The Piglet2014 / First Round, 2014

Smoke and Pickles vs. Flour, Too

Smoke and Pickles

Edward Lee

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Flour, Too

Joanne Chang

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Judged by: Tejal Rao

Tejal Rao is a senior writer at Tasting Table. She was previously a senior editor at Saveur, and a restaurant critic and staff writer at the Village Voice, where she won a James Beard Award for her weekly column and was named one of Forbes magazine's "30 Under 30" of 2013.


The Judgment

I got my Piglet books over a particularly cold, miserable couple of weeks in New York, when it was dark by 4:30 in the afternoon. Naturally I went straight for the wintry soups and stews, like Joanne Chang’s hot and sour soup made with ground pork and squeezes of Sriracha -- her mother’s recipe, a flash of Chang’s Taiwanese upbringing -- which turned out beautifully and tasted even better the next day when I warmed it up for lunch.

Chang runs an empire of cafés in Boston and though her second cookbook has plenty of savory recipes, the finest thing I made from it was the kouign amann, a killer pastry from Brittany that holds more butter and sugar in its layers than seems physically possible. I’m comfortable with laminated doughs like puff pastry and croissant, but I’d never attempted a kouign amann before. It’s a bit messier, since you’re pouring sugar into the last few folds, and I wasn’t entirely sure about the pinwheel-esque shaping, but I loved Chang’s voice here, guiding me to seal the folded dough under plastic wrap as if “you were tucking it into bed.” And the idea of baking the pastries in muffin tins is kind of genius; it’s perfect for home cooks without silpats and rings, though I did find some problems with them sticking at the bottom, and it’s much trickier to maneuver a palette knife into a grooved tin than a flat sheet pan. But never mind, the pastries were gorgeous! Dark golden brown and wonderfully crisp on top, with tender, buttery centers and caramel-covered bottoms. The recipe could have used a few process shots of the folding technique to help cooks along, and to show the ideal texture of the dough -- it’s very hard to know if it’s too dry, or too wet, in the early stages without some frame of reference. That said, I trust Chang enough after my kouign amann experience to try her bûche de Noël recipe on Christmas Eve.

“Sometimes it’s better to just leave an ingredient out rather than to substitute an inferior version,” warns Edward Lee, who’s been cooking in Louisville, Kentucky for almost a decade. It’s a fair point. There’s nothing more annoying than complaints from cooks about recipes they didn’t actually follow (“I used buckwheat flour instead of all-purpose flour and it sucked!”). But I couldn’t find a pheasant. So I guiltily made Lee’s pheasant and dumplings recipe with turkey around Thanksgiving -- the meat simmered in a roux-thickened stock and white wine, shredded and served with some zingy dumplings seasoned with fresh horseradish. It was wonderful. I got right into his recipes for kimchis and pickles, too, and appreciated the handful of step-by-step shots on the more complex recipes. But mostly I wanted to sit down and read this cookbook like a memoir, so I did.  

I have a soft spot for hybrids, for idiosyncratic food that doesn’t fit too neatly into a single tradition, and Lee’s book tells the story of a chef who explored his own Korean traditions and those he adopted in the south to come up with something of his own. It gets really personal -- one of my favorite moments in the book is his self-deprecating look back at the night he cooked for Jeremiah Tower and Tower rejected the food, forcing Lee to reconsider his path as a chef. 

Both of these cookbooks make you want to get in the kitchen, and reward you with great things to eat if you follow their directions, but they also have the chefs’ portraits on the covers, promising their stories will be inside. In the end, I wished Flour, Too had made room for more of Chang’s stories in between the lovely recipes. Pressed to choose, I go with Smoke and Pickles


And the winner is…

Smoke and Pickles: Recipes and Stories from a New Southern Kitchen

Smoke and Pickles: Recipes and Stories from a New Southern Kitchen

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Do you Agree?


