Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook

By Matt Lee & Ted Lee

Published by W.W. Norton & Company

This is a book which I have had on my shelf for years and have always meant to use. Boy am I glad I decided to finally give it a go! Not having dabbled much in terms of southern cooking, I found the Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook to be a great foundation upon which to venture into this rich culture of food. It is comprehensive in terms of the scope of recipes which are straightforward and (most importantly) successful. Each dish I tried turned out wonderfully, resulting in food that was never fussy or over complicated. The food is what matters. Fresh ingredients are centre stage. While the recipes are rife with inventive twists, tradition is still honoured.

I love the informative and sometimes quirky introductions provided for each recipe, where you learn about the history behind each dish. Through the anecdotal stories included throughout the book, the Lee Bros. seamlessly blend historical information on Southern food along with their personal experiences. It is a wonderful combination of culture and cuisine.

Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook is Matt and Ted Lee’s first foray into the world of cookbooks, and is one that saw them dubbed the ambassadors of American food – in particular southern cuisine. Their initial start in the food industry came after they founded The Lee Bros. Boiled Peanuts Catalogue, a business which allowed them to produce and ship their boiled peanuts, fig preserves, and watermelon rind pickles to southern food junkies all across the country. The brothers then embarked upon a life in the world of food journalism where they received further acclaim. But no matter if they are cooking or writing articles or cookbooks, one thing remains constantly obvious: their love and passion for southern food.

Country Captain

RATING: 4 out of 5 (interesting twist on a southern classic)

THE TEST: Country Captain was unfamiliar to me until I watched an episode of Throwdown! where the Lee Bros. emerged victorious over Bobby Flay. It is a chicken curry casserole of sorts, and a mainstay of southern cooking. The Indian influences in the dish are primarily a result of eighteenth and nineteenth century trade relationships between the Far East and Charleston. For this recipe, the Lee Bros. dial up the Southeast Asian flavours by adding garam masala along with the traditional curry powder.

My kitchen smelt absolutely heavenly while preparing this dish! The flavours from the spices melded in the air with the fragrant currants soaked in chicken stock, and the smell was outrageously good. I did find that while the dish was easy to prepare it took a lot longer to cook than the hour suggested in the recipe.

THE RESULTS: What a great dish! I loved how the bacon lent a nice smokiness to the chicken without being overpowering. The raisins were plump and delicious with a slight savoury edge from the chicken stock that paired well with their natural sweetness. And this coming from a self-professed raisin hater! The crunch of the toasted almonds is a wonderful contrast to the richness of the meal, while the combination of carrots, peppers, and onions give it an overall earthiness that makes this a well rounded dish. Next time we make this recipe – and there will definitely be a next time – I would use boneless/skinless chicken thighs. We ended up removing the skin anyways, and it would be easier to shred the chicken for leftovers without having to work around bones. Excellent with the suggested basmati rice.

For a copy of the recipe, please click here

St. Cecilia Punch

RATING: 5 out of 5 (way too easy to drink!)

THE TEST: The exclusive St. Cecilia Society was founded in Charleston in 1767, with a membership that was strictly hereditary. Nonetheless, copies of the recipe for their famous punch eventually filtered through to the riff raff so that you too can enjoy this tasty beverage!

The Lee brother’s version of the original punch is straightforward to prepare, but remember to make everything ahead of time in order to allow the tea to cool and the fruit to soak. Because I was unable to find a decent pineapple, I opted for the canned version instead. However the fragrant, juicy taste of a fresh pineapple would have been amazing.

THE RESULTS: This is the ultimate summer cocktail, and seeing as how there are still a few days of summer left I suggest making a batch of this punch ASAP. Trust me – you’ll be glad you did!

The fruity, fizzy, brandy and rum concoction is a delicious tea-based drink perfect to indulge upon on a hot afternoon. But be warned – this seemingly mellow cocktail packs a whopper of a punch! We served this bevy for a dinner party and after a couple of glasses we were all feeling a tad tipsy!

Sunday Fried Chicken

RATING: 5 out of 5 (so much better than out of a bucket)

THE TEST: The simple brine of salt and water used by the Lee brothers is much different from the more complicated, multi-ingredient flavour filled brines I typically use. But wow is it much easier to prepare! The first time making this recipe we brined the chicken overnight and it was a tad too salty. Second time around we let the fowl soak for the suggested four hours, which was the perfect amount of time for the robust chicken flavour to be enhanced without making the meat too salty.

According to the southern food gurus who put together this book, the key to delicious fried chicken lies in temperature control. The temperature of both the oil and chicken prior to frying determine the final results. By ensuring your meat is at room temperature and your oil remains at a steady 325 degrees F throughout the entire cooking process, delicious fried chicken is within your grasp.

(NOTE: After my disastrous experience deep frying prawns in a Dutch oven on my electric stove, I swore never to deep fry indoors again. Ironically, within days of the prawn incident I found a T-Fal® E-Z Clean Pro Fry on sale for 70% off the regular price. I took it as a sign and made the purchase).

THE RESULTS: This was hands down the best fried chicken I have ever tasted! The meat was moist while the outside was nice and crispy, and the flavour from the brine and simple dredge was perfect. If you can get free range or organic chicken, I highly recommend going that route. The first time we made a batch of this chicken there were no survivors, but the second time around we made sure there was enough leftover to enjoy cold as part of our picnic fare. Delicious.