As the Supreme Court strips us of our bodily autonomy while expanding gun rights and deciding that police officers can no longer be sued for not reading us our Miranda rights, it may seem like there’s not much to celebrate this July 4th. In recent years, many have stopped celebrating the holiday entirely, as “independence” has traditionally been limited only to white men in this country—not exactly something to wave flags about.
But, alas, I love a good summertime party, and if I have a weekday off, I’m going to take advantage of it. This July 4th seems like a good time to buck tradition if there ever was one, which is why I think we should set burgers to the side and indulge in a growing trend that’s coincidentally perfect for parties: the seafood boil.
Many outlets have covered the seafood boil boom that’s taking place across the U.S., and it doesn’t look like it’s slowing down anytime soon: Cajun and Asian fusion spots boasting shrimp, crawfish, mussels and clams are popping up all over American cities, introducing Americans outside of New Orleans to the popular Louisiana classic. Bill Resk, who works as the president and COO of Hook & Reel Cajun Seafood Restaurant and Bar in New York told Eat This, Not That!, “The Cajun seafood trend is a concept that’s come of age. We’re now seeing exponential growth in this market… and that means the concept is working where we’ve opened and with different demographics. This tells me that people are really enjoying this [Cajun seafood] experience, especially those who’ve never had it before.”
As lovely as a trip to New Orleans may be, you don’t have to travel to the Big Easy to experience the endless joy a good seafood boil can offer—or even head to a restaurant at all. If you have a large-enough pot, seafood boils are actually pretty easy to pull off at home. Even if you don’t have a huge pot, you can always cook the seafood in batches—although standing over a hot stove while all your guests are partying may not be the ideal situation.
Although crawfish may be the seafood of choice in many seafood boils, you don’t have to limit yourself to the finicky crustacean if you don’t want to have to pull its body apart for a tiny amount of meat (though, for me, it’s totally worth the trouble). Using shrimp or bivalves in place of the crawfish can be just as exciting—and it may be easier to source. Then, adding in potatoes, corn and sausage can bulk up the seafood and keep things affordable, especially if you’re feeding a whole party.
But the best part of a seafood boil that a traditional Fourth of July cookout just can’t compare to? It’s spreading out the old newspaper on a table, pouring the seafood on top and getting your hands dirty surrounded by people you love. Individual plates aren’t needed, and utensils are extraneous. It’s truly a communal dining experience—unfortunately, something that’s not always common when eating “American” food.
As we as a country struggle with massive political and social upheaval, coming together over a table heaped full of food can, in my mind, only be a positive. And I don’t mean that in a come-together, we-can-overcome-our-differences-if-we-just-share-a-beer-together kind of way. The worst ideas that have infected this country—racism, sexism, xenophobia—should not be indulged and will never have a place at my table. But as our government continues to fail us, building community will be of the utmost importance. We need to create communities that don’t just spend time together for enjoyment but who actually lean on each other in times of hardship—times that, for many, have already arrived.
It just so happens that food is an excellent method of building community. The best, if you ask me. A seafood boil is symbolic of diners coming together for sustenance and pleasure: things we all need right now.
Samantha Maxwell is a food writer and editor based in Boston. Follow her on Twitter at @samseating.