Eat + Drink: Summer Supper on Tradd
The Lee Bros. come full circle in their culinary adventures, gathering ingredients and cooking up a seafood-centric dinner for the local family who first taught them to fish and crab
In the summer of 1978, our parents—New Yorkers on vacation at Seabrook Island—bonded with Charlestonians Rutledge and Kathleen Young as they watched over their respective kids splashing around in the surf. And what followed was a campaign of hospitality on the Youngs’ part—fishing trips in a Boston Whaler in the creeks off Bohicket behind Camp St. Christopher and outings to catch blue crabs from a dock on Captain Sam’s Creek—that convinced our parents they needed to leave the Big Apple (granted, rather rotten and withering at that time) and decamp for Charleston permanently.
We’ve known the Youngs and their sons, Simons and Rutledge, for most of our lives now. We were on the same baseball teams at the Hazel Parker Playground in the early ’80s, and our families co-owned an old Sunfish sailboat kept at the Youngs’ cottage at Seabrook. And Simons and Rutledge’s late grandmother, Liz Young—legendary Charleston tour guide, former president of the Preservation Society, and lifetime trustee of Historic Charleston Foundation—was our own grandmother’s landlady for nearly 15 years, when our dear Gran lived in the kitchen house behind Mrs. Young’s Meeting Street home.
Back in spring 2011, when we were developing the recipes for our new cookbook, The Lee Bros. Charleston Kitchen, we heard that Rutledge and Kathleen were looking for a tenant for the dependency behind their own house, a few blocks away on Tradd. We needed a place to rent that had a kitchen big enough for three people to work in but modest enough to resemble one in a typical home. Simons, now an accomplished architect in town, had just finished a stunning back-to-the-studs renovation of the carriage house, and we considered renting it before realizing that it was way too new and pristine for the kind of wear-and-tear that goes on in our test kitchen. But we told Kathleen and Rutledge that we’d love to throw a party there to celebrate the cookbook, once it was printed, and properly thank them for their part in introducing us to Charleston’s abundant seafood.
On a recent summer day, we did just that. The Youngs, of course, were our hosts as well as guests of honor. We also invited Anne and Ben Moïse, the author and former game warden who shared legendary stories and a drink recipe from his and the Magwood family’s “Mullet Hunt and Rock & Rye Festival” gatherings in the 1970s and ’80s in our book. Happily the Moïses are now part of the extended Young clan, as their daughter, Sarah, married Simons. Those two, along with three-year-old son Ben, were there, too.
As a tribute to this neighborhood where our family settled upon moving to Charleston, we designed a menu that would highlight as many ingredients as possible from our own backyard. So we began with kumquat sparklers—refreshing cocktails of sparkling white wine mixed with a tablespoon of gin that we’d infused all spring with the intense, tangerine-like flavor of fresh kumquats, which we picked from a large tree in the Church Street garden of our friend Cathy Forrester. For snacks, we made the spiced pecan recipe from our first book with nuts from the fall harvest of a tree just outside our office window, off Chalmers Street. And we served up a bowl of stone crab claws that had been pulled from the Stono River by Fred Dockery the day before. We dipped them in warm butter melted with bay leaves stripped from a friend’s front yard on Ashley Avenue; the vanilla-and-nutmeg-like flavor was a perfect complement to the sweet and briny claw meat.
For an appetizer, we made a classic Charleston okra soup—tomato-based, with a beef bone, of course—but the main event was a whole sheepshead (also from the Stono River between Folly Island and Kiawah) baked in a herby salt crust to keep its sweet white flesh moist. Our friend and sometime kitchen collaborator Maya Morrill had sourced the fish in a way that seems so Charleston. She’d been headed to Crosby’s to look for a large sheepshead when a fisherman called her to say he’d just caught five. We took the largest of the five and packed it in a slurry of kosher salt and rosemary from the Youngs’ garden. For side dishes, we made a shaved asparagus and radish salad, simply dressed, and an easy shrimp creole over Carolina Gold rice.
