Saturday, March 23, 2013

Lee Bros. and Lucky 32 celebrate Charleston cuisine Thursday in Greensboro

Ted and Matt Lee will participate in a sold-out celebration of their new book, “The Lee Bros. Charleston Kitchen,” at 6:30 p.m. March 28 with a six-course dinner prepared by Chef Jay Pierce at Lucky 32 Southern Kitchen in Greensboro. .

The prevailing image of Charleston life is one of gracious leisure: hearty breakfasts of stone-ground grits and light suppers of something freshly drawn from the sea, followed by evenings on the veranda sipping iced tea – or perhaps something a tad stronger, if one needs a restorative to combat the heat.
Growing up in a 1784 townhouse on the famed Rainbow Row, Ted and Matt Lee have enjoyed their share of such blissful days, but not recently. The brothers are just about everywhere else in the near South and beyond to promote their new book, The Lee Bros. Charleston Kitchen (Clarkson Potter). They’ve already made several stops in the Triangle but will pause Thursday in Greensboro for a celebration of their new recipes with Chef Jay Pierce at Lucky 32 Southern Kitchen.

“We’ve known Jay for years,” says Ted Lee , the younger, glasses-wearing sibling during a recent call from his home in Brooklyn, N.Y. “He really cares about quality food made from the best local ingredients.”
The Lees’ association with Lucky 32 dates back to 2001, before Pierce was hired. That year the Southern Foodways Alliance launched its first “field trip,” which was held in Greensboro at the O. Henry Hotel. “We were there with our boiled peanuts,” Lee says. “We met so many people who were our heroes.”

They still champion the cause of traditional boiled peanuts – and operate a successful online business where you can order some – but the Lees have become known for other things since then. They were feted by Pierce at the Greensboro restaurant following the release of The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook, which won the 2007 James Beard Award for Cookbook of the Year.
“We thought our interest in Southern food and his was a great matchup,” Lee recalls, adding that Pierce pulled out all the stops for a memorable evening. “We told him to do his service the way he normally does, that he didn’t need to do anything special. But he was like, ‘No, that’s not how we do it.’”

Thursday’s event will be no different. Pierce will prepare a six-course meal based on 12 Charleston Kitchen recipes, one of which will be tweaked with his signature Voodoo Sauce. Each course will be paired with beers from Fullsteam Brewery. The tab is just $40 per person.

Among the featured dishes is one that would be ideal for the Easter holiday table, roast fresh ham (see recipe below). “It’s dead simple to make, unless you’re one of those people who can’t stand to leave something alone to cook by itself for a few hours,” Lee says. The slow roast maximizes natural flavors and creates an exterior of what the book calls “fantastic caramelized fat.”

“Oh, it’s the best part,” Lee says, admitting to sneaking chunks of the crispy goodness that tastes a bit like pork candy.  The book features an adorable full-page photo of his nephew, Lorenzo, in wide-eyed toddler heaven as he snacks on a bite.
“Charleston is more oriented toward poultry and creatures of the sea, so pork hasn’t always been a big thing for the area,” says Lee, noting the region did not historically embrace the typically Southern culture of smoking or curing pork. “We’re lucky today to have access to heirloom pork from a great purveyor, Emile DeFelice of Caw Caw Creek. He mostly sells to restaurants, but his pork also is sold at farmer’s markets.”

The release of The Lees Bros. Charleston Kitchen follows the 20th anniversary re-issue of a classic earlier this year by UNC Press, Hoppin’ John’s Low Country Cooking: Recipes and Ruminations from Charleston and the Carolina Coastal Plain by culinary historian John Martin Taylor. Lee is quick to distinguish Taylor’s scholarly volume from their more contemporary take of Charleston cuisine.
“John Martin Taylor is a real historian; we’re snoopers,” he says with a laugh. “We like to nose around to find things out.”

The brothers actually conducted considerable research to write the book, which Ted Lee considers an homage to the people and places that make them who they are as food writers. It contains four pages of small-print reference to other writings about Charleston cuisine, plus another for acknowledgments.

“We were born in New York so we don’t have a Charleston grandmother. We checked with a lot of our friends’ grandmothers, though, and with crabbers, fishermen and farmers,” Lee says. “The sense of wonder at the food of the Low Country continues for us. There is a lot of energy there, and the interconnectedness of stories is remarkable.”

An example is the story of Backman Seafood, a small but legendary roadside shop on nearby James Island. Susie Backman was a hardworking entrepreneur who was hailed as the “Queen on Shrimpers” in a six-page feature in Ebony magazine in 1964. Her son, Thomas Backman Jr., continues her traditions today and shared her recipe for conch fritters – another of the items that will be on the Lucky 32 tasting menu.
Perhaps Ted Lee’s favorite connection was created when they met Henry Shaffer, who provides exceptional deviled crab on Fridays to The Wreck restaurant in nearby Mt. Pleasant.  The brothers enjoyed them for years before noticing the menu credited Shaffer.

“We got his permission to do an interview on camera, and it turned out to be an amazing experience,” Lee says. “He is the grandson of the owners of the restaurant Henry’s, which was icon from the 1930s through the 80s. It became like Charleston’s Galatoire. He took us down so many paths that we’d forgotten.”
Lee describes the stories in Charleston Kitchen as “just the tip of the iceberg.”

“We should do a Volume 2,” he says with a laugh. “We completely forgot about including supper clubs. I remember our parents coming back from supper clubs a little bit drunk.
“Once you start talking with people it naturally leads to one thing and another,” he adds. “It was a great way to learn about ourselves through the food and stories of our chosen home.”

Roast Fresh Ham 
Reprinted by permission of Ted Lee from The Lee Bros. Charleston Kitchen, @2013 by Clarkson Potter.
Serves: 12 to 14
Time: 4 hours 30 minutes

1 (16-18 pound) fresh ham, skin removed with as much fat as possible left on1½ tablespoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons fresh thyme (from about 14 stems)
1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary (from about 5 stems)
2 cups plus 2 tablespoons dry white wine
¼ cup half-and-half
  1. Set a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Trim any remaining skin and excess fat from the ham, leaving a layer of fat up ¾ inch thick. Score the ham all over in a diamond pattern of ½-inch-deep cuts about 1½ inches apart.
  2. In a small bowl, combine the salt, black pepper, thyme and rosemary, pinching and blending the mixture with your fingers until the thyme is fragrant. Pat the mixture all over the ham and into the crevices.
  3. Put the ham, fat side up, on a rack in a large roasting pan and roast for 30 minutes. Decrease the oven temperature to 350 degrees and – taking care to avoid pouring the liquid directly into rendered fat – pour 2 cups of white wine and 1 cup of water into the pan; loosely tent with aluminum foil. Continue to roast, basting every hour, and adding water as necessary, to keep a 1/8-inch depth of juices in the bottom on the pan, until a meat thermometer pressed into the thickest part of the ham reads 145 degrees, about 3½ hours.
  4. Let the ham rest 15 to 20 minutes before carving. Pour the pan juices and remaining 2 tablespoons wine into a small saucepan and simmer for about 2 minutes. Turn off the heat, add the half-and-half, and serve the gravy with the ham.

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