It is summer by the sea and that “sea” means seafood to everyone living in and visiting Hilton Head Island and local environs. As I have recounted numerous times here in the blog I am fortunate to have had access pretty much all my life via one relative or friend or another, to the bounty of Lowcountry waters. Whether it was my dad and uncle hauling in baskets of shrimp during one our beach weeks or gingerly picking May River oyster clusters myself with friends in one of the “r” months, it does not escape me that I’ve had it pretty good over the years.
Lots of visitors to our Island’s sunny shores enjoy accommodations that include full kitchens in their weekly rental. If you’re hankering to put that grill on the back deck or that huge 30 qt. steam pot found in the hall closet to use during your vacation and impress your family with great feats of culinary skill, then your seafood bacchanalia awaits.
Actually it is as simple as a short drive to Bluffton and The Bluffton Oyster Company. Here you will find fresh off the boat (if they aren’t out fishing, the boats are tied to the dock beside the building!) locally caught fish, shrimp, blue crab, clams and if the time is right, oysters. Owners Larry and Tina Toomer, are about as local as you get with a legacy of fishing the local waters that goes back well over 100 years. The building itself dates back to 1954 although through the years the site has been home to several oyster houses and is now owned by Beaufort County, purchased with monies from the Beaufort County Land Trust and leased to the Toomer’s.
The Bluffton Oyster Company has occupied a site longer than any other oyster-shucking house in the state of South Carolina and is now the last standing shucking house in the state. The Toomer family is proud to be the steward of this historical site as well as proudly protective neighbors to the May River and surrounding waters. The Oyster Factory is an FDA and DHEC inspected facility and the Toomers’ work closely with regulatory agencies on water quality. Each year they return thousands of oyster shells to the May River for seeding for future harvesting.
Right now though, it is brown shrimp season and the local catch glistening on display had me salivating. Tina Toomer said, “Local, wild shrimp are the most delicious. Imported, farmed shrimp do not hold a candle to our catch”. She added, “It is so important to buy local seafood – for your health, for the taste and to support the local economy.” I cannot agree more Tina!
By the way, Bluffton Oyster Company also caters so for your next soirée consider their fabulous Lowcountry boil or an onsite or “your site” oyster roast – they are happy to build a custom menu, just ask. And if you just can’t wait to cook on your own, their recently opened restaurant, Bluffton Oyster Co.’s Family Seafood House specializes in what else but fresh, local seafood. In addition to their commitment to quality and responsible fishing practices, the Toomer family has been a Bluffton staple in supporting many worthy local charitable causes through the years – it is my pleasure to patron their businesses.
In honor of my favorite summer crustacean, the brown shrimp, here’s a recipe of my own – one found on the appetizer platter at many a summer party over the years – my chunky, creamy shrimp spread. Bon appétit!
Chunky Lowcountry Shrimp Spread
The secret to this spread is lots of fresh parsley, zesty lemon and fresh shrimp that have not been over cooked. I like to know what I’m eating so I mince (or grind) half the shrimp and chop the other half by hand.
- ¾ – 1 lb. fresh, wild shrimp
- 2 tsp. Old Bay seasoning
- 1 Tbl. apple cider or white vinegar
Fill a large pot ¾ full of water. Add the vinegar and the Old Bay. Bring to a low boil and add the fresh shrimp. Cook 2-3 minutes until shrimp just turn pink. Do not overcook. Drain shrimp and let cool. Peel and deveine* if necessary. Grind half the shrimp in a food processor using the pulse button. Hand chop the remaining shrimp so the pieces are the size of a dime.
- 4 oz. cream cheese, regular or light
- ½ cup mayonnaise (preferably homemade but store bought is fine too)
- ½ cup fresh, finely chopped parsley (curly or flat leaf)
- Juice of half a large lemon and zest of whole lemon
- 1 Tsp. hot sauce (any variety)
- 1 Tbl. grated sweet onion like Vidalia
- Shrimp (see above)
In a medium mixing bowl stir the cream cheese and mayo until smooth. Add the lemon juice and zest, the hot sauce and onion to combine. Stir in the parsley and shrimp. Taste and add a little salt and more hot sauce if you like. Pour into a bowl and refrigerate at least 2 hours for flavors to meld. Can be made day ahead. Serve with crackers or pita chips. Makes approximately 2 cups.
* Deveining shrimp is removing the digestive tract of the shrimp. You can peel the shrimp and deveine before cooking them or cook peel-on and remove the vein with a shrimp deveiner tool that can be purchased at any kitchen supply store. I find that with fresh, locally caught shrimp deveining isn’t necessary, especially if the shrimp are small to medium in size.