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But Can Ingredients Be TOO Good For A Successful Dish?


Bill Klapp
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Maybe a really dumb topic, this, but it is something that I have thought about on and off over the years. A lot of time, expense, thought and effort is expended here on sourcing and discovering the best ingredients, equipment and techniques, and even doing that from both the cost-is-no-object (easier to do with food than with most things in life) and best-quality-price-ratio perspectives. The constant is striving for excellence at whatever level, with every conceivable type of food and drink.

However, for many, a top Dijon mustard would ruin the enjoyment of a hot dog in a baseball park. I keep recalling Haagen-Dazs's abortive attempt some years back to re-create the old Popsicle product, the Dreamsicle, in a pint carton. (For those of you not old enough to remember the Dreamsicle, it was a core of artificially flavored vanilla ice milk on a stick, but instead of a chocolate coating, it was covered with orange sherbet...not sorbet, as that existed only in France back then, but a milk-based sherbet. in the Dark Ages of Foodie-ism, it was something that a kid could love, and a nice change of pace from Popsicles, Fudgesicles and Eskimo Pies.). Haagen-Dazs blended its intense, high-fat natural vanilla ice cream with a natural orange sorbet (no milk). Orange oil or something like it factored into the sorbet, making it both too intense and too bitter to make the experiment work. (I am not certain that I would have bothered to eat the sorbet alone, despite its pedigree and despite loving most bitter foods.) Other things that I have seen screwed up by too much upgrading are Philly cheesesteaks, hoagies/heroes/subs/grinders, pizzas and burgers (I still chuckle over the Burger Bar in Vegas, which can turn out a number of different and perfectly fine burgers, but also will plop a half a lobster tail and/or foie gras on a Kobe burger), which makes me suspect that perhaps the problem is confined to popular junk food for which there is a common taste expectation for many people.

I am curious as to whether others have experienced the "damn, my ingredients are too good!" problem along the way, and with what foods...

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Bill Klapp

bklapp@egullet.com

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I always had a problem with 'best', when it comes to food [ingredients], since it suggests a weirdly subjective broad consensus, and because of this, it feels (to me) like your question can't work; swap in 'most appropriate' or 'favourite' for 'too good', and your question makes sense (but then become rhetorical).

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I think in The Fat Duck Cookbook or maybe one of his television shows Blumental mentioned how, when he first tried to make a 'sardines on toast'-flavoured icecream he kept missing the mark. He eventually realised the flaw in what he was doing: he wasn't using the canned sardines and mass-produced white bread of his childhood.

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That is my point, Chris. And Mjx, you can swap "best" for "better", "top-quality", "good-quality", "more appropriate" or whatever other descriptor you like. "Best" is not important to my question, and this forum would probably not exist absent the sharing of subjective opinions of "good", "best", "workable", etc. Indeed, more often than not in threads that invite it, one witnesses the building of subjective concensus, weird or no. The Blumenthal illustration is perfect. We can all agree, I think, that there are better sardines and bread available today than those of Blumenthal's childhood, but yet using them will not create the flavor that he remembers. (There is, I suppose, a flip side to this, too, if you have flavor memories of absolutely dreadful things that your mother or your grandmother cooked that can be erased by the use of better (or more appropriate) ingredients or techniques.)

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Bill Klapp

bklapp@egullet.com

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sorbet, as that existed only in France back then, but a milk-based sherbet.

Sorbet in the sense of a sherbet existed in England as early as at least 1585 (OED). The ice confection was known in England in 1864 (OED).

Häagen-Dazs was formed 1961.

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Interesting fact about sorbet in England, but I think that you missed the forest in favor of that particular tree. And the formation date of Haagen-Dazs is completely irrelevant, yes? Low-quality, artificially flavored, ice-milk sherbets may not have been unique to America of the 1950s and 1960s, but probably pretty close to it, since much of the rest of the world was enjoying natural flavors and pure dairy products back then...