We raised a toast to the Youngs, for not only providing us an exquisite kitchen to work in and the dream venue for a meal celebrating summer, but also for steering our parents in the right direction, to this magical foodscape we call home.
10 oz. sharp cheddar cheese, grated (3 cups)
1/4 cup lager or ale
3 Tbs. fresh lemon juice
2 Tbs. ketchup
2 Tbs. Worcestershire sauce
1 Tbs. prepared horseradish, drained
2 tsp. hot sauce, such as Tabasco or Crystal
1½ tsp. dry mustard
1 garlic clove, minced
Combine all ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until the mixture is smooth and spreadable. Transfer to a small bowl and serve with cut vegetables such as carrots, celery, and radishes.
1½ lbs. beef shank, cut into 3/4-inch cubes, marrowbone reserved
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 Tbs. canola oil, plus more if needed
2 cups chopped yellow onion (about 2 medium)
3 bay leaves
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
1/4 tsp. smoked paprika
1 qt. water
1 (28-oz.) can crushed tomatoes
1 lb. okra, trimmed, cut on the bias into 1/2-inch-thick ovals
Fresh parsley for garnish (optional)
Season the beef and marrowbone with three-quarters teaspoon salt and half a teaspoon black pepper. Put in a shallow dish, covered, and bring to room temperature, about one hour. Pat the pieces dry with a paper towel.
Pour the oil into a large Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat, and when the oil shimmers, brown the beef and marrowbone in batches, if necessary, taking care not to crowd the pan and adding oil by teaspoonfuls if the pan becomes too dry. With a slotted spoon, transfer the browned beef and bone to a bowl and turn the heat to medium. Add the onion, bay leaves, red pepper flakes, paprika, and one and one-quarter teaspoons salt. Cook, scraping up any browned bits on the bottom of the pan and adding a teaspoon of water or oil if the pan becomes dry, until the onion softens, about six minutes; you don’t want the onion to char.
Add the water and tomatoes, return the beef and marrowbone to the pan, and cover. When the soup simmers gently, uncover and reduce the heat to low. Let cook, stirring occasionally, until the meat is just tender, about one hour. Add the okra and continue cooking until the okra is just tender, about 25 minutes.
Discard the bay leaves, and season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Divide among bowls, garnish with parsley, if desired, and serve.
1 lb. headless large shell-on shrimp (26 to 30 per lb.)
1 1⁄4 tsp. kosher salt
1 cup water
1 3⁄4 lbs. vine-ripened tomatoes (about 5 tomatoes)
6 oz. fresh hot pork sausage, casings removed
1 large white or yellow onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 large poblano chile, seeded and diced (about 1 cup)
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tsp. smoked paprika
1/2 tsp. crushed dried red pepper flakes
1 Tbs. red wine vinegar
Peel the shrimp and throw the shells into a small saucepan set over medium heat. Add one cup water and a quarter teaspoon of the salt and simmer until reduced by half, five to six minutes.
While the shrimp stock simmers, core the tomatoes: Set a strainer over a medium bowl. Cut the tomatoes in half crosswise and, using your pinkie finger, tease the seeds out of the cavities of each half, letting them fall into the strainer. Tap the rim of the strainer against your palm for 30 seconds, until most of the flavorful gel clinging to the seeds dissolves and drips into the bowl. Discard the seeds. Chop the tomatoes; you should have two cups. Add them to the bowl with the tomato water.
Place the sausage into a heavy-bottomed four-quart Dutch oven or pot set over medium-high heat, and cook, stirring and breaking up the sausage with a wooden spoon, until the pork is just browned and has rendered some fat, about six minutes. Add the onion, garlic, poblano, remaining teaspoon of salt, black pepper, paprika, and red pepper flakes. Cook, stirring and scraping up the browned bits on the bottom of the pan as the peppers and onions release their liquid, until the peppers and onions have softened, about six minutes.
Add the tomatoes and their juice and the strained shrimp broth, turn the heat to high, and cook until the tomatoes have completely collapsed into a red, bubbling stew, six to eight minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and stir in the shrimp and vinegar. Cover and let stand for three minutes, until the shrimp are cooked through.
