Edward Lee's new Smoke & Pickles book should come with a consumer warning label: Exercise caution when starting this book because you will not be able to put it down.
Beautifully written and designed, the volume is part memoir of how a cocky Korean-Brooklyn kid finds his footing in a culturally diverse neighborhood and food scene, experiencing bittersweet success as a hipster New York City chef before finding his destiny at 610 Magnolia in Louisville, Ky. Fellow English majors who morphed into foodies will nod to the many literary references, as well as to this good advice from Cola Ham Hocks with Miso Glaze: "Braise for 2 hours while you read some Walt Whitman poems."
The balance of the book is a 130-recipe collection that ranges from simple to complex. Some are restaurant favorites that have been retooled for home cooks, but most reflect the dishes and drinks Lee makes in his kitchen to enjoy with friends. Reading them, you can almost smell the sometimes bourbon-spiked, umami-rich flavors.
Lee, a three-time runner-up for James Beard honors, will be celebrated Wednesday at 6 p.m. by Chef Colin Bedford with a special dinner at Fearrington Village in Pittsboro. Tickets are $85 and include dinner, a beer tasting and a signed copy of the book. Lee says he looks forward to returning to the Triangle and visiting with close friend and chef Ashley Christensen, who will introduce him.
"Every time I've been to the Raleigh area, it's always ended up a very colorful evening," he says while driving from his home to Oxford, Miss., to participate in a Southern Foodways Alliance event. "I always enjoy the people there. They give me lots of libation."
The dinner will be a homecoming in other ways. Lee has an uncle who lives about 15 minutes away from Fearrington.
His uncle is bound to find familiar flavors in the "contemporary approach to the Southern table" that Lee has made famous at 610 Magnolia. In his book, Lee attributes this to "smoke [as] the intersection between my two worlds"—referring to his Korean heritage and chosen Southern home.
"Korean grills and Southern barbecue have a lot in common," he says. "And there are so many ways to infuse that smoky flavor into foods with great local ingredients like bourbon, bacon, sorghum—or to brighten them with the bite of a sharp pickle. It creates the perfect balance, the yin and yang, that makes a meal memorable."
Lee has sought out big experiences and big flavors since childhood, taking risks and seeking art in the everyday. "Too many restaurants are just sort of recycling menus, trying to figure out what the people want," he says. "The best independent restaurants in the world have a point of view. People are hungry for that." Lee despises the term "fusion" for what he calls its "culinary racism," the implication that Eastern cuisine needs to be "legitimized" by fusing it with more familiar Western fare. He sees some humor, however, in the notion that some eaters think the ultimate nexus of Southern and Korean food is KFC—not the fast-food franchise, but Korean Fried Chicken.
"I get asked to do that all the time," he says, noting he recently tested a Korean fried chicken recipe that will be featured in a magazine. "Even within this simple idea, there are so many variations. It's no different than going to five Southern homes and finding five different ways of making Southern fried chicken."
Lee does include a fried chicken recipe in Smoke & Pickles that incorporates both smoky Filipino adobo spice and the curious Southern accompaniment of waffles. "I'm not sure who first thought of serving fried chicken and waffles together, but if adding waffles helps you to feel better about eating fried chicken for breakfast, I'm all for it," he writes. "This is my kind of soul food."
"We tend to think of Southern food and culture as being one way, but when you look at the history, you see how wrong that is," Lee says. "For me, Southern culture represents an important part of American history. It's always been very fertile and creative, incorporating influences from all over the world. I'm glad to be part of it."
Adobo-Fried Chicken and Waffles
Excerpted from Smoke & Pickles by Edward Lee (Artisan Books). Copyright 2013.
I'm not sure who first thought of serving fried chicken and waffles together, but if adding waffles helps you to feel better about eating fried chicken for breakfast, I'm all for it. This is a Filipino adobo, not the Spanish version. The vinegar brightens the richness of the fried chicken and helps with digestion. Add more or fewer chiles, depending on how much heat you like.
This is my kind of soul food. Serve with Kabocha Squash Mac 'n' Cheese and Tank 7 Farmhouse Ale from Boulevard Brewing Company. And invite me over if I happen to be in your town.
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 large eggs
1 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup water
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons maple syrup
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 fresh Thai bird or habanero peppers, thinly sliced
2 1/2 cups distilled white vinegar
1 1/2 cups water
3 garlic cloves, finely minced
4 bay leaves
1 1/2 teaspoons black peppercorns
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon salt
2 pounds chicken, thighs and/or drumsticks, plus wings if desired (do not use breasts)
2 cups buttermilk
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
About 8 cups peanut oil for deep-frying
1. To make the waffles: Preheat your waffle maker and lightly oil it. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, paprika, and black pepper. In a small bowl, whisk together the melted butter, eggs, and butter-milk. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients a little at a time, whisking constantly.
2. Cook the waffles according to your waffle maker's instructions. Cut the waffles into 2-inch-wide wedges and reserve on a plate at room temperature or keep warm in a low oven until ready to serve.
3. To make the dipping sauce: Combine all the ingredients in a small bowl. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.
4. To make the adobo broth: In a large pot, combine all the ingredients, cover with a tight-fitting lid, and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Simmer for 5 minutes, then turn the heat down as low as it will go.
5. Arrange the chicken pieces on a work surface and season them with salt. Add the chicken pieces to the gently simmering broth, cover, and poach for 15 minutes, turning once halfway through. You want the chicken to poach gently and stay moist while picking up the flavor of the broth, so make sure the liquid does not get hotter than a gentle simmer. Turn off the heat and allow the chicken to cool in the liquid, covered, about 20 minutes.
6. Remove the chicken pieces from the adobo broth (discard the broth) and transfer to a plate lined with paper towels. Pat dry.
7. To fry the chicken: Pour the buttermilk into a large shallow bowl. In another bowl, combine the flour, 1 teaspoon salt, the paprika, and the pepper. Dip each chicken piece in the buttermilk, shake off any excess liquid, dredge in the flour mixture, turning to coat, and transfer to a large plate. Let stand at room temperature for 15 minutes. The flour coating will turn a little soft—that's a good thing.
8. Meanwhile, fill a large, deep cast-iron skillet about half-full with peanut oil. Heat the oil to 365°F. Cook the chicken pieces 2 or 3 at a time for 8 to 10 minutes, turning every minute or so, depending on how thick the pieces of chicken are; wings will cook faster and drumsticks will take the longest. Be sure to keep the oil temperature at around 350 to 365°F. The chicken is cooked when the internal temperature reaches at least 165°F. Using tongs, lift the chicken out of the oil and drain on paper towels. Season again with a little salt, and transfer to a platter.
9. Serve the fried chicken with the waffle pieces and the dipping sauce. Eat it hot!
This article appeared in print with the headline "Smoke signals."
A version of this article was originally published on our Big Bite blog.