Bill Klapp

bklapp@egullet.com

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I think this has a lot to do with people's nostalgia towards whichever foods they ate when they grew up. I don't think most people have the luxury of eating the best ingredients throughout their childhood, so they find comfort in the familiarity of some things, even if they aren't as rich, flavorful, refined, etc as other versions of the dish.

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I think that you missed the forest in favor of that particular tree. And the formation date of Haagen-Dazs is completely irrelevant, yes?

Excuse me? It was you who linked the two, not me.

Edited by liuzhou (log)

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I think this is absolutely true, Bill. If the goal of a dish is to make a coveted ingredient shine, why drown it in a dish that is enrobed in a cream sauce? I'm looking at you, you people who make things like lobster pot pie. And, yes I blame Thomas Keller.

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I think this has a lot to do with people's nostalgia towards whichever foods they ate when they grew up. I don't think most people have the luxury of eating the best ingredients throughout their childhood, so they find comfort in the familiarity of some things, even if they aren't as rich, flavorful, refined, etc as other versions of the dish.

I went into the Air Force directly out of high school. Once I got to my first duty station I noticed other GIs complaining about the chow-hall food. Much of it was, for institutional food, quite well prepared. I went on to a small private college (300 students) and for my first semester there enjoyed the food in the dining hall (we got a different cook after that who was capable of burning water). The first cook really worked hard to prepare tasty meals. I listened to some other students faulting the flavors of his food. Then I noticed that it was mostly freshman doing the complaining. I realized then that the complaints were, in my opinion, based on the food not tasting like that which they had grown up with. 40 years later I stand by that conclusion.

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Porthos Potwatcher
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I think that you missed the forest in favor of that particular tree. And the formation date of Haagen-Dazs is completely irrelevant, yes?

Excuse me? It was you who linked the two, not me.

Your pedantry is excused. Please read my post again and see if you can follow its drift: Rather low-quality, ice-milk Dreamsicle was made in 1950s and 1960s. Popular with kids, as I was then. Haagen-Dazs knocks off the product sometime in the last 15 years, but uses top-quality ingredients. I did not like the new product as well as the old, and I am positing that, sometimes, maybe using the best available ingredients does not deliver the familiarity, comfort and taste sensation that one seeks. Birth year of Haagen-Dazs totally irrelevant. When the English were eating sherbet totally irrelevant, unless it was in fact sorbet and was called sorbet. Otherwise, it could well be that, as I stated, only the French were eating sorbet and calling it sorbet in the 1950s. However, I could be wrong. And, if you follow my drift, whether I am right or wrong on that arcane, purely rhetorical point is, you guessed it, TOTALLY IRRELEVANT. Throw the OED in the irrelevance heap, and there you have it. Or, by all means, if you prefer, feel free to read the OED instead of this thread...

Bill Klapp

bklapp@egullet.com

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I think this has a lot to do with people's nostalgia towards whichever foods they ate when they grew up. I don't think most people have the luxury of eating the best ingredients throughout their childhood, so they find comfort in the familiarity of some things, even if they aren't as rich, flavorful, refined, etc as other versions of the dish.

I went into the Air Force directly out of high school. Once I got to my first duty station I noticed other GIs complaining about the chow-hall food. Much of it was, for institutional food, quite well prepared. I went on to a small private college (300 students) and for my first semester there enjoyed the food in the dining hall (we got a different cook after that who was capable of burning water). The first cook really worked hard to prepare tasty meals. I listened to some other students faulting the flavors of his food. Then I noticed that it was mostly freshman doing the complaining. I realized then that the complaints were, in my opinion, based on the food not tasting like that which they had grown up with. 40 years later I stand by that conclusion.

Exactly. I suppose that we are lucky that good chefs are not so limited, but I also think that we all like some things that would probably not be considered good or interesting by most people. However, such things are nevertheless part of who we are, and trying to improve upon them may please those other people, but not likely ourselves. But the next step in the question is: are there some foods whose taste profiles many or most of us so identify with that we do not want the taste improved by better-quality ingredients? (I am not thinking McDonald's hamburgers here.)

