You've set up your RV or tent, hiked the trails, paddled the lake, spotted wildlife and otherwise basked in South Carolina's natural beauty. But the pinnacle of the perfect camping day is what's simmering or sizzling over hot coals in your fire ring at meal time.
Whether it's a burger on the grill, a foil packet of meat and potatoes tucked into glowing embers or a simple wiener on a stick waved over an open flame, cooking up a campground meal is bound to be the best part of your experience. After all, nothing boosts the appetite more than a day of outdoor activities.
And nothing optimizes the experience of al fresco dining more than South Carolina products. Think cobs of freshly picked corn, juicy globes of local tomatoes, crisp okra pods and the nation's sweetest shrimp plucked from coastal waters. Many local markets carry South Carolina shrimp in season, but if you're camping close to the sea, head to your nearest dock and get it straight off the boat. Add a few heirloom food products and your picnic table will be the envy of the campground. You can often find such ingredients in local markets and specialty stores. They can also be ordered online from producers such as Carolina Plantation, Geechie Boy Mill, Anson Mills and others.
Here are three recipes to try on your next excursion into the great outdoors. Gather your gear, shop around for the best local ingredients and enjoy a culinary camping adventure brimming with South Carolina goodness.
Lowcountry Shrimp and Pea Paella
Using traditional Spanish paella as a guideline, create a one-pan dinner for the whole family to enjoy. It's worth investing in a good paella pan for this dish, though you can use a heavy frying pan (with flame-resistant handle) that's wide and deep. This will help you achieve a proper "socarrat" - the crispy rice bottom that is the hallmark of good paella.
Heirloom Carolina Gold Rice and Sea Island Red Peas elevate this dish to "Southern Classic" status. Carolina Gold, considered the "grandfather" of long-grain rice, was thought to be extinct after the Great Depression, but it has made a rousing comeback thanks to the efforts of dedicated farmers and researchers across the Palmetto State. Its starch profile and enthusiastic absorption of flavors make it just right for paella and other rice dishes.
Sea Island Red Peas are grown along the South Carolina coast. They were the field peas of choice for Hoppin' John and the Gullah dish, Reezy Peezy, and they stand in deliciously for the traditional green peas found in many versions of paella. For convenience, precook the peas at home, according to package instructions. Drain excess liquid, put in a plastic bag or other container, and store on ice until ready to use.
When making paella, using saffron to flavor the broth is preferable and adds the hallmark yellow color to the rice. To serve, give everyone a fork and eat straight from the pan like the Spanish do, or spoon it out into individual servings. A sprinkle of Old Bay or other seafood seasoning like Gullah Gourmet Crab and Shrimp Boil sets off the flavors to fully excite the taste buds. Don't forget a good pair of hot pads for handling the pans.
6 cloves of garlic, minced
1 large onion, diced
¼ cup of olive oil
2 ripe tomatoes, seeded and chopped
12 okra pods, sliced lengthwise
1 large sweet red pepper, thin-sliced
2 ears of corn, shucked and cut into 2-inch rounds
2 to 3 threads of saffron (if available)
3 ½ to 4 cups of boxed or canned seafood or chicken broth (May use stock for fuller flavor.)
1 cup of cooked Sea Island Red Peas
1 ½ cups of Carolina Plantation's Carolina Gold Rice
1 pound of fresh South Carolina shrimp, shell-on
Shrimp boil seasoning, if desired
Prep veggies and arrange on a surface near the fire pit. Rinse the shrimp and keep cool until ready to use. If desired, with a small knife or kitchen scissors, carefully cut through the top of the shell and remove the sand vein, but do not remove shell.
Fill the fire ring or grill with coals or seasoned wood suitable for food preparation. Light and allow coals to ash over. Spread coals. In a pot, add saffron to a cup of broth and place on coals. Heat until broth begins to steam. Remove from heat and cover, allowing saffron to infuse the liquid.
Place paella pan directly on the coals. Add olive oil, onions, peppers and garlic. Sautee for 2 minutes, turning onion mix constantly with a spoon. Add okra and allow it to slightly brown, then add tomatoes and the uncooked rice. Stir gently for 1 minute. Sprinkle with a bit of salt and pepper. Add saffron-infused broth, using the spoon to incorporate, then stir in 2 ½ more cups of broth. Spread the rice mixture evenly across the bottom of the pan. When the liquid begins to boil, cover the pan and allow to cook undisturbed for 5 to 7 minutes.
Lift the lid of the pan and add ½ cup of broth if needed. Recheck in 5 minutes and taste the rice. Add another ½ cup of broth if the rice has not softened yet. Once the broth has been absorbed and rice begins to sizzle, add peas, corn and shrimp. Do not stir the rice mixture as you want the bottom layer to caramelize a bit. If the rice begins to burn, remove immediately and cover, allowing the final ingredients to continue cooking. Otherwise, cover the pan and let it finish on the coals. When the shrimp turns pink, your paella is done. Sprinkle with shrimp boil seasoning if desired before serving.
