It’s impossible to live in the Lowcountry and not become enamored with the local food traditions. For the Lee Brothers, this love developed as young boys living on Rainbow Row. They roamed the streets and alleys of downtown and discovered culinary treasures around every corner, whether that meant a backyard oyster roast or a tree heavy with ripe mulberries. Their latest cookbook The Lee Bros. Charleston Kitchen documents the people and products that make our local food culture so distinctive. Packed with stories about colorful characters like shrimpers Fred Dockery and Capt. Junior Magwood, esteemed soul food cook Martha Lou Gadsden, and legendary farmer Sidi Limehouse, the cookbook paints a vivid picture of where it all comes from.
They are also clearly indebted to Charleston Receipts, the Junior League community cookbook from the '50s that many recipes were inspired by. Indeed, Charleston Kitchen feels a bit like Charleston Receipts updated for a modern cook with recipes like shrimp popovers, crab salad, guinea squash dip, and Wentworth Street Crab Meat.
The Lee Bros. Charleston Kitchen cookbook has just been released and Matt and Ted will be on hand throughout the festival, demonstrating recipes, signing books, and hosting fabulous dinner parties. We caught up with them before the festival to get the lowdown on what they love about the Lowcountry.
What is the most iconic Charleston food experience?
The creekside oyster roast.
Whose dinner invitation would you never decline?
We never decline dinner invitations for any non-scheduling reason! How about rephrasing the question as, "Whose dinner invitation would you accept even if your wife was delivering your first child that evening?" The answer to that would be: Edna Lewis, if she were still alive.
What are your hidden gems when it comes to dining out?
Heart Wood Fire Kitchen on James Island (1622 Highland Ave. James Island. 843-718-1539) — not so hidden, but off-the-beaten path and new enough that most people we invite still haven't been.
Favorite setting for a sunset cocktail?
Creek-facing upper level at Bowens Island Restaurant. (1870 Bowens Island Road, James Island. 843-795-2757)
Where can you buy boiled peanuts these days?
Request the downtown pick-up option at boiledpeanuts.com!
What's the best Charleston food souvenir?
Mrs. Sassard's Artichoke Relish (which you can find in the Lee Bros. Boiled Peanuts Catalog at boiledpeanuts.com and at various gift shops downtown)
What's the best Charleston cookbook? Favorite recipe from that book?
Charleston Receipts; Meeting Street Crab Meat, p. 84. (Buy yourself a copy at Blue Bicycle Books at 420 King St. or Heirloom Book Co. at 123 King St.)
What's the best weeknight Southern meal?
Fish and grits and greens!
If you had to recommend one recipe for people to make from your cookbook to get the flavor of your food (or understand Southern food), what would it be?
Time: 1 hour 15 minutes
The epic Lowcountry boil or Frogmore Stew, combining shell-on shrimp and whole blue crabs with corn on the cob, new potatoes, and smoked sausage (and occasionally other vegetables), is a rustic, outdoor dish — often served without plates or bowls, on a newspaper-covered plywood table. The "stew" requires diners to get in elbows deep, to grab the corn in two hands, crack the crab to get at the meat, and shell the shrimp as you work your way through the pile. A stack of dishtowels is a necessity. We love the combination of flavors in the classic stew— especially when well seasoned with bay and cayenne. We don't always love the mess, nor the fact that it's too easy outdoors, in a distracting setting (the dogs underfoot, new guests arriving), to overcook the shrimp and crab as you wait for the potato to soften up. So we got the idea to create a Frogmore Soup, tamed for an elegant dinner table, that preserves the flavors of the original along with its beautiful fall colors, while subtracting the various inedibles (the shells, the corn cobs).
We couldn't resist a few minor tweaks, like slicing the shrimp into nuggets, to lend the soup some satisfying textural contrasts. It's a terrific starter course for the Thanksgiving meal, or for any formal dinner headed into meaty territory.
Try to seek out only U.S.-harvested wild blue crab, occasionally marked Callinectes sapidus, for this soup, whose delicacy will expose all the faults in tinny imported crab.
1. Peel and devein the shrimp, reserving the shells in a small saucepan. Chop each shrimp crosswise into 3 or 4 pieces and reserve. To the saucepan with the shrimp shells add 2 cups of water, the bay leaf, ½ teaspoon salt, and the paprika, and bring to a simmer over high heat. Simmer on medium-low heat until reduced by half, about 20 minutes. Strain the broth and discard the shells.
2. Melt the butter in a medium saucepan, add the sausage, and gently cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until the sausage has visibly shrunk, about 5 minutes. Tip the pan and with a slotted spoon, transfer all but 1 to 2 tablespoons of the sausage to a small bowl, and reserve for garnish.
3. Add the onion and celery and ½ teaspoon of salt to the pan, and cook over low heat until soft and translucent but not browning, 8 to 10 minutes.
4. Meanwhile, cut the kernels from the corn cob. You should have about ²⁄³ cup. Scrape the cob with the back of a spoon and add the juice to the pan along with the corn kernels. Cook for 4 minutes, then turn the heat to medium and add 1½ cups of the shrimp broth, 1½ cups of water, and the white wine, and simmer for 5 minutes. Season the soup to taste with salt.
5. Let the soup cool for about 10 minutes, and then process the soup carefully, in batches if necessary, in a food processor until mostly smooth (some corn kernels may remain recognizable), 1 to 2 minutes. Return the soup to the saucepan, and bring to a simmer over medium-low heat. Add the crab and shrimp, and simmer until the shrimp are firm and just cooked through, about 2 minutes.
6. Stir in the cream, season with salt and freshly ground black pepper, and serve immediately, ladling the soup into serving bowls. Make sure to include some crab and shrimp in each bowl, and garnish with a pinch or two of reserved sausage bits and some torn celery leaves.
Matt and Ted Lee will be signing The Lee Bros. Charleston Kitchen on Saturday, March 2, 11 a.m.-2 p.m. in the Heirloom Book Co. tent at the Culinary Village. A ticket is required for entry. At 5 p.m., they'll head to the SCE&G tent to give a demonstration on cooking flounder. On Friday night, they are hosting a sold-out dinner at a private downtown residence with Michael Anthony of Gramercy Tavern and Chris Bradley of Untitled at the Whitney Museum. For more information, visit charlestonwineandfood.com