Bill Klapp

bklapp@egullet.com

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I think this is absolutely true, Bill. If the goal of a dish is to make a coveted ingredient shine, why drown it in a dish that is enrobed in a cream sauce? I'm looking at you, you people who make things like lobster pot pie. And, yes I blame Thomas Keller.

But what's luxurious to some is everyday food to others. I'm profligate with seafood--I live in the heart of a rich, productive estuary. A pound of crabmeat, to me, is like a pound of ground beef to others. I measure shrimp by the cooler full (usually 60 quarts or larger), not by the lb. So I don't have to treat my jumbo lump like jewels, bathed solely in drawn butter and lemon....I can use in a creamy corn, poblano, and crab soup, I can put it into stuffed green peppers, or fold it into seafood stuffing, or use it in an everything-and-the-kitchen-sink gumbo. "Shine" is a relative term.

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The easiest example is a hamburger. I thought why not buy the leanest, most expensive ground hamburger meat for my homemade burgers? It turns out that the fat helps act like a binder to keep the burger together and to keep it juicy. My expensive burger ended up tasting as dry and crumbly as ground up corkboard. Lesson learned.

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... I keep recalling Haagen-Dazs's abortive attempt some years back to re-create the old Popsicle product, the Dreamsicle, in a pint carton. (For those of you not old enough to remember the Dreamsicle, it was a core of artificially flavored vanilla ice milk on a stick, but instead of a chocolate coating, it was covered with orange sherbet...not sorbet ...

The name is interesting. In the New York City of the 50's-60's it was called a Creamsicle. (Still is, actually.) Nothing better on a hot summer day. I totally agree with your point. I want the Creamsicle, but in addition, I want the "madeleine" attached to the creamsicle as well. Haagen-Dazs doesn't deliver.

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I think this is absolutely true, Bill. If the goal of a dish is to make a coveted ingredient shine, why drown it in a dish that is enrobed in a cream sauce? I'm looking at you, you people who make things like lobster pot pie. And, yes I blame Thomas Keller.

But what's luxurious to some is everyday food to others. I'm profligate with seafood--I live in the heart of a rich, productive estuary. A pound of crabmeat, to me, is like a pound of ground beef to others. I measure shrimp by the cooler full (usually 60 quarts or larger), not by the lb. So I don't have to treat my jumbo lump like jewels, bathed solely in drawn butter and lemon....I can use in a creamy corn, poblano, and crab soup, I can put it into stuffed green peppers, or fold it into seafood stuffing, or use it in an everything-and-the-kitchen-sink gumbo. "Shine" is a relative term.

Well, everything is relative Celeste, of course. Many if not most of us don't have the easy access to lovely fresh seafood and fish like Gulf Coasters do. When my husband lived in Alaska, he had access to many different game animals that would be considered exotic in the lower 48. Most of us have seldom if ever cooked up elk chops on a regular basis. Or moose or bear meat. My point is that lobster is a luxury item and it is a crime to put it in a pot pie, to my mind. Others are free to have a difference of opinion, of course.

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I think that in certain applications, the "best" ingredients doom you, but only insofar as they're going to have flavours or flavour profiles that are radically different from the more questionable ingredients used in the original recipes. I'll also note that I grew up eating the best my folks could find of everything; stuff like Wendy's burgers and whatnot were a big treat and only consumed occasionally. It would never have occurred to me to try and replicate a Wendy's burger at home, though....

On a side note, they were Creamsicles in Canada up until at least 10 years ago (I can't speak for the last decade - I haven't been there.) They're here in Ecuador as well, as Empastados de Naranja and Naranjaditas. The Ecuadorian version uses notably better ice cream in the middle - rich high-fat vanilla, to be precise - but the same weird orange icemilk sherbetlike coating as I recall, and it's actually one of the few things where I think that better ingredients, at least at the ice cream level, actually make the product better - because they kept the weird orange icemilk sherbet. I'm willing to bet that if they'd gone with a coating of pure sweetened orange juice and cream, it would have been a complete fail....

