Saw this book several months ago when it first came out. I passed it by because I saw "Smoke" and "New Southern Kitchen": My mind immediately turned to barbecue and Deep South Gulf Coast recipes. Living down below Houston, I don't need another "new" attitude towards cooking Texas- or Louisiana-style dishes. But when I saw it available at my local library, I decided to get on the waiting list for it. I've had it for a few weeks now and I'm very excited by the recipes I've tried and those that I've marked. Boy, what a fool I've been! Oh, what I've been missing! I can't avoid it; I am ordering my own copy of this book. (And I think the cover of this book is a bit misleading--I'm not sure where "Smoke" comes in...)
As I state in the title of my review, the ingredient lists are way, way long. But--for once--I don't care how long they are. The many ingredients allow for a complexity of flavor that I don't often see in "do-able" recipes. Assembling ingredients is probably the most difficult and time-consuming part of these recipes. And that's not a terrible thing, is it? By "do-able"--and I like "do-able"--I mean recipes that don't take hours and hours to build; recipes that don't break the bank, and recipes where the instructions don't cause my heart to flutter with anxiety (over intricacy issues) or consternation (over unclear directions).
And, I usually shy away from cookbooks written by restaurant chefs, but this time I don't care about that either. The dishes that Chef Lee has created for this book are outstanding and he is not overbearing.
There are incredible recipes in this book. The ingredient combinations tie together and overlap; they blossom and bloom into some awesome and unique taste experiences and take on and highlight the best of many cultures: His Korean heritage and his Grandmother's cooking, the places near his old neighborhood (where he was told not to venture when he was a youngster), his experience working in New York and the dishes learned from his friends and co-workers, his adopted home in Louisville, Kentucky and the artisan farms, craftsmen and distilleries of neighboring counties and states.
You can STOP READING HERE if you are short on time, as I hope I've conveyed to you that this book is well-worth buying. But if you want more info and input from me, keep on reading: I like to write and I love this book.
The recipes incorporate so many main ingredients and flavors that appeal to me: There is an entire chapter dedicated to lamb; there is a chapter on pickles (near and dear to my heart); there are Asian flavors and my favorite booze, bourbon; there is country ham. He uses miso, rice, citrus, soy sauce, peppers, mayo and cola. Then, of course there is a chapter of beef, pork, fowl (chicken, turkey, game birds) and well-loved Southern veggies.
Do you like to make quick pickles? I sure do! Included are some interesting combinations that I've not run across before: Pineapple and jicama, caraway (instead of dill) to flavor cuke slices, Bourbon-Pickled Jalapenos (and I think mine turned out prettier than his because I used both red and green peppers), jasmine tea and star anise with peaches, grape halves with chai tea, coffee beans with beets and cherries with rosemary. There are also four seasonal recipes for kimchi. I like to make kimchi; it's not hard to do, just a bit time-consuming and a waiting period for the fermentation process. UPDATE, Aug. 2013: The simple caraway seed and cuke pickle is the best quick pickled cuke that I've ever tasted. I've made two batches already. The peach pickle is wonderful and the pickle juice is so versatile I've been using as a secret ingredient in savory dishes. The grape pickle is tart and brings contrast to a dish. I've used it successfully in a tomato salad, of all things. I can't pick up the bourbon flavor in the jalapeno pickle and I thinking through how I can rectify that. Bottom line, at this point in time: The pickle recipes are keepers!
There is a complex "master" remoulade sauce that runs through many recipes in the book with a little of this and that added to compliment the dish--sometimes it's miso that is added, or maybe corn and chili powder, or kimchi.
Here are favorite recipes; some I've made, some are on the bucket list:
--The Vietnamese Lamb Chops (honey, bourbon, fish sauce, lime and more in the marinade) is super. (I grilled them; he roasts them.)
--There is a fabulous meatloaf flavored with cola and bourbon that he's combined with a pepper gravy and a sunny-side up egg on an open sandwich.
--He's made a ham pho that is less complex than the traditional beef pho.
--I grew up with pork ribs and sauerkraut, but Lee cooks it in such a way that he takes the simple dish over the top, and then he tops it with a horseradish cream. I may never make my old recipe again.
--He's got recipes incorporating country hams and a recipe for a tamarind-strawberry glazed "city" ham.
--There is a somewhat simple Poached Grouper that is heavenly.
--And, talking fish recipes: My favorite recipe in the book is this one: Panfried catfish; the fillets are not breaded, just fried in butter and oil in a skillet. But it's the vinaigrette that sends me: Red seedless grapes crushed in the blender and combined with bacon, thyme, vinegar and mustard; simply beautiful.
--He's made a rhubarb mignonette for raw oysters, and a bourbon brown butter for baked oysters.
--His idea for curing strawberries in salt and sugar sparks my imagination.
--I've made the Braised Bacon Rice and it is mighty fine.
--And his Bourbon-Ginger-Glazed Carrots is destined for my Thanksgiving table.
--Because my husband doesn't much care for buttermilk, I halved the Buttermilk soup recipe and ate it all myself: Chilled, with maple syrup and tangerine juice, then topped with bourbon-soaked cherries.
--And, a recipe we didn't like: His pimento cheese. We like pickle in ours.
There are braised dishes: Short ribs; brisket with cinnamon, paprika, stout, bourbon and peach preserves; turkey legs with sorghum, cider and fresh sage; Cola Ham Hocks; a pork shoulder with Black BBQ Sauce, and lamb shoulder with bittersweet chocolate. He uses ground meats, too: Piggy Burgers with hoisin sauce and a sun-dried tomato ketchup with brown sugar and soy sauce; a rice bowl with lamb and fresh herbs, and an Asian-flavored chicken sausage to work with an orange-flavored miso remoulade in a rice bowl.
There are essays scattered throughout the book. He talks about a local soy sauce, his favorite fish sauce (from Vietnam), country hams, frying at home, miso, sorghum, buttermilk, goat cheese and (of course) bourbon.
Plus he talks about himself and his escapades and his life experiences. Together the words present a very personable and likable guy--one with a responsible attitude, inquisitiveness and sensitivity. Seems like he likes to drink and party and have fun, too.
The pictures are excellent and interesting, the Resources section is enlightening and very helpful, and the index works very well with the recipes and the way the book is put together.
I'm done. Sorry it took so many words. I guess I really like this book, and Chef Lee, and his creations.