Boil: Spices, Shrimp and Garbage Cans
If I am completely analytical,
I am forced to trace the shrimp boil's roots back to an
event when I was five. The neighbor across the street from
us threw a fundraiser for then Vice President Richard M.
Nixon. I watched only from a distance, but ever since, a
big fundraiser has always held my fascination. With the
Shrimp Boil I could combine my love of crustacea with
politics. It was perfect.
I was an early adopter of the Cajun craze. By 1981, I knew that "l'haricot" was pronounced Zydeco in certain parishes of Louisiana and John Delafose was my favorite musician. I read an account (in "Creole Gumbo and All that Jazz", Howard Mitcham, 1980) about shrimp placed in pillowcases and boiled in a spicy broth in big garbage cans in New Orleans. That seemed like a great idea to me and now I simply needed a reason for a big party.
A friend worked for then U.S. Representative Mike Lowry and I talked him into letting me throw a fundraiser for his boss, using this idea. Looking back on that decision, we both shake our heads. The first year, we learned that nobody boils shrimp in a pillowcase. The next year, with smaller, mesh-sided garbage cans to hold the shrimp in the spicy broth, we came back with the promise of "bigger, better shrimp." The event, all-you-can-eat for $25, featured shrimp, corn and potatoes, all cooked in the spicy broth. Cole slaw, french bread and your beverage of choice rounded out the menu. It was an immediate success and became a political institution in Washington State. In 1988, when Mike ran for the U.S. Senate, we had more than 1800 guests.
Over the years, I did this event for many others running for political office and it led me to branch out to many other cooking extravaganzas. I learned to be calm when faced with hundreds of eaters and that cooking for a crowd and raising money for good candidates was just as much fun as I thought it would be when I was five. While I haven't done a shrimp boil in years, rumors are that what we started persists in certain communities in the Pacific Northwest.
The Shrimp Boil Recipe Files
P.S. Use only a new clean garbage can.