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... I keep recalling Haagen-Dazs's abortive attempt some years back to re-create the old Popsicle product, the Dreamsicle, in a pint carton. (For those of you not old enough to remember the Dreamsicle, it was a core of artificially flavored vanilla ice milk on a stick, but instead of a chocolate coating, it was covered with orange sherbet...not sorbet ...

The name is interesting. In the New York City of the 50's-60's it was called a Creamsicle. (Still is, actually.) Nothing better on a hot summer day. I totally agree with your point. I want the Creamsicle, but in addition, I want the "madeleine" attached to the creamsicle as well. Haagen-Dazs doesn't deliver.
Creamsicle is exactly the same thing, except that I think that it has real ice cream inside, whereas the Dreamsicle definitely had ice milk, and I suspect that Creamsicle may, in fact, be the dominant name for that novelty. I think that there were a couple of regional variations in naming, as there was a national Popsicle brand but no central production and distribution. The name, wrappings, recipes, etc. were licensed, but the products were regionally and locally produced. The same was true in the 50s and 60s for many regional or superregional dairy and ice cream brands (Meadow Gold was one, and for ice cream, even the national brand Borden's was produced locally). I think that this remains true today for the handful of remaining national dairy brands. Edited by Bill Klapp (log)
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Bill Klapp

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I think some of this trend comes from one-upmanship. The chef who makes burgers that are only as good as the guy across the street needs to differentiate, and some go to foodie hijinx like foie and lobster on a burger.

In home cooking, most of us when presented with a premium ingredient (that we see rarely), like a great lobster tail, piece of foie, an amazing piece of beef - we're more tempted to make it simply and let it shine so we can indulge in and love it as it is.

Of course, as the ingredient becomes more common, whether because of our financial situation, location, etc., we're more tempted to experiment with these things and play dress up with our fancy ingredients.

Some things need to just be what they are. Beef Nachos at the ballpark (for example) are intrinsically more enjoyable (though not necessarily better) than 'Premium Wagyu topped tortilla crisps with aged gruyere and rare indonesian chillies'. Why? 1st because one costs $2 and the other $40. 2nd because nachos are something we want to gulp and laugh and talk around without stopping to savor the exquisite ingredients and contemplate the earthiness of the cheese and marbling of the beef.

So, yes. Emphatically yes. I believe an ingredient can be too good for a certain dish.

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PastaMeshugana

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I did this yesterday. Hiigh end coarse and and finely ground cornmeals, fragrant fresh herbs, Rancho Gordo's excellent piloncillo, duck eggs, good butter, and a result that made me long for Jiff mix bread to dunk into the beans.

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My parents, perhaps in misguided reaction to their parents (who lived through the Depression and were very frugal), when they cook beef they only use tenderloin. Stew? Tenderloin. Fajitas? Tenderloin. Of course there's not much flavor in the finished dish, but it sure is tender.

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The creamsicle and the dreamsicle are not the same thing. They are two closely identical products, except the dreamsicle has ice milk for the center and the creamsicle has vanilla ice cream for the center. I grew up in creamsicle country. I only obtained this bit of minimally interesting information when I googled "dreamsicle" to find out why posters kept on misspelling "creamsicle" Basically orange sherbert and vanilla ice cream are one of those marriages made in heaven, although Martha Stewart does a very tasty variation involving orange sherbert, frozen vanilla yoghurt and pistachios. In my teens I would occasionally have a fudgesicle and dill pickle as an after school snack. It was every bit as bad as it sounds.

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"A fool", he said, "would have swallowed it". Samuel Johnson

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Friendly's makes an orange vanilla combination that I like, particularly in summer. (Although I have not purchased any commercial ice cream products this year.)

http://www.friendlys.com/ice-cream/take-home-treats/fruit-swirls/fruit-swirls-orange-creme-swirl/

I must say the Haagen-Dazs sounds good to me but I never had it that I remember. I do not accept the premise that ingedients can be too good for a successful dish, however perhaps some ingredients are inappropriate for a given dish.

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