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But Can Ingredients Be TOO Good For A Successful Dish?


Bill Klapp
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It would be hard for me to believe that Wonderbread or other average supermarket white bread makes a better sandwich than a plain artisan white bread (or the white bread my husband bakes) with anything between the slices. Put up a tomato sandwich with mayo on white bread for a test: home-made white bread, a perfectly ripe seasonal heirloom tomato and your mayo of choice vs Wonderbread with a winter tomato.

Well, maybe not Wonderbread; but a decent commercial white bread would be...well...decent. Kaya toast does not benefit from artsy artisanal bread with holes in it and complex multi-grain tastes and texture, as an example. It does well (or even best) with an even-grained plain white bread, preferably the Chinese bakery or Japanese bakery stuff.

In your case, wouldn't the fairer comparison be Wonderbread/Supermarket bread with summertime ripe heirloom tomatoes (rather than a winter hothouse tomato) versus artisanal white bread with the same tomatoes? IMO I would be concentrating more on the taste of the tomatoes in this case and the bread would not be paramount.

Two thoughts: there clearly are ingredients like Wonderbread and hothouse tomatoes which, as you suggest, need not be retained

Commercial stuff often gets a bad rap. As an example, Heinz tomato ketchup still is the standard bearer for many people, notwithstanding many artisanal or home recipes for "superior ketchups". Opinions will vary, of course; but professional chefs have been known to try to replicate Heinz ketchup in preference over any ketchup created by themselves. See, e.g., http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/04/dining/top-chefs-say-that-sometimes-only-supermarket-brands-will-do.html?pagewanted=all&_r=1&

ETA: p.s. as another comment regarding commercial white bread - have a look at the last paragraphs in that NYT article I cited above. ;-)

Edited by huiray (log)
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I would vote for Heinz catsup being incapable of improvement from a taste memory point of view. Every artisanal alternative that I have made or eaten, even when terrific, is a sauce being called catsup for technical reasons. I have found no other bottled catsup in the U.S. or Italy that can match it, and Italy makes a few top brands from excellent, all-natural ingredients. I do not eat a lot of catsup, and use it in cooking even less frequently, but when I do, I seek out Heinz which, like French's mustard, has become a truly international product.

Bill Klapp

bklapp@egullet.com

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I seek out Heinz which, like French's mustard, has become a truly international product.

I can buy Heinz ketchup in China, but seldom do. I've never heard of French's mustard.

French's mustard is a very mild yellow mustard. The name is the name of the company and has nothing to do with France.

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Fascinating topic, and I agree with most of what has been said.

I'd say Wonder Bread is an indispensable accompaniment to real Texas barbecue (long smoked brisket and other beef cuts, little to no sauce). I wouldn't want an organic replacement to it.

Similarly, I'd want Pepperidge Farm toasted white bread with my BLT (and though I regularly use Kosher or sea salts, I'd want to salt the tomatoes with iodized salt).

I prefer hot dogs from outside of New York to be dressed with French's yellow mustard, and those from within it to have whatever the standard brown mustard is here (similar to Gulden's).

I like a Martin's potato roll or similar soft white roll on my hamburger. The greatest offense to the simple burger perpetrated by upscale restaurants is the "brioche" bun, its dry flakiness completely unsuited to holding the burger together.'

I love organic breads, exotic mustards, and brioche - but Bill Klapp could not be more right - the attempts to graft these on to traditional foods, especially popular American dishes - generally don't work. It's not a question of nostalgia - it's a question of taste! YMMV

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So, probably thousands of pans of mac and cheese and most likely that many dollars later, I have embraced Kraft mac and cheese with the squeeze package of velveeta cheese. The horror! I like to think of it as molecular gastronomy before it was cool.

Look at little miss fancypants with her real velveeta. Ill stick with my kraft mac and cheese with the mystery powdered cheese packet thankyou very much :raz:

I like homemade mac n cheese the way I make it AND the Kraft stuff - I just don't consider them the same food item. :) But if I have a craving for one of those, having the other one won't do. (The Kraft is completely and totally a comfort food - my mom used to make it and cut up hot dogs into it, so I do the same. I buy slightly better quality hot dogs these days than she used, but the change from inexpensive to middle of the road hot dog isn't that significant in terms of the overall taste.)

