The story of Matt and Ted Lee starts like any other little boys growing up. When the boys were still young, their parents made the move from New York City to Charleston. In the latest issue of My Charleston Magazine, they describe growing up in Charleston as being surrounded by the “sport” of catching seafood with raw chicken necks, discovering boiled peanuts at the Charleston Royals baseball game, and even learning new Southern lingo.
The Lee brothers may have been oblivious to the culinary lean to these new experiences during their youth, but little did they know that the Lowcountry traditions would stick with them. Matt and Ted decided to head back North to attend college, which led them to create “The Lee Bros. Boiled Peanuts Catalogue,” their first mail-order catalogue making the Southern foods they grew up loving, like stone-ground grits, fig preserves, and, of course, boiled peanuts, available to food lovers across the country.
Today, the brothers are contributing editors at Travel + Leisure and frequently write food stories for Bon Appétit, The New York Times, Fine Cooking and Food & Wine, among other publications. Even more exciting, the Lee brothers will be revealing their newest cookbook, “The Lee Bros. Charleston Kitchen,” at the BB&T Charleston Wine + Food Festival®! Be sure to look for the Lee brothers in the Heirloom Book Company Author Book Signing Tent, located in the Culinary Village, to have them sign your copy of the cookbook.
Here’s a sneak preview of the many amazing recipes you can expect to find in Matt and Ted Lee’s new cookbook, “The Lee Bros. Charleston Kitchen!”
Skillet Asparagus with Grapefruit
Time: 25 minutes
This recipe romances March in Charleston, a stellar month: the asparagus we get from Johns Island is at its slenderest, tenderest peak; the grapefruits are just falling off trees downtown, on their way out of season. The house and garden tour season is in full swing with azaleas, dogwoods, and lilies in full bloom; the camellias are just over the hill, going out with a bang, dropping explosions of petals on the flagstone.
In the Charleston vegetable pantheon, asparagus typically takes a back seat to the collards, shelled peas, and squashes, but it shouldn’t. In the 1880s, a settlement of French immigrants in Mount Pleasant, just across the Cooper River from Charleston, established a commercial asparagus farm whose harvest became in short order the priciest, most sought-after asparagus available in the urban markets of the North. We’re guessing the reason for its popularity was that it was grown close to the Cooper River; our own favorite local asparagus comes from the vegetable garden of friends of ours, about 300 yards from the creek bank, and we swear that the salty air gives the stalks a quality that makes them tastier than most Central American or California-grown grocery-store spears.
This recipe will make your asparagus shine wherever it hails from. We simply char the asparagus to smoky lusciousness in a large skillet, then strew grapefruit segments over it with a vinaigrette made with the sweet-and-sour juice left over from segmenting the fruit.
1 grapefruit, preferably a ruby variety
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon canola, vegetable, or grapeseed oil, plus more if necessary
1 pound medium asparagus, trimmed of any woody ends
Freshly ground black pepper
1. With a zester or Microplane grater, scrape some grapefruit zest from the skin of the fruit for garnish, and reserve. Segment the grapefruit: trim off the bottom and top of the fruit with a knife so that you have a flat surface upon which to rest it as you peel it. Peel the fruit by placing the tip of a sharp knife just inside the border where the pith meets the pulp, and slicing down with firm, clean strokes following the curvature of the fruit. Repeat until the entire fruit has been peeled. Then, over a bowl or wide board to catch all of the juice, gently cut the segments of pulp with a sharp knife by slicing toward the core as close as possible to the membranes that separate the segments. Once you’ve extracted all the citrus segments, squeeze the membranes to release any remaining juice and then discard the membranes. Gently strain the segments, reserving segments and juice in separate bowls. Add ¼ teaspoon salt, the vinegar, 1 tablespoon of water, and the mustard to the bowl with the grapefruit juice and whisk to combine. Pour in the olive oil, whisking to emulsify.
2. Pour the canola oil into a large skillet over high heat, and when it smokes, add half of the asparagus and ¼ teaspoon salt, and cover. Cook, partly covered, until the asparagus is blackened on one side, 3 to 4 minutes. Turn the asparagus in the pan, cover, and cook until the asparagus is thoroughly blackened, 3 minutes more; transfer to a serving platter. Repeat with the remaining asparagus, adding another teaspoon of oil to the pan (if it’s become too dry) and seasoning with salt.
3. When all the asparagus is on the platter, scatter the grapefruit segments evenly over the asparagus. If the dressing has broken, whisk to re-emulsify, pour it over the asparagus, and grind some black pepper over the top. Garnish the platter with the reserved zest, and serve.
**Visit the Festival’s Facebook page for a chance to win a copy of “The Lee Bros. Charleston Kitchen!”