Edward Lee is the son of Korean immigrants, raised in Brooklyn, who has made a name for himself as a Southern chef.
If that leaves you wondering where Korean and Southern cuisines intersect, you’re not alone. Lee offers the answer to that question, and many more, in “Smoke & Pickles,” his first book.
With stories and recipes drawn from his personal life – not the more refined stuff of his restaurant kitchens and professional accolades – Lee has written a profoundly American cookbook.
“The great thing about Americans is not the identity we’re born with, but our reinvention of it,” he writes in his preface. “We start with one family, and then, magically, we are allowed to reinvent ourselves into whatever we want to be.”
After moving to Louisville, Ky., in 2003, Lee explored the ways he could make something new of his ancestral and adopted tastes. “Soft grits remind me of congee; jerky of cuttlefish; chowchow of kimchi,” he explains. “My Korean forefathers’ love of pickling is rivaled only by Southerners’ love of pickling. BBQ, with its intricate techniques of marinades and rubs, is the backbone of both cuisines.”
His chapters are stories that conclude in recipes offering flavors at once familiar and foreign. A chapter on lamb, which his family never ate, offers lamb roasts and stews with dark soy sauce and lamb heart Korean BBQ style. He cooks his rice in a cast iron skillet but still manages to create the crunchy bottom crust that Koreans prize.
There are plenty of Southern touches for traditional palates, beef brisket with a peach bourbon glaze, and meatloaf spiked with bourbon and Coca-Cola. Most of the recipes cross some boundaries, to good effect. A T-bone steak is livened up with habanero-lemongrass marinade. There’s pork cracklins and chicken-fried pork steak, but also curry pork pies and Coke-braised ham hocks with miso glaze.
A chapter titled “Pickles & Matrimony” explores how his wife, Dianne, from German Catholic stock, met her Korean inlaws-to-be, and how both sides of the family could find common ground in the cabbage pickling crock.
The recipes that follow include a startling array of pickles, including jasmine pickled peaches, rosemary cherries and pineapple pickled jicama. But the Korean-American who found his new heartland in Kentucky offers four kinds of kimchi – including one based on green tomatoes.
Something new, delicious and fundamentally American.
On the Web: Check out Lee’s recipe for Pickled Jasmine Peaches here.