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What Exactly is Lowcountry Cooking?

By Marissa Polascak • August 19, 2015

If you’ve ever been to the South, or even if you’ve been checking out restaurant profiles on our site, then you’ve probably heard the term “Lowcountry cooking.” Many people who are not familiar with Southern culture may be unaware exactly what Lowcountry cooking is. And, to be completely honest, some of us living in the South that grew up somewhere else may not know either. However, there is no need to worry; understanding what Lowcountry cooking means is relatively easy.

Let’s first start with the term “Lowcountry.” The Lowcountry can mean different things to different people, but technically it refers to a geographic region spanning from Georgia’s Savannah River all the way up north to the Pawleys Island area in South Carolina. This area, understandably named the Lowcountry because it is approximately an 80 mile stretch of low-elevation land, is known for features like salt marshes, moss-draped oaks, and old plantation homes. So, you ask, if the Lowcountry is technically a mass of land, then what does it have to do with cooking?

Oh, believe me, it has a lot to do with Southern cookin’, and it’s all finger lickin’ delicious!

Much like the diet of the Gullah people, Southern cooking finds its roots in the Southern land and sea. Because the Lowcountry lies on the coastal region of Georgia and South Carolina, then it is no surprise that Lowcountry cooking uses a lot of seafood such as shrimp, oysters, clams, crabs, lobster, fish, and more! And, of course, the coastal region of Georgia and South Carolina is also known for agricultural goods such as vegetables, fruits, rice, and corn. When you mix and match these ingredients, you get Lowcountry favorites such as pilau rice and grits.

But what are some popular Lowcountry recipes? Here is a list of some of the most famous dishes that come from the Lowcountry region:

Sources: Wikipedia; Coastal Living; Post and Courier; Discover South Carolina; Charleston Gateway

Frogmore Stew (A.K.A.) Lowcountry Boil

This dish hails from the South Carolina town of Frogmore,and—sorry folks—it does not contain frog. Instead, this dish is a famous concoction of spicy sausage, shrimp, and corn-on-the-cob all boiled together. Serve it in a bowl, or on a plate; either way, you’ll go back for seconds!

She-Crab Soup

Commonly found throughout many restaurants in Charleston, she-crab soup is a soup with a consistency similar to bisque that contains milk (or heavy cream), crab (or fish) stock, Atlantic blue crab meat, crab roe, and dry sherry. The dish is named She-Crab soup for the fish eggs that are used to add a delectable flavor to the dish. There are many variations of this dish, so be sure to try as much as you can while you’re visiting the South Carolina Lowcountry.

Hoppin’ John

This Lowcountry dish is quite simple, but packs a lot of symbolism. Commonly made with black-eyed peas (or field peas), rice, bacon (or a variation such as fatback or hamhock), chopped onion, and salt, Hoppin’ John is most popular on New Year’s Day. It is said that eating Hoppin’ John on this day will help bring luck in the New Year. Green foods such as collard greens and cabbage are often eaten alongside Hoppin’ John to represent currency, and corn bread is another favorite with Hoppin’ John as its golden color represents wealth and prosperity.

Shrimp and Grits

This is arguably one of the most famous dishes that stems from the Lowcountry. Of course, there are many variations of shrimp and grits, but this meal is traditionally made with a bed of grits topped with shrimp, coated with amazing rich gravy. FYI: For those of you unsure what grits are, don’t worry; I didn’t know what they were prior to moving to the South. Grits are made from ground corn, and have the consistency somewhat close to porridge.

Huguenot Torte

This Charleston favorite was brought to coastal South Carolina when French Huguenots settled in the Charleston area in the late 17th century. The original recipe of this dessert contained hazelnuts, but because these were not indigenous to the South Carolina region, pecans were used instead. To this day, Huguenot torte remains as one of the most common desserts to end a Lowcountry meal.

Okra Soup

A South Carolina Lowcountry take on Louisiana gumbo, Okra soup is an “old-school” dish that is often called “Charleston Okra Soup.” This tomato-based soup features okra and chunks of beef, with the broth being made from a beef bone. Common ingredients also include chopped yellow onion, celery, parsley, and many other things depending on the preference of the cook.

Turtle Soup

Also known as “cooter soup” and “terrapin soup,” the South Carolina Lowcountry inherited a love for turtle soup from the English settlers in Colonial America. Charleston took a great liking to the soup, and recognized the English recipe calling for herbs, cayenne pepper, shallots, cream, and Madeira. However, over the years different versions of the dish popped up, including a recipe that called for dry sherry, onion, whole cloves, red pepper, and diced potatoes. Despite is popularity in the past, turtle soup isn’t very common anymore due to the fact that it is only legal to catch and eat two diamondback terrapin turtles, and only for personal use. Nowadays, it is more acceptable to have a bowl of “mock turtle soup.”

Chicken Bog

Deriving specifically from Horry County in South Carolina, chicken bog is a dish that many people outside of South Carolina have never heard of. The dish is actually quite simple and delicious, comprise of long-grain white rice, onion, sliced smoked sausage, and, of course, chicken! It is said that this dish is close to chicken pilau, but is a little moister. Where the name “chicken bog” comes from isn’t really known; we just know that it is quite tasty.

Charleston Red Rice

Though there are about a million ways to prepare Charleston Red Rice, the traditional way to make it is by taking tomatoes, rice, and pork fat and simmering them all together . Sounds simple, but Charleston Red Rice is packed with flavor that everyone is sure to love. If you ever visit Charleston, be sure to try this dish at different places to see different perspectives on a traditional Lowcountry dish.

Pimento Cheese

Unless you’ve been to South, you most likely have not encountered the magic that is pimento cheese. A South Carolina favorite, pimento cheese is a spread made with sharp cheddar cheese (or processed cheese like American cheese or Velveeta), pimentos, salt, pepper, and mayonnaise. These ingredients are blended into a paste that is either chunky or smooth depending on preference. Some pimento cheeses include other ingredients such as cream cheese, Louisiana hot sauce, jalapenos, dill pickles, and more. Either way, once you start munchin’ on some crackers with pimento cheese, you’ll be hooked!