What can you say about a book that’s so obviously written with love for its topic? Matt and Ted Lee make you long to be in Charleston with this book and its beautifully deep dive into the city’s food culture. Have you ever eaten a loquat? You’ll want to after reading about Matt and Ted discovering them as children. And then you’ll want to go find a tree to pick some of your own. And then you’ll want to start steeping some loquat liqueur in your pantry.
The same holds true for many of the city’s signature food items, from boiled peanuts to roasted oysters. The Lee Bros. Charleston Kitchen gives you more than just a glimpse into life behind the garden gates. It teaches you why Charleston food is what it is today by looking at the history behind it. For example, for an urban area, so many of the city’s food traditions are based around the outdoors. Before the Civil War, kitchens were typically detached from the house as a fire safety precaution, but after the war that building was often turned into valuable rental property with a new kitchen framed into the gap between the buildings. These kitchens were tiny, hot, and humid places to work, so bringing some of that work out of doors made it more bearable for the people doing it. It’s common sense, but if you only see the houses from the outside, you’d never know it.
This recipe isn’t the most seasonal right now, but it is a perfect example of what you’ll find in this book: easy-to-follow, well-written recipes that provide fresh takes on ingredients that you may take for granted. Grapefruit works beautifully with asparagus.
Skillet Asparagus with Grapefruit
- 1 grapefruit preferably a ruby variety
- Kosher salt
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.