Blessed is the seafood lover that lives, has friends or gets to travel often through a region in the Carolinas that begins just at the border of North and South Carolina, and ends on the outskirts of Myrtle Beach’s Grand Strand.
A drive through the area has signs offering Calabash style seafood, a way of preparing seafood that has been used in the region for many years.
Read on and you will find out what Calabash style seafood is, how it came to be and an easy way to prepare it at home.
What is Calabash Seafood?
The answer begins by asking another question. Where is Calabash?
Calabash is a small fishing village located near Little River, South Carolina. Nearby tourists areas include Ocean Isle, Sunset, and Holden Beaches. The larger Grand Strand of Myrtle Beach is less than an hour’s drive to the south.
The town had a population of 711 at the year 2000 census. It used to be even smaller and is still a small, quaint village. The main source of income for many of the village people is the seafood business. Fishermen take their boats out to sea and catch shrimp, flounder, and other seafood to sell to larger markets.
Back in the old days, the town folk would have get-togethers called fish fries outdoors. These became known as fish camps. Then sometime in the 1940s, two sisters, Ruth Beck and Lucy Coleman, opened a restaurant featuring fresh fish prepared in a style the locals loved. The method included soaking freshly caught seafood in a thin, seasoned batter and then deep frying it.
Today, there is a trove of seafood restaurants in the area that serve Calabash style seafood. Some are very fancy, and some have remained quaint. But they all include Calabash fish on the menu. About 30 restaurants in Calabash alone serve Calabash-style seafood.
People in the fishing business here are not keen on the idea that the greater Myrtle Beach area uses the name Calabash for their seafood. Calabashians claim you can only get true Calabash style seafood in Calabash.
Calabash and Tourism
Despite the competition that spreads to the south, Calabash restaurant owners do well with the business they receive from the tourists and residents of the nearby beaches and towns to the west. Calabash in itself has become somewhat of a tourist attraction. A huge gift shop and local art gallery now attract plenty of business.
Calabash Seafood Secret Ingredient
The secret ingredient for Calabash seafood is-well, fresh seafood. Anyone that has ever eaten freshly caught fish, whether fresh or salt water, will attest to the fact that there is a huge difference in the taste. The sooner after being caught that it is eaten, the better it tastes.
Calabash style fish is made with shrimp, flounder, and oysters. Popular side dishes with Calabash style fish have traditionally been creamy cole slaw, french fries, baked beans, corn-on-the-cob and of course hush puppies. For those not familiar with hush puppies, they are simply cornmeal, onions, egg and a little milk that is dropped into hot grease to fry. People love to add hot sauce, tarter sauce and perhaps lemon and butter. This all gets washed down with plenty of sweet tea.
Maybe not the healthiest fish dish, it is always fried but always fresh. If you are ever near Calabash, you really must stop if you are even remotely fond of seafood. And who’s to say that this style can’t be done with freshly-caught freshwater fish. Just don’t tell the locals in Calabash. They will call you crazy.
Calabash Style Seafood Recipe
- Fresh fish, flounder, shrimp, oysters, more
- 2 Cups Milk
- 1 Cup Flour
- 1 Cup Cornmeal
- Black pepper and paprika, to taste
- Vegetable oil, for frying
- Mix ingredients in a bowl. Add fish, shrimp, etc.
- Let the fish or seafood soak while you prepare the rest of the meal.
- Heat 2 inches of oil in a skillet or use a deep fryer.
- Cook each kind of fish separately on 3 minutes on each side.
- Serve with lemon, butter, hot sauce, cocktail or tarter sauce.
Good Night, Mrs. Calabash.
For years, Jimmy Durante signed off from his old radio and TV show saying “Good night Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are.” It was always a mystery of sorts, and Jimmy preferred to keep it that way. Some claim that it was his way of a tribute to his late wife. They had resided in a town called Calabasas in California before she died in 1943. But to the locals, Mrs. Calabash is no mystery. Durante stopped while passing through the area during the 1940s after Miss Lucy Coleman and Miss Ruth Beck opened the first Calabash seafood restaurant. He was so taken with the food and the two young women, especially Miss Lucy, that he left saying he would make her famous. Miss Lucy Coleman was Durante’s Mrs. Calabash.