Sweet onions, South Carolina’s answer to the Vidalia, are among spring’s most anticipated crops. “In April, we get the South Carolina-grown sweet onion in its green onion state with the stalk attached—my favorite because I enjoy the smaller bulb for quick roasting,” says Slightly North of Broad executive chef Frank Lee. “From May through June, we get the dried variety. We use it as our all-purpose onion, enjoying its milder flavor and higher sugar content.”
The chef crafts a caramelized sweet onion sauce for fish, which acts like a salsa, the onion’s sweetness spiked by jalapeños and juxtaposed against bright citrus and bruised herbs. Lee transforms the delicate onions into a goose egg custard, which he calls “a sinful delight that’s sweet, earthy, and decadent—like Bridgette Bardot.” And finally he drapes those roasted spring onions atop another of the season’s firsts, soft-shell crabs, allowing their sweet silkiness to contrast with the crunchy crab and “hot, crispy, salty, sweet, tangy, rich juices that explode in your mouth,” he says.
Local grocery stores have embraced the South Carolina sweet onions, though don’t expect to find them much later than August. Grown since 2010 and only in the sandy, loamy soil of Calhoun, Lexington, and Barnwell counties, Lee’s Palmetto Sweet onions came from the late Kent Scott of St. Matthew’s—who pioneered the brand—buying them via Limehouse Produce up until this spring. Today, carrying the torch of Scott’s original variety, farmers Monty Rast and Madison Turnblad’s Sweet Southern onions, grown in Calhoun County, may be found at GrowFood Carolina. And if you want to try the goose eggs, with their big, sunset-orange yolks, Lee gets his from John’s Island’s Burden Creek Dairy.
Dishing it up with Chef Frank Lee
Restaurant:Slightly North of Broad (SNOB)
Accolades: “Maxine and Bob Raver have dined here every Saturday for at least 14 years. That’s the best testimonial I have.”
First F&B Gig: “221 Pickens St., a militant hippie vegetarian restaurant and natural foods co-op in Columbia, SC”
EDUCATION: “Still attending the school of life”
Favorite Local Ingredients: “Whatever is in season and the best quality. I am partial to soft-shell crab, squab, and any vegetable.”
Recipe You'll Take to the Grave: “Pointless question. Cooking is about sharing, nurturing; a love game. My chef mentors taught me to pass the torch ofcuisine.”