The Seafood boil


“Seafood boil” is the generic term for when shellfish is the central element. Regional variations dictate the kinds of seafood, the accompaniments and side dishes and the preparation techniques. In some cases, a boil may be sponsored as a fundraiser or a mixer. This way they are like a fish fry, a barbecue or church potluck supper. But boils are also held for friends and family, for weekend get-togethers and on the summer holidays.

Boils and bakes are traditionally associated with coastal regions of the United States, especially the East. Scandinavian immigrants get credit for bringing the fish boil to the Midwest, which is far from saltwater coastal areas and shellfish. The boils and bakes are typically prepared locally, with seafood caught for a quick, economical way to feed larger groups of people.

The fish is typically cut into small chunks and cooked in boiling water with red potatoes and some add onions too. Salt is the only seasoning used to help raise the specific gravity of the water. Up to 1 pound of salt is added to 2 gallons of water.

The cooking of the fish can be an elaborate “show-off” presentation to add flare to the simple dish. The fish and potatoes are prepared in a cast-iron kettle. When the water comes to a boil, the potatoes are put in a wire basket and are lowered into the kettle. The fish are then placed into another wire basket and lowered. After about 10 minutes when the fish is cooked, the oils rise to the top of the pot. The boiler then tosses a small amount of kerosene on the flames underneath and the increase in the fire causes a boil-over. The fish oils spill over the side of the pot and the fish is done. The fish chunks remain whole and firm. Boilers usually drip melted butter over the fish before serving. Although not part of the traditional recipe, tartar sauce and lemon slices are also served with the fish. Catfish, crappies, bass and other freshwater species are used more often in the inland states for the boils.

Boiled Catfish Snacks

2 fillets (or more) per person


Dash of salt or use a seafood boil, Zatarain’s or Old Bay

Cut fillets into 1-inch cubes and put into boiling water for about 1 1/2 minutes. A seafood boil will add more flavors. Serve hot or chill before serving.

Boiled Catfish Sauce

4 parts ketchup

1 part horseradish

Squirt of lemon or lime juice to taste

Mix ingredients well. Chill. Impale catfish chunks with toothpicks for dipping. Also serve with dipping chips if desired.

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Poached Catfish Fillets

2 fillets per person


In a pan, pour just enough liquid to cover fish. Cover the pan tightly. Cook fillets just below the boiling point. Cook them for 8 to 10 minutes. The poaching liquid may be used as the base for a sauce. Serve sauce as is or with a cocktail sauce.

Smothered Green Beans with New Potatoes

1 pound fresh green beans

5 slices bacon, halved

2 medium onions, finely chopped

4 new potatoes, cut into bite-sized chunks

4 cups water

2 teaspoons ground black pepper

Salt to taste

Place a Dutch oven or other large heavy pot over medium heat. Add bacon and cook slowly until it is slightly browned but still soft. Add the beans, onions, potatoes, salt, pepper and water. Stir well and bring to a simmer. Cover and cook slowly, stirring occasionally until the beans are tender. Cooking time is about 1 hour.