Like the majority of residents, I am not originally from the North Carolina coast (although after living here for about 5 years I now consider myself a local). But many people, when they hear me talk, say, “Where are you from?” I have a heavy southern accent with a hint of a bayou draw, an immediate telltale sign that I am originally from the foothills of North Carolina. I am a true Carolina girl through and through – I go snowboarding in the winter, camping in the spring, fishing in the summer, and I cook just like my momma taught me during the holiday months.
For no matter where I am living, the holiday season is a very special time for me. My friends and family gather and we catch up on life and kids, and we meet around a table generously heaped with food celebrating another year. You can usually find me hovering over the food table looking at all the tasty options.
I have always enjoyed cooking and I am not afraid to try new things. It seems that every Christmas party, work holiday social or family tradition involves food preparation. Predominantly I make southern dishes because that is what I am most accustomed to making, but now that I live in an area that provides so much good quality seafood, my repertoire has evolved.
I have put together my Favorite Coastal Carolina Holiday Menu. This menu uses the most prevalent and available seafood in our area during these cooler months yet is sure to impress guests at the Christmas table. While being a tribute to our North Carolina coastal bounty, it is still comfort food that will fulfill everyone at the table.
One note: I would suggest going to your local seafood market or roadside stand to purchase the seafood for this menu. Not only will you be buying the freshest seafood available but you will most likely be buying from a family owned operation and, in turn, helping our local fisherman. Many of the workers at these local seafood markets are very knowledgeable about their products, so don’t be afraid to ask about the food. They are often able to tell you the exact location that the seafood was caught.
With that said, let’s eat!
Here is My Favorite Coastal Carolina Holiday Menu:
(This serves 8 adults)
We start this meal with oysters and shrimp with cocktail sauce. I found that many people in our area have not been exposed to fresh raw oysters. The months of October through March are the best months to get fresh local oysters, so take advantage of these delicacies while they are at their peak! The large white shrimp are really sweet in flavor, abundant through the month of November, and make for a beautiful display. Let your family and friends graze these mollusks and crustaceans while gearing up their appetite.
Oysters on the Half Shell
For the Oysters:
You will need a half bushel of Single Select Oysters.
Use a towel to hold the oyster in your hand and open them from the back hinged area with an oyster opening tool.
Display the half-shelled oysters on a large platter over ice with lemon wedges.
For the Shrimp:
You will need 3 lbs of large (head off) shrimp.
In a deep pot bring to boil:
- 8 cups of water
- 4 lemon halves
- 2 of your favorite beers
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 teaspoon of dry mustard
- 1 teaspoon of pepper
- 1 teaspoon of paprika
- 1 teaspoon of seasoning salt
Drop in the shrimp and let boil for about 2-3 minutes until they are pink and floating.
Drain and serve on a large platter with Cocktail sauce
For the Cocktail Sauce:
- 1 cup ketchup
- Juice of 1 lemon
- 2 teaspoons of Worcestershire sauce
- 1 tablespoon of horseradish (more if you like it hot)
Mix all the ingredients
The star of this holiday menu is the grouper over artichokes with asparagus. Grouper is a member of the sea bass family that is lean, white, and flaky, with a mild flavor. It is usually associated with Florida but the waters off the Carolinas are teeming with grouper.
Baked Grouper over Artichokes with Asparagus
Layer a large greased baking dish with two cans of chopped artichokes. Place eight grouper steaks over the artichokes and put two bundles of trimmed asparagus around the fish.
- 2/3 cup mayonnaise
- 3 tablespoons of melted butter
- ½ cup chopped shallots
- ½ cup grated parmesan cheese
- Juice of 1 lemon
- ½ cup sherry
- 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1 tablespoon parsley
Pour the mixture over the fish and vegetables and bake covered at 425 degrees then uncovered for an additional 10 minutes.
Serve each piece of fish over the artichokes with asparagus and drizzle with sauce and garnish with slices of lemon.
To accompany the grouper, I like to serve a crab-stuffed mushroom recipe. The crabmeat used for the mushrooms can be backfin, claw, or lump crab. Backfin consists of broken pieces of lump meat mixed with smaller pieces of the white body meat. Claw meat is darker in color and less sweet in flavor when compared to lump or backfin. But my favorite is the lump crab, which is the white meat on the inside of the crab’s body and is most sweet.
You will need a large container of cremini mushrooms – 1 lb. Gently wipe each mushroom with a damp paper towel to clean them. (Do not put them under water.) Remove and dispose of the stems.
- 7 oz crabmeat
- 3 tablespoons melted butter
- 3 finely chopped green onions
- ½ of a red pepper finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon Thyme
- ½ teaspoon Paprika
- ½ cup Mayonnaise
- Juice from ½ a Lemon
- 1 cup cream cheese
- Salt and pepper
Drizzle the mushrooms with olive oil and spoon a heaping amount into each mushroom packing it in with the spoon. Sprinkle breadcrumbs on top and bake at 350 degrees for 25 – 30 minutes.
Serve on a platter with lemon slices.
Since I start my meal with raw oysters on the half shell I love coming back to them again in a completely different way – oyster cornbread dressing. Cooking oysters will create an entirely new flavor and texture. In the raw form, oysters are cold, slippery, and melt down your throat, leaving a flavor of the salty sea. But when cooked they are warm, chewy and taste much meatier. Often times people will use sausage and/or cranberries, which can create a similar taste and texture, however, since we’re on the coast of North Carolina, I use oysters!
Oyster Cornbread Dressing
Grease a large baking dish or use two cast iron pans.
- 2 cakes of cornbread crumbled
- 3 dozen fresh shucked oysters
- 4 eggs beaten
- 1 teaspoon sage
- ½ teaspoon tarragon
- 1 tablespoon parsley
- ½ cup golden raisins
- Pinch of cayenne or dash of hot sauce
- 1 stick melted butter
- 2 large onions chopped
- 5 stalks celery chopped
- 2 cups chicken stock
- Salt and pepper
Bake covered at 375 degrees for 45 min. Remove the cover for an additional 15 min. Serve hot.
To round out all the warm, savory dishes I like to offer a cool, citric tropical scallop ceviche. Bay scallops, a small, whitish shellfish, are native to East Coast waters and flourish in multiple coves off the North Carolina coast. Their harvest has been heavily regulated since 2006 when state populations of the bivalve dipped to dangerously low numbers due to hurricanes and other environmental changes. I know eating these mollusks raw can seem strange, but the citric acid from the lemon and limes actually ‘cooks’ them a bit.
Tropical Scallop Ceviche
Prepare this dish a few hours ahead of serving so it can sit in the citric acid in the refrigerator and ‘cook’ the scallops.
- 1 lb bay scallops halved
- Juice of 3 limes
- Juice of 2 lemons
- ½ cup red wine vinegar
- 1 yellow pepper diced
- 1 large onion diced
- 2 mangos diced
- 2 red apples diced
- 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1 tablespoon of sugar
- 2 tablespoons fresh chopped cilantro
- Salt and pepper
Let it sit in the refrigerator for a few hours then serve in scallop shells.
This year for your holiday meal, think outside the usual recipe box and dive into a sea of local variations!
And from all of us here at Carolina Marketing Company; we hope you have a safe and happy holiday.
Until next year, bye ya’ll!