Palmetto eggs Benedict
A few South Carolina substitutions transforms this elegant brunch dish into something that's a bit more rustic, but so deliciously Southern you'll want to recreate it at home. Using a grill or grate over hot coals, prepare each component one at a time on a cast iron griddle, then construct this Napoleon-like dish. A metal baking sheet and a sheet of thick foil will keep things warm while you cook everything up.
Geechie Boy Mill's Sea Island Blue Cornmeal makes a colorful, sturdy, yet tender corn cake foundation on which to build the dish. Use your favorite pimento cheese recipe or purchase a South Carolina brand, such as Palmetto Cheese, to make the finishing sauce. Pair this dish with a Bloody Mary made with Charleston Mix and accessorized with speared okra, olives and shrimp.
1 ½ cups of Geechie Boy Mill Sea Island Blue Cornmeal
1 teaspoon of salt
1 cup of warm water
4 slices of green tomato, ½-inch thick
8 slices of deli-style smoked ham
12 fresh South Carolina shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 cup of pimento cheese spread
Milk for thinning
Butter to coat the griddle
Salt and pepper
Shrimp boil seasoning
In a bowl, mix cornmeal, 1 teaspoon of salt, egg and water with a fork until smooth. It should be a bit thicker than pancake batter. If it is too thick, thin with a spoon or two of water. If it's too thin, add a spoon or two of cornmeal.
Place the iron griddle on a grate over your heat source and coat it generously with butter. Spoon 1/3 cup of batter onto griddle and spread to about a 5-inch diameter with the back of a spoon. If your griddle is large enough, you can cook more than one at a time. Flip the corn cake when underside is brown around the edges. When the other side is cooked, remove to the baking sheet and cover with foil.
Add slices of ham to the griddle and brown, about 30 seconds each side depending on how hot your coals are. Remove to baking sheet and cover. Melt more butter on the griddle. Sprinkle tomato slices with shrimp boil seasoning and grill on both sides until lightly browned. Remove to baking sheet and cover.
Melt more butter and crack eggs directly on the griddle. Cook sunny-side up or as desired. Remove to baking sheet and cover, careful not to break the yolk. Grill shrimp on the griddle until pink, turning once. Remove to baking sheet. Spoon pimento cheese directly on the griddle and move around with a spatula until bubbly, adding a drizzle of milk to reach a gravy-like consistency. Transfer to a heat-resistant bowl.
Assemble by placing a corn cake on each dish, top with two slices of ham, a slice of grilled green tomato and an egg. Drizzle with pimento cheese sauce, then crown with three shrimp. Sprinkle with a little more shrimp boil seasoning before serving. Wash down with a Bloody Mary.
Campfire Tomato Pie
Tomato pie is a South Carolina classic that showcases our favorite summer fruit. While homemade pie crust is traditional, canned biscuits work admirably for this outdoorsy interpretation. The kids will love pressing the biscuit dough to form the crust. Side step the cheese grating and mixing by using a tub of your favorite pimento cheese spread for your topping. A Dutch oven lined with parchment paper is a perfect "pie plate" and makes for easy clean up.
1 can of biscuit dough, "grand" size
1 onion, sliced
1 tablespoon of butter
5 to 6 basil leaves, chopped or torn
3 to 4 ripe tomatoes, sliced and drained on paper towels
2 cups of pimento cheese spread
Prepare 24 coals in your grill or a fire ring. Either way, the grate will need to be about 6 inches from the coals. When the coals ash over, use a pair of tongs and divide the coals, setting 12 to the side. Position the other 12 for your bottom heat source. Set a small skillet on the grate over the coals to melt the butter, then sautee onions, stirring constantly. When they begin to brown, remove the skillet and set aside. Line a Dutch oven with parchment paper. Note: You may spray the parchment with cooking spray for added anti-stick power.
Press biscuits on the bottom and partially up the sides of the Dutch oven, sealing any cracks with your fingers. Add the onions, spreading them evenly across the bottom, then layer the tomatoes, overlapping if necessary. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and basil. Spread the pimento cheese on top to cover the entire surface of the pie.
Place the Dutch oven on the grate over the coals, then fit it with a lid. If your lid is rounded, place it on the Dutch oven with the top side down to form a concave. Using the tongs, place the 12 separated coals, one by one, on top of the lid. This will bake the top of the pie. Leave the pie on the grill for 5 minutes, then use tongs to set the top coals aside in the fire ring or grill. With hot pads, remove the lid from the Dutch oven. Using a fork, gently lift one side of the pie to check the bottom and sides. Cooking time will vary, according to how hot your coals are and how close the pot is to the coals. If more cooking time is needed, replace the lid and the top coals for 5 more minutes. Pie is done when the crust is brown and the top is bubbly. Scoop out onto plates with a large metal spoon.