LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:
Matt and Ted Lee write about Southern cooking. Their first cookbook, "The Lee Brothers Southern Cookbook," won the James Beard Prize for 2007. It's an encyclopedia of Southern food, including the cooking of the South Carolina Lowcountry, where they grew up.
Now they're trying something different, a book called "The Lee Brothers Simple Fresh Southern," recipes using Southern ingredients and ideas that tweak the traditions of Southern cooking.
The Lee brothers came to my house last week to demonstrate one of their recipes.
Mr. MATT LEE (Co-Author, "The Lee Brothers Southern Cookbook"): Good morning.
Mr. TED LEE(Co-Author, "The Lee Brothers Southern Cookbook"): Good morning
WERTHEIMER: Good morning. Come in, come in.
Mr. M. LEE: Thank you.
WERTHEIMER: They proposed to make shrimp and deviled egg salad rolls. It's just what it sounds like, a combination of two familiar things, inspired by a 1964 recipe they found in one of those spiral-bound cookbooks produced by women's clubs and PTAs across the South.
Mr. T. LEE: The recipe in there is for a shrimp and deviled egg casserole.
WERTHEIMER: A shrimp and deviled egg casserole.
Mr. T. LEE: Casserole, yeah, that calls for making 24 deviled eggs, layering them in a casserole dish with a shrimp gravy thickened with cheese and cream...
Mr. M. LEE: Roux.
Mr. T LEE: ...and roux, yeah, so a very heavy dish.
Mr. M. LEE: I think you're soft-pedaling it. It's a disgusting dish, and furthermore, when you're done with this dish, which is, you know, oozing flour and oil, you serve it you're supposed to serve it over crisp Chinese noodles out of a can. But within that dish, what's so exciting is that there's this great idea, which is combining shrimp you know, sweet, crunchy shrimp with deviled eggs. And so that got us excited, even though the dish itself probably we'll never complete because it just sounds so disgusting.
WERTHEIMER: And you never actually made it?
Mr. M. LEE: Never actually made it although we keep promising ourselves that we're going to make it.
WERTHEIMER: So there are some times, you know, when you read a recipe, and it sounds scary...
Mr. M. LEE: Yes.
WERTHEIMER: But when you make it, it's not so scary.
Mr. T. LEE: Right, it's the best thing you ever tasted, right?
Mr. M. LEE: Right.
Mr. T. LEE: See, Matt focuses on the word disgusting, and to me, I think that this dish could have a whole opportunity.
Mr. M. LEE: I think its opportunity passed about three decades ago.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. M. LEE: Well, we do disagree on things.
Mr. T. LEE: In any case, you know, the inspiration for our shrimp and deviled egg salad roll is this very simple food idea of combining two ingredients we never contemplated before.
WERTHEIMER: To begin with, Matt Lee fried a few strips of bacon, while Ted Lee put a pot of water on to boil. Do you want aprons?
Mr. T. LEE: No, I don't think our clothes merit that.
WERTHEIMER: This recipe calls for a pound of large shrimp and half-a-dozen eggs. And to be efficient, all of it's cooked in the same pot, starting with the shrimp, which cooks very quickly.
Mr. M. LEE: All right, so that's about a minute, and I'm going to just strain these.
WERTHEIMER: And let me get you a bigger colander. Hard-boiled eggs, say the brothers, take exactly 14 minutes, plenty of time to peel the shrimp.
Mr. T. LEE: That's the great thing about this recipe is that while the eggs are cooking, you're peeling the shrimp, and so while one thing is happening, the other can take place.
WERTHEIMER: The bacon is a garnish to be scattered on top of the dish, along with scallions, sliced fine.
Mr. M. LEE: I'd like to go a little bit into the green for sure, for color as much as anything else. This may be a little hotter in the green.
WERTHEIMER: The shrimp is also chopped by brother Matt, with a little instruction from brother Ted.
Mr. T. LEE: Do it chunky, too.
Mr. M. LEE: Yeah, I know.
Mr. T. LEE: We say chop it chunky so that you see what you're eating.
WERTHEIMER: Now this next part is what makes the Lee brothers' idea interesting. One brother chops egg whites into chunks about the size of the chunks of shrimp, but the other brother prepares the yolks as if you were making deviled eggs. Ted Lee presses the yolks through a strainer with the back of a spoon.
Mr. T. LEE: It gives them a fluffy texture and makes them easier to mix with the wet parts of the dressing.
WERTHEIMER: The next steps are classic for the filling that goes into deviled eggs: a generous helping of mayonnaise...
Mr. T. LEE: A quarter-cup of mayo, and then we'll probably end up adding a tablespoon or two tablespoons more.
WERTHEIMER: In goes some hot stuff: mustard, ground pepper and Tabasco sauce. The recipe calls for a full tablespoon of Tabasco, but Ted puts in a bit less.
Mr. T. LEE: I did it shy.
Mr. M. LEE: Why did you do it shy?
Mr. T. LEE: Because Linda was looking at me like what?
Mr. M. LEE: Get with the program. She can handle it.
WERTHEIMER: Then, stirring it all up into a thick, golden, creamy mixture.
Mr. T. LEE: To me, it sort of looks like cake batter.
WERTHEIMER: We're almost done. The yolk mixture is folded into the chopped shrimp and egg whites and tasted for seasoning.
Mr. T. LEE: So should we load the bun?
Mr. M. LEE: Yeah, let's do it. You ready?
WERTHEIMER: The brothers like top-loaded buns, the ones used for lobster rolls, but this far South, we had to go with hot dog buns, which we toasted. Each bun gets a leaf of lettuce and a slice of tomato and as much shrimp and deviled egg as it can hold, bacon and scallions sprinkled on top.
Mr. T. LEE: The Lowcountry cousin to a lobster roll.
WERTHEIMER: We serve it up on the back porch.
Mr. M. LEE: Can I get you one?
WERTHEIMER: Please. The result is everything you like about shrimp and exactly what you like about deviled eggs but combined.
Mr. T. LEE: What do you think?
Mr. M. LEE: A pinch of salt, maybe more, in the...
Mr. T. LEE: Or a grind of pepper.
Mr. M. LEE: A grind of pepper. But yeah, this is...
Mr. T. LEE: But I'm happy with it.
WERTHEIMER: Their cookbook is full of ideas like this, new twists on old Southern recipes. I asked for their favorites.
Mr. M. LEE: I was thinking just for a dish that sort of sums up the book and our history of cooking in Charleston, I would say pork tenderloin with fig and Madeira gravy, easy to make, uses ingredients fairly close at hand and inspired by ingredients in Charleston.
Mr. T. LEE: I'd have to say the pimento-cheese potato gratin, which is just comfort food, pure and simple, but has an extra element of, you know, sort of vegetable quality because roasted red peppers are interleaved with the potatoes, and so it just comes across as being something you've never tasted before, even though there's a familiarity to it from the pimento-cheese idea that's in there.
WERTHEIMER: Matt and Ted Lee. Their new cookbook is called "The Lee Brothers Simple Fresh Southern." You can find a recipe for the shrimp and deviled egg salad roll at npr.org.
While we packed up our gear to go back to the office, like the well-brought-up young men they are, they washed the dishes.
Mr. T. LEE: There's something therapeutic about seeing your kitchen all blasted to hell during the making of a great meal and then, like, taking the time to put it back to right.