Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Pickled Sweet Peppers & Pickle Juice Gravy with Biscuits for Cook the Books April/May Selection: Buttermilk Graffiti

May is wrapping up this week and so is the deadline for Cook the Books April/May book pick, Buttermilk Graffiti by Edward Lee, a foodie memoir and journey through America's food scene hosted by Debra of Eliot's Eats. (See her announcement post here.)

I was already a bit of an Edward Lee fan from his season of the PBS series, The Mind of a Chef and his stint on Season 9 of Top Chef, and his battle on Iron Chef, but I had not ever read any of his writing, something I was happy to rectify with this book. Buttermilk Graffiti: A Chef's Journey to Discover America's New Melting Pot Cuisine is Lee's second book, following Smoke and Pickles: Recipes and Stories From a New Southern Kitchen and his unique perspectives and passion for food and the people who cook it made it a win for me. I like his appreciation for the people he meets in his cross-country explorations and how descriptive his writing and storytelling is--it isn't surprising to read that he graduated magna cum laude from NYU with a degree in English literature before turning his skills to cooking. I really enjoy his approach to food too--with his unique combinations of cuisines and ingredients. He made me want to hang out with him in the car and in the kitchen.

As usual, I struggled with my time management these past two months and had to return my library print copy of the book. I ended up using an Audible credit and listening to half of it before finishing up with print again when a library e-book came available. I liked both reading and listening to Lee's prose, although I would have enjoyed him narrating the book (even though the narrator David Shih did a nice job). I felt like I could pick up and put down the book and appreciate each chapter as I meandered through it. The recipes included are an added treat. Buttermilk Graffiti was an enjoyable road trip and I put a library hold on Smoke and Pickles because I want to hear more from Lee.

I marked several recipes from the book to try like Amok Trey (a fish curry wrapped in banana leaf), Russian Pickled Watermelon, Mango Fries with Jalapeño-Mint Aioli, Miso Creamed Corn, and Chanterelle Hummus to name a few. It ended up being the unusual Pickle Juice Gravy that wouldn't leave my head and so I made his Pickled Sweet Peppers mainly to use the brine in the gravy. Lee partners his gravy with pork chops and the Miso Creamed Corn, but I opted to eat my gravy over biscuits (Red Lobster Cheddar Bay Biscuit Mix from a box). ;-) I was not disappointed and have a new addiction. Who knew?!

Edward lee says, "The briny pickle juice livens up the traditional gravy with a surprising but delicate acidity." and If you make Pickled Sweet peppers, you will have some delicious brine. Most people discard the brine when they finish the pickles, but I never do. It is a great way to add flavor to vinaigrettes, braises, and this simple but addictive gravy."

Pickle Juice Gravy
Slightly Adapted from Buttermilk Graffiti by Edward Lee
(Makes About 2 Cups
5 Tbsp unsalted butter, plus 1 Tbsp cold butter to finish the gravy
5 Tbsp all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups chicken stock (I used non-chicken bullion paste) 
1/2 tsp salt, or to taste
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper (I upped this)
1/4 cup pickle juice from Pickled Sweet Peppers (recipe below), or to taste (I ended up using about 1/3 cup)

Melt the 5 tablespoons butter in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Sprinkle the flour over the top and whisk to combine, then cook the roux, whisking constantly, for 1 minute, or until a rough paste forms. While whisking, gradually add the chicken stock.

Bring the gravy to a low boil, then reduce the heat and season with the salt and pepper. Gently simmer until thickened, about 2 minutes.

Stir the pickle juice into the gravy. Finish it by adding the remaining 1 tablespoon cold butter and swirling it into the pan until it just melts. Serve hot.

Pickled Sweet Peppers
Slightly Adapted from Buttermilk Graffiti by Edward Lee
(Makes 1/2 Quart)

10 small sweet peppers, seeded and thinly sliced, any mix of bell, cherry or Italian sweets
1 cup rice vinegar
1/2 cup water
1/3 cup sugar
1 tsp salt
1 whole star anise pod
1/2 tsp whole black peppercorns
1 large strip lemon peel

Thinly slice the sweet peppers and pack them into a jar. In a small saucepan, combine the vinegar, water, sugar, salt, star anise, and peppercorns and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Add the lemon peel, remove from the heat, and let cool to room temperature.

Pour the pickling liquid into the jar, close the lid tightly, and refrigerate overnight. Discard any excess liquid. The peppers will keep in the fridge for up to a month.

Notes/Results: I love pickles and pickled vegetables and I love gravy, so I supposed it only stands to reason that I would love Pickle Juice Gravy and I DO! I would eat it on a stick, or really just from the ladle as it really doesn't need anything else. The acidity it adds is perfect--it keeps the gravy from being heavy and one note, and the simple pickles with their black pepper and star anise notes are tasty too. (You'll see them on shrimp tacos later this week.) I used a mock chicken broth for my gravy and it worked fine--although I needed no extra salt, but extra black pepper was a definite must and I upped the amount of brine to 1/3 cup. A runny-yolked fried egg or poached eggs would be welcome on top, but I was perfectly content with my box-mix biscuits, slices of pickled sweet peppers, and plenty of the gravy. I will definitely be making this again.

I'm sharing this post with the Weekend Cooking event at Beth Fish Reads, a weekly event that is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share. For more information, see the welcome post.

Linking up Buttermilk Graffiti to May's Foodies Read. You can check out the May Foodies Read linkup, hosted by Heather at Based on a True Story, to see what everyone is reading this month.   

The deadline for this round of CTB is this Friday, May 31st and Debra be rounding up the entries on the Cook the Books site soon after. If you missed this round and like food, books, and foodie books, join us for June/July when we'll be reading Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef by Gabrielle Hamilton, hosted by Simona of briciole.  



  1. I'm glad that you tried some recipes from the book. I also listened on audible and thought that the narrator was excellent.

    1. He definitely has some fun recipes in the book and yes, the narrator was good. ;-)

  2. Very intrigued by this use of pickle juice -- though the volume of it in the gravy isn't that enormous, 1/4 cup to lots of butter & chicken stock. I expected from the name that it would be more dramatic!

    best... mae at maefood.blogspot.com

    1. I am OK without the flavor drama as I think it's all about the balance--especially with stronger flavored items like vinegary pickle brine that could easily take over. I ended up using about 1/3 cup and thought it was a great balance of acidity and flavor and really unique to boot. Some ingredients add big impact without using too much--like I'd hate to have a black pepper gravy where the black pepper was a major ingredient by volume! ;-)

  3. What could be better than Biscuits and gravy!? Especially with those sweet pepper pickles. Great choice.

  4. This book was new to me until I started reading Cook the Books posts. I pretty much can repeat Claudia's comment. :)

  5. Definitely going to try the pickle juice. cheers

  6. Now this definitely is an interesting twist. Not sure I'm going to try it but a great read nonetheless!

  7. Definitely Lee's recipes are interesting and I also have a number marked "to-try" You chose an unusual one and I am glad you were happy with the result. The plate looks enticing :)


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