There is no shortage of great eats in South Carolina. But when you sit down to a true taste of the state, you are experiencing something more than a meal -- namely, the local ingredients and cultural influences that distinguish our cuisine. From the sea islands to the Lowcountry to inland hubs of agriculture, the best of South Carolina’s bounty comes together to create these “must-try” dishes from our most storied recipes.
Born in the deep reaches of Horry County and the Pee Dee, chicken bog is a one-pot pilaf that’s been nourishing people in these regions for around three centuries. Typically made in bulk, it’s perfect for feeding a crowd. The main ingredient is rice, which was once South Carolina’s most significant cash crop. The concept is simple: Whole chicken is stewed and picked of its meat. The meat is then submerged, or “bogged” down, in the broth to which rice is added and slow cooked until it absorbs most of the liquid. Smoky sausage is sliced into nickels and added to the pot as it simmers, along with a bit of salt, pepper and sometimes onion. If you enjoy chicken and rice pairings, you’ll likely be a fan of this somewhat drier, stick-to-your-ribs version.
In further testament to the role of rice in South Carolina, here’s another not-to-miss dish: crab rice. Rooted in Gullah culinary culture, crab rice is a flavorful dish in which all of its components shine. Fresh blue crab meat, onion, peppers, celery and bacon are some of the ingredients that are sauteed with rice to create this simple, satisfying dish.
Frogmore stew, also called Lowcountry boil, was born in the Frogmore community of St. Helena Island in the 1960s. Local shrimp, kielbasa, fresh ears of corn, new potatoes and onion are gently cooked in a simmering, spicy broth and spiked with a hint of lemon. Traditionally, the concoction is strained and strewn on tables layered with newspaper, with the broth served on the side with bread for sopping.
Where to try it: Bowens Island Restaurant, Charleston; Boondocks Restaurant, St. Helena Island; Obstinate Daughter, Sullivan’s Island; Skull Creek Boathouse, Hilton Head Island; Shuckin’ Shack, Summerville
The Gullah influence on South Carolina cuisine is evident in so many of our dishes, including this beloved tomato-based stew brimming with okra. Traditionally, it is paired with rice for a rustic meal that needs no other accompaniments. Well, maybe a piece of cornbread …
Attending a Lowcountry celebration? Chances are, you’ll find a bowl of pickled shrimp alongside the pimento cheese and benne wafers. A longtime darling of South Carolina hostesses, this easy-to-make dish is simple and bursting with flavor, showcasing fresh, sweet local shrimp that have been marinated in a spicy brine.
Purloo (Perlou, Perlo, Pilau)
Another famous one-pot rice tradition is purloo, which is perhaps most notable for its many different spellings. Pronounced “per-loo” (no matter how you spell it), this dish hails from the Lowcountry and is said to have African roots. Unlike chicken bog, purloo can be made with your choice of protein, usually some sort of seafood like oysters, shrimp or crab, or with just vegetables. It’s particularly good when made with Carolina Gold Rice, an heirloom variety that was the forerunner of long-grain rice on this continent.
A rousing favorite with locals and tourists, this creamy soup is flavored with blue crab and spiked with a bit of tangy crab roe for that authentic flavor. It was created in the early 1900s by William Deas, an African chef whose cooking skills are now the stuff of local legend. There are as many versions today as there are chefs, with some preferring a thick bisque-like consistency and others a thinner rendition in keeping with Deas’ original recipe.
When it comes to naming a signature South Carolina dish, nothing identifies with the dining public more so than shrimp and grits. This concoction has rustic roots, with the earliest recipes reliant upon ground heirloom corn, sea water and the briny-sweet crustaceans that shoot through Lowcountry tidal creeks. Chefs across the state preserve the humble characteristics of the dish while adding special touches in friendly competition to lay claim to the “best” shrimp and grits in South Carolina. You be the judge.