I think the thing to keep in mind is that you do need to use the right ingredient(s) for the dish - which are not necessarily going to be the absolute 'best' version of that ingredient if you sample the ingredient alone. Bread for example - the right bread for a dish is going to depend on various factors about the dish itself, including the role of the bread. In some things, the purpose of the bread is basically to be a vehicle and a bland foil for other tasty stuff, so a flavorful artisanal loaf is not actually going to work correctly with the other elements. Part of cooking well for me is understanding those relationships and being able to make appropriate choices based on what you intend as the final result. A lot of cooking failures (in terms of the taste and enjoyment of the dish) come from people using the 'best' ingredients in bad combinations because hey, it's the best, that means it should make everything better, right?

(Yes, I am also firmly on the Heinz ketchup wagon. It is the One True Ketchup. And I've had some very good deli ham sandwiches, but if I want a ham sandwich like I remember from childhood, I have to pick up a pack of dubious American cheese in the individual wrappers, and Hellman's mayo, and the ham has to be chipped rather than a nice hearty slice.)

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  • 1 year later...

I feel this way about burrata....why would anyone try to improve on it?  It's perfect and delicious, stop mucking around with it and eat it.

 

I agree...

Recently, now that Belgioiso released a Burrata to supermarkets a lot of people are posting "recipes" for Burrata that make me nuts.

Wawa Sizzli FTW!

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Hello- I have a question that, I think , could be asked here: Is butter that contains " culture" better than butter that contains "natural flavorings"? The first one is imported and costs twice as much as the domestic brand.

"As life's pleasures go, food is second only to sex.Except for salami and eggs...Now that's better than sex, but only if the salami is thickly sliced"--Alan King (1927-2004)

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Hello- I have a question that, I think , could be asked here: Is butter that contains " culture" better than butter that contains "natural flavorings"? The first one is imported and costs twice as much as the domestic brand.

 

I've just read through this entire thread, and this question, I feel, encapsulates the issue rather nicely.

 

To me, the answer is yes, and no.  I went to some lengths to procure a supply of a specific brand of cultured butter from Normandy.  I absolutely love it.  But not for everything.  I also keep a ready stock of plain old American store-brand butter.

 

Generally, the French butter is best for spreading on a great bread.  Simple applications where a very few ingredients take a starring role..However, I don't usually want that in any melted butter application.  It's usually a waste, or worse, is detracting from some other element that I want to come through.

 

Similarly, a really great olive oil can be a disaster if you try to use it in a high heat application.

 

'Better' is a word begging for qualification.  Is a bread flour better?  Maybe for bread, but not for cakes.

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IndyRob, 

 

Very well put and very good points. However I'm not sure about the butters. Perhaps we want the American butter for, say, chocolate chip cookies. For whatever reason, it melds better with the sugar and gives a better texture (I'm just guessing here).

 

But when you say to save French cultured butter for spreading on bread and not for _any_ melted butter application, isn't that going a bit far? After all, the French have been melting cultured butter for centuries and using it for roux or sautés. It's probably not detracting from another element if it's a quintessential part of their cuisine - melted or not?

 

Similarly for any European cuisine that uses melted butter in some application or another, which would be most of them - presumably the recipes were built around cultured butter and something will be lost in the change.

 

I also like to heat decent olive oil for mirepoix or soffrito. Not necessarily the stuff that costs $25+ a bottle, but probably stuff that costs $15 a bottle. I can certainly smell and taste the difference.

 

Anyway, my 2 cents (or 2 dollars, if we're talking about expensive imported products).

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But when you say to save French cultured butter for spreading on bread and not for _any_ melted butter application, isn't that going a bit far?

I  don't think so, especially if I qualify the statement by saying 'for me'.  I'm not cooking for people in France.  I don't really care what they put on their English Muffins (if in fact, they would deign to eat such things).  I've just found that I like their cultured Norman butter - shaken, not stirred, so to speak - in the way I like to enjoy it.

 

And if I have a choice between two products, and one is more expensive but offers nothing other than a possibility of not detracting from the dish, why would I use that versus the cheaper option?

 

Sometimes, fat just needs to be fat.  When I make a French style omelette, I use good ol' 'merican butter.  Because in that case I want subtlety.  But if I want a rustic American frontier omelette, I'm bringing sausage fat to the party, and butter, of any sort, is simply not invited.

 

 

.

