKIE STRAWBERRY TRIFLE
Bowman is a huge fan of Charleston’s Grey Ghost Bakery lemon sugar cookies, especially because they’re so versatile. The cookie company offered up this strawberry trifle recipe that Bowman was more than happy to adopt. Combined with farmers market strawberries, lemon curd and honey-flavored Greek yogurt, these cookies become a decadent dessert.
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup full fat honey-flavored Greek yogurt
1 11-ounce jar lemon curd
Beat cream and yogurt in a medium bowl until medium peaks form. Place lemon curd in another medium bowl, and gently fold whipped cream mixture into lemon curd, one third at a time.
2 lbs. strawberries (or other berries), hulled and sliced
Juice and zest of one lemon
1/4 cup honey
1 dozen Grey Ghost Bakery Lemon Sugar cookies
1 cup heavy cream
Place half of the berries in a bowl. Add the lemon juice, lemon zest and honey, and gently mash the berries with the back of a fork. Let sit for about 10 minutes. If berries give off a lot of juice, drain so that just the mashed berries are left.
Spoon a little of the lemon mousse into the bottom of a glass bowl or dish, depending on the dish’s capacity, with multiple layers in mind. Top with a layer of the cookies, again subdividing based on the size and depth of your dish — break the cookies if needed to fit evenly in the dish. Top that with a spoon of the strawberry mash, and some of the sliced strawberries. Continue layering until you reach the top of the dish. Refrigerate for two hours, or up to overnight.
When ready to serve, whip cream until medium peaks form. Spoon whipped cream onto the top of the trifle, and garnish with strawberry slices and more crushed cookies.