Almost 125 years ago, a pharmacist in New Bern, North Carolina, created history with a mix of sugar, water, caramel, lemon oil, kola nuts, nutmeg, and other additives, which he christened Pepsi-Cola. (Yes, like its rival Coca-Cola, Pepsi has Southern roots.) In the same town about a century later, a little boy sat with his grandmother in the balmy Carolina summer, sipping and crunching on their favorite treat: salty peanuts buoyed in that sweet caramel liquid. Fast forward further in time but just a few towns over to Durham, and that little boy is now chef Ricky Moore, a 2022 James Beard Award recipient dishing up fresh, local fish from his very own Saltbox Seafood Joint, inspired by classic American fish camps and waterside seafood shacks. This creation, which he shared at Southern Foodways Alliance’s Fall Symposium last October, is a powerhouse of flavors paying homage to his childhood and hometown.
Food & Drink
North Carolina Shrimp Boil with Peanuts and Pepsi
Chef Ricky Moore of the Tar Heel state (and Pepsi’s hometown) shares a recipe inspired by his childhood
photo: Jai Williams
North Carolina Shrimp Boil with Peanuts and Pepsi (Yield: 6–8 servings)
For the Boil
2 lb. raw peanuts in shells
3 lb. shrimp, shells on
1¼ cups SSJ Seasoning (recipe follows), divided
½ cup sea salt
24 oz. Pepsi
12 oz. pale ale–style beer
4 oz. Worcestershire sauce
4 oz. hot sauce, plus extra for serving
4 bay leaves
2 lb. small red potatoes
8 ears corn, shucked
1 serrano pepper
2 lb. air-dried country sausage, sliced
3 lemons, cut into quarters
Melted butter, for serving
For the SSJ (Saltbox Seafood Joint) Seasoning (yields about 1¼ cup)
2 tbsp. ground roasted peanuts
1 tbsp. sea salt
1 tbsp. powdered chicken soup base (bouillon)
2 tbsp. sweet or smoked paprika
1 tbsp. granulated onion
1 tbsp. granulated garlic
1 tbsp. dried oregano
2 tsp. ground black pepper
2 tsp. mustard powder
1 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 tsp. ground mace
1 tsp. ground coriander
1 tsp. ground fennel seed
1 tsp. ground allspice
Make the seasoning: Combine all ingredients in a bowl and stir until thoroughly mixed. Store in an airtight container at room temperature.
Make the boil: Place the peanuts in a bowl and add enough water to cover them by at least an inch. Soak overnight. In another large bowl, toss the shrimp with ½ cup of the SSJ seasoning. Cover, refrigerate, and allow to marinate overnight.
Drain the peanuts, then place them in a large stock pot with the salt. Add the Pepsi, beer, Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce, bay leaves, and 1 gallon (16 cups) of water. Place a plate over the peanuts to keep them submerged in the liquid, then bring to a simmer.
Simmer until the peanuts are soft, about 2 hours, adding more liquid (Pepsi, water, or beer) as needed to keep the peanuts covered.
Remove the plate and add the potatoes, corn, and Serrano pepper. Cook until the potatoes are tender, 10 to 15 minutes.
Add the shrimp, sausage, lemons, and ½ cup SSJ seasoning. Cook over medium heat for 15 minutes.
Strain off all of the broth, then pour all of the shrimp, peanuts, corn, and potatoes onto a large table covered with brown paper bags or newspaper.
Serve with bowls of melted butter, hot sauce, the remaining SSJ seasoning, and plenty of ice-cold Pepsi and beer to wash it down.
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