Naomi M. February 28, 2014
Nicely written review! Brave of you to try kouign amann! I have the Smoke and Pickles book, love it, and must check out the Flour, Too one more closely now. I had only briefly thumbed through it because I am trying to go Gluten Free, but it sounds like it holds a lot of promise of good things!
Elizabeth V. February 23, 2014
I love Flour and Flour too. Everything I have made has been fantastic. Do not hesitate to buy these... They are both winners
sandriavdh February 23, 2014
Thanks for the review. Both book sound so good. I really would love to try both. I love pastry though and would love to master it, so I would really like to try Flour, Too. Sounds like an interesting book to add to my ever growing collection.
luvcookbooks February 23, 2014
These are such difficult decisions. Today there are two more new books on my wish lit.
sexyLAMBCHOPx February 21, 2014
I glad Ed Lee won. I love the no rules, go for it, attitude in incorporating different ingredients for new and usual dishes.
Chamindika February 20, 2014
I'm so glad Smoke & Pickles won! I've been making dishes from it since the fall, and it is BRILLIANT! Some amazing new flavors, he's so good at combining ingredients you wouldn't think of putting together, and coming up with some phenomenal recipes. I've made the lamb rice bowl, chicken rice bowl (awesome combination of flavors, I've made it 6 or 7 times , remoulade, miso-smothered chicken (which I make practically every week now, amazing!), the potato salad, the unbelievably tasty curry pork pies, the bourbon ginger glazed carrots, the congee (which I make almost every sunday morning now!). I've made the dishes for numerous friends and family and they are always impressed! I can't wait to try the other recipes, each one I try becomes my new favorite and I crave the flavors and think about the taste long after the meal is over,he's brilliant! I hope it wins the whole piglet!
Ashley February 20, 2014
I'm always intrigued by Southern cookbooks that aren't traditional.
fiveandspice February 20, 2014
I love everything Joanne Chang does and makes. Seriously, everything! I have both her books, and whenever I use them whatever I'm making turns out perfectly and makes me feel a little less sad that I no longer live near Flour. But, holy moly Smoke & Pickles sounds awesome! I can't wait to add it to my collection as well!
Ayarir February 19, 2014
I've seen flour too and always called my attention. I love to bake so I would go with this one :)
Joan O. February 19, 2014
Great review. I have Flour and enjoy cooking from it so I also have Flour 2 on my wish list. I've read good things including here about Smoke and Pickles so it sure would be hard to choose between these two books and both of them have been on my wish list for awhile now.
Barbara R. February 19, 2014
Judging a book by it's cover, I would say "Smoke and Pickles". Judging by first hand knowledge of to die for lemon scones, I would say "Flour". Thanks for making this so easy...
kate H. February 19, 2014
I loved this review and it only made me want both books. I feel like they are so different in approach-tough to have to compare the two. I love to bake and am a true fan of Joanne Chang. I had never heard of Edward Lee and Smoke and Pickles and look forward to buying his book.
Sophia R. February 19, 2014
Loved the review and it's just re-affirmed my wish to buy Smoke & Pickles as soon as I have moved house (cannot justify to have to carry any more books at this stage). Besides the amazing sounding recipes I am intrigued by Chang's culinary journey as well, how he came up with recipes that combined his Korean background with his love for the South. I think however much we focus on local, regional and seasonal cooking these days (and 'authenticity') we cannot forget how many people have grown up in many different places or grown up in mixed families and that rather than fight this by focusing on regional cuisine only we should embrace the hybrid culinary traditions that come out of it!
mcs3000 February 18, 2014
So lame, but I didn't know about Smoke & Pickles until the Piglet. Can't wait to buy this book. I'm a huge Flour fan so can't wait to get flour, too.
Laurie February 18, 2014
Great choice. I live this book.
twinjadojo February 18, 2014
I'm desperately missing 24-7 access to high quality Korean food, s'all there's to do is cook it myself. Smoke and Pickles, FTW!
aargle February 18, 2014
So glad Smoke and Pickles won. I am very keen to get my hands on this book as I have never tried my hand at Korean food despite loving Every other type of Asian cuisine.
LLStone February 18, 2014
I can't wait to dive in to Smoke and Pickles!
Christine February 18, 2014
Yay for Smoke and Pickles...I devoured a library copy, it's excellent!
MyLime February 18, 2014
As a child of the South and current lover of Korean food, Smoke and Pickles sounds like a wonderful medley!