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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The Judgment

Tejal-rao

By Tejal Rao

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? (63 comments)

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about 1 year ago Naomi Manygoats

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!

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over 1 year ago Elizabeth Velasquez

I love Flour and Flour too. Everything I have made has been fantastic. Do not hesitate to buy these... They are both winners

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over 1 year ago sandriavdh

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.

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over 1 year ago luvcookbooks

Meg is a trusted home cook.

These are such difficult decisions. Today there are two more new books on my wish lit.

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over 1 year ago sexyLAMBCHOPx

sexyLAMBCHOPx is a trusted home cook.

I glad Ed Lee won. I love the no rules, go for it, attitude in incorporating different ingredients for new and usual dishes.

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over 1 year ago ChamindikaDraws

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!

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over 1 year ago Ashley

I'm always intrigued by Southern cookbooks that aren't traditional.

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over 1 year ago fiveandspice

Emily is a trusted source on Scandinavian Cuisine.

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!

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over 1 year ago Ayarir

I've seen flour too and always called my attention. I love to bake so I would go with this one :)

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over 1 year ago Joan Osborne

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.

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over 1 year ago Barbara Robertson

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...

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over 1 year ago kate h

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.

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over 1 year ago Sophia R

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!

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over 1 year ago mcs3000

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.

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over 1 year ago Laurie

Great choice. I live this book.

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over 1 year ago twinjadojo

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!

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over 1 year ago XenaB

I have too many cookbooks but wouldn't mind another quality cookbook :). I have Flour (1st book) and find Chang's recipes precise and well-written. I've borrowed Lee's book from the library. I haven't read Flour, Too. From the review, both sound great but I wish the reviewer had tested more recipes. Maybe she did but only talked about one in Lee's book. It'd be important to know if recipes work or need more adjustments.

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over 1 year ago aargle

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.

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over 1 year ago LLStone

I can't wait to dive in to Smoke and Pickles!

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over 1 year ago Christine

Yay for Smoke and Pickles...I devoured a library copy, it's excellent!