Shrimp and deviled egg salad rolls figure prominently in the Lee Brothers' new cookbook Fresh Simple Southern: Knockout Dishes with Down-Home Flavor. Ted Lee says the things practically started the whole project.
Ted, along with brother and co-author Matt, tells the story of how they developed the shrimp salad rolls after browsing a small-town collection of recipes and stumbling across something called "Shrimp-Deviled Egg Casserole."
"The recipe was, as you might imagine, pretty far-out," they write in the opening pages of Simple Fresh Southern. "It calls for making a batch of deviled eggs, and alternating layers of them in a casserole pan, topped up with a milky, roux-thickened cheese sauce studded with whole shrimp and spiked with ketchup, sherry, and Worcestershire sauce. You cover all that with a carpet of butter-soaked bread crumbs, bake it for half an hour, and then serve it over canned Chinese noodles that have been heated in a slow oven."
How they got something not just edible but delicious out of that recipe is part of the Lee Bros. unique charm. They were able to home in on the pure flavors of the South, pulling out the deviled egg and the shrimp to create a Southern version of New England's lobster roll. "It's bringing a Lowcountry riff to the lobster roll," says Ted.
The story of how the rolls came to be is as important as the recipe itself. The Lee Bros.' have carved out a niche for themselves as Southern food ambassadors by articulating what's so wonderful about Southern food. The storytelling is as essential to Lee Bros. cookbooks as the recipes. They first began talking about Southern food way back in 1994 with their Lee Bros. Boiled Peanut Catalogue. The conversation continued in food and travel articles for publications like Travel + Leisure and the New York Times, and their cookbooks have fleshed out the stories with accessible recipes that are usually accompanied by rousing tales of where they came from and why they're included.
Their last cookbook The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook became a staple on the shelves of cooks from the South all the way up to the northern reaches of the country. They shared classics like summer squash casserole and shrimp and grits, and they made new crowd favorites with dishes like butterbean pâté.
In their latest cookbook, they tackle the easy, weeknight meal. "This one is more about how we cook in Charleston day to day," says Ted. "Family-style stuff. More riffing on fun Southern ingredients than authentic Southern recipes."
The recipes, they say, are super approachable for the non-cook, but there's still stuff in there for the Southern foodies too, like the Purple Jesus recipe. The punch, traditionally made in a bathtub, gets taken out of the frat house and turned into a respectable drink. It's an unexpected, inside joke that turns out to be a cool, summer cocktail with notes of cherry and grapefruit.
"More than anything, we want to get people excited to explore Southern ingredients in a new way," says Ted. "There's nothing groundbreaking, but I do think the way we treat the ingredients is new."
One Southern ingredient that the Lee Bros. spend a lot of time on is buttermilk. "We love buttermilk and use it in everything," says Ted. They offer a recipe for making buttermilk cheese along with "11 delicious things to do with it," like sprinkle it with smoked paprika or roll it up in collards with some country ham.
Matt predicts one of the hits of this cookbook will be the Jade Shrimp Cocktail, an update to the traditional cocktail sauce that's red and horseradishy. "Ours is a thick chunky cocktail sauce that's not red but green. It's made with tomatillos and avocado, which gives it a silky richness. It has lemon juice and horseradish like the original, but it's really something else, especially with shrimp. We intend to take it on the road as a dip for chips and celery sticks."
Expect to get a taste of it this weekend when the brothers come to town for an appearance at Williams-Sonoma on Saturday and a book signing at Barnes & Noble in Mt. Pleasant on Sunday. They usually bring samples along with them, and expect Williams-Sonoma to prepare three dishes from the cookbook, including buttermilk pudding cakes.
On Tuesday morning, they made an appearance on the Today show and will appear on Throwdown with Bobby Flay on Wed. Nov. 4. They'll also be featured in Coastal Living putting on a Lowcountry crab crackin' and in Country Living hosting a Southern thanksgiving feast.
And then they'll be on the road for the next month, marketing and promoting their book all across the South.
In December, they'll get a nice long segment on Martha Stewart's show, and then they'll be back in Charleston for an appearance at Charleston Cooks on Dec. 14.
In the meantime, you can order an autographed copy of their cookbook directly from their website, mattleeandtedlee.com.