1 cup Carolina Gold, basmati, or jasmine rice, rinsed well in cold water and drained
1 cup water
1 Tbs. unsalted butter
2 pinches of kosher salt
Add an inch and a half of water to the bottom of a rice steamer and put the rice, one cup of water, the butter, and salt in the steamer basin. Cook the rice at medium-high heat for 30 minutes, then turn off the heat and allow the rice to sit in the pot, covered, for another five minutes.
With pot holders, remove the lid and carefully remove the basin of rice from the steamer, and serve immediately with a broad rice spoon. (Leaving the rice in the steamer will cause it to “crispify” slightly on the bottom, which is desirable if you like it that way.)
1 (3-lb.) whole sheepshead or croaker, gutted, with scales, head, and tail left on
5 ½ cups kosher salt (about 3 lbs., or 1 box)
10 sprigs thyme; 5 left whole and 5 plucked of their leaves
10 sprigs tarragon; 5 left whole and 5 plucked of their leaves
4 sprigs rosemary; 2 left whole and 2 plucked of their leaves
6 dried bay leaves; 3 left whole and 3 shredded
1/2 lemon, sliced into thin disks
7 large egg whites
1 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes or pink peppercorns
Parchment for lining the baking sheet
Preheat the oven to 400°F.
Season the fish cavity with half teaspoon of the salt and stuff with the whole herb sprigs, whole bay leaves, and the lemon slices. Whip the egg whites in a large bowl until frothy and add the remaining salt, whisking to combine. Chop the herb leaves and add them to the paste along with the shredded bay leaves and red pepper flakes; whisk to combine.
Lay the stuffed fish lengthwise in a baking dish or baking sheet lined with parchment and pat the herbed salt mixture over the fish in a quarter- to half-inch layer, until the entire fish is entombed (the tail can stick out, and it can be trimmed with scissors if it hangs over the edge of the dish).
Bake until the salt shell has browned nicely in a few places, 35 to 40 minutes. Crack the salt crust with the back of a large spoon and peel away sections of it along with the skin, and discard. Lift the top layer of meat off the bones with a wide knife or spatula, and pull the tail and spine upward to reveal the lower fillet once you’ve removed the upper one. Place on a plate and serve immediately.
1 lb. fresh strawberries, trimmed and halved
2/3 cup sugar, divided
1 pt. heavy cream
2 pinches of kosher salt
1 cup half-and-half
1 cup buttermilk, preferably whole
12 macaroons (about 5 oz.), homemade or store-bought, crumbled to bean-size bits
Put the strawberries, one-third cup of the sugar, and two tablespoons of water in a small saucepan and cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes, until the syrup is glossy-red but still runny. Allow to cool for 20 minutes. You should have one and a half cups fruit and syrup.
In a large bowl, whip the cream with the remaining one-third cup sugar and the salt until peaks begin to hold their shape. Whisk in the half-and-half, buttermilk, and crumbled macaroons, in that order, until evenly combined (the macaroon crumbles will mostly sink).
Line a three-quart loaf pan with plastic wrap and pour the cream mixture into it. Then pour in the fruit and syrup from one end to the other, but do not stir. Lightly cover the loaf pan with a sheet of plastic wrap and place in the freezer for about two and a half hours (set a timer), by which time the cap of crystallized cream will be about an inch thick.
Use a broad serving spoon to break up the cream and fold the ingredients together, taking special care to lift the strawberry pulp and macaroon bits up off the bottom, where they will initially have settled. Return the pan to the freezer for one and a half hours. Fold again, freeze for another hour, and fold a third time. There still may be some liquid areas in the loaf pan. Allow to set for one more hour and serve. (It will keep in the freezer, covered in plastic wrap, for a week or two.)
To serve, scoop individual portions out into bowls; for a crowd, turn the entire loaf upside down onto an oval platter and surround with greenery and flowers, slicing portions from the loaf with a knife—silver, if possible—warmed in hot water.