If Summerland offers the rustic-yet-refined side of Southern cooking, Edward Lee’s Smoke and Pickles is the taste of the South by way of New York and Korea. I enjoyed reading Lee’s many essays, which illuminate both the recipes he includes and his own personal story. He has a funny, candid voice that I responded to.
I notched another big win with Lee’s Perfect Rémoulade, and I can finally cross “cook something with an accent aigu” off my bucket list. This and many of the other recipes in Smoke and Pickles work as basic templates. Missing one or two of the ingredients? No sweat. Swap in something else you find in your cupboard. I like that a lot of the dishes here leave a bit of room for the cook to play around.
17 years later, I make the majority of meals for my wife and two kids, though as a cook I remain more enthusiastic than adroit. I continue to read cookbooks, and Melissa has taught me that rather than mere compendia of potential dishes, the best of them can be read and lingered over like a good novel. Anne Stiles Quatrano’s Summerland and Edward Lee’s Smoke and Pickles are two such works. I thoroughly enjoyed my assignment, cooking dishes from each, poring over the gorgeous images, and getting to know a bit about each author’s Southern journey.
My story is one of smoke and pickles. Some say umami is the fifth flavor, in addition to salty, sweet, sour, and bitter. I say smoke is the sixth. From the sizzling Korean grills of my childhood to the barbeque culture that permeates the South, I have always lived in an environment where food was wrapped in a comforting blanket of smokiness. My friends found it odd at first that I, a die-hard New Yorker, would move to the South. But for me, it was instinctual. Smoke is the intersection that connects my two worlds. It is found in many incarnations other than the obvious outdoor grill full of charcoal or hardwood. I can add smokiness to any dish by adding bourbon — which picks up toasted notes from the inside of charred oak barrels — or bacon and smoked country hams, or molasses and sorghum, smoked spices, dark beers, tobacco, or meats blackened in a cast-iron skillet. And where there is smoke, there is always a pickle nearby. It’s a miraculous thing, the pickle. It’s nothing more than a ratio of salt, sugar, sometimes vinegar, and time. But with those few ingredients, you can create an endless array of preserved vegetables and fruits that are the backbone of so many cuisines. In the South, pickles and barbeque go hand in hand because nothing cuts the intensity of smokiness like a sharp pickle. Together they are harmonious, the perfect yin and yang. If I had my way, every dish would start with smoke and pickles — everything else is just a garnish.