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

 

Indeed!  A couple of years ago I was drafted to make deviled eggs for a family get together.  It was Toots' family, and I wanted to make something nice.  I dug into my deviled egg recipe collection and chose smoked salmon deviled eggs.  Toots told me not to get fancy, although I didn't consider that recipe to be particularly fancy.  One of Toots' sons has owned restaurants and has been involved in one aspect or another of the food business for 30+ years, and I was sure he'd like them.  His wife loves salmon, so that seemed like another hit.  As it turned out, there were a lot of deviled eggs left over - I should mention that when Toots makes the eggs they are gone in a heartbeat.  When we were leaving, Toots' daughter whispered in my ear, "Don't get so fancy again."

 

Some time later I was in charge of making a potato dish, and I had lots of great ideas, but daughter's words kept echoing in my mind.  So I made Funeral Potatoes, used cheap, generic, frozen hash browns, some store brand potato chips for the topping, a can of store-brand cream-of-something soup, and some Safeway brand grated cheddar cheese.  Oh my, what a hit that dish was.  Gone in a heartbeat and with ingredients I'd generally never look twice at.

 

So there you have it, my little story about using ingredients that are too good, if not for the dish than at least for guests.

Edited by Shel_B (log)
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 ... Shel


 

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So there you have it, my little story about using ingredients that are too good, if not for the dish than at least for guests.

I think you hit the real answer right on the nose. I don't think ingredients can be too good for a dish, but it's possible for ingredients to be too good for the expectations of those eating the dish. If a person spends their entire life eating cakes made from cake mix, a scratch cake, despite being made with better ingredients, may not taste "right" to them. And they'll frequently translate that "not right" as "not as good".

 

Edited by Tri2Cook (log)

It's kinda like wrestling a gorilla... you don't stop when you're tired, you stop when the gorilla is tired.

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I don't believe in using good wine for cooking.

 

dcarch

 

Do you use "bad" wine?

 

I pretty much agree with you (considering I don't know what you mean by "good" wine) as I generally use some acceptable table wine when wanting wine in a dish.  Often I'll use a wine that a guest has brought to dinner that I didn't want to serve with the meal and which has been sitting in my wine cellar (bottom drawer of the filing cabinet) waiting to be used.  I've had good results with TJ's 2-buck Chuck merlot in some spaghetti sauces.  Not going to use the 84 Martha's Vineyard for that <LOL>

 ... Shel


 

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I've just read through this entire thread, and this question, I feel, encapsulates the issue rather nicely.

 

To me, the answer is yes, and no.  I went to some lengths to procure a supply of a specific brand of cultured butter from Normandy.  I absolutely love it.  But not for everything.  I also keep a ready stock of plain old American store-brand butter.

 

Generally, the French butter is best for spreading on a great bread.  Simple applications where a very few ingredients take a starring role..However, I don't usually want that in any melted butter application.  It's usually a waste, or worse, is detracting from some other element that I want to come through.

 

Similarly, a really great olive oil can be a disaster if you try to use it in a high heat application.

 

'Better' is a word begging for qualification.  Is a bread flour better?  Maybe for bread, but not for cakes.

 

I  don't think so, especially if I qualify the statement by saying 'for me'.  I'm not cooking for people in France.  I don't really care what they put on their English Muffins (if in fact, they would deign to eat such things).  I've just found that I like their cultured Norman butter - shaken, not stirred, so to speak - in the way I like to enjoy it.

 

And if I have a choice between two products, and one is more expensive but offers nothing other than a possibility of not detracting from the dish, why would I use that versus the cheaper option?

 

Sometimes, fat just needs to be fat.  When I make a French style omelette, I use good ol' 'merican butter.  Because in that case I want subtlety.  But if I want a rustic American frontier omelette, I'm bringing sausage fat to the party, and butter, of any sort, is simply not invited.

 

 

.

Hello-  Thanks for your input! I understand these terms a lot better now. I appreciate the olive oil analogy.

"As life's pleasures go, food is second only to sex.Except for salami and eggs...Now that's better than sex, but only if the salami is thickly sliced"--Alan King (1927-2004)

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Do you use "bad" wine?

 

I pretty much agree with you (considering I don't know what you mean by "good" wine) as I generally use some acceptable table wine when wanting wine in a dish.  Often I'll use a wine that a guest has brought to dinner that I didn't want to serve with the meal and which has been sitting in my wine cellar (bottom drawer of the filing cabinet) waiting to be used.  I've had good results with TJ's 2-buck Chuck merlot in some spaghetti sauces.  Not going to use the 84 Martha's Vineyard for that <LOL>

Hello- Does anyone here use "cooking wine", wine that comes with salt already in it. I have heard that it should never be used, that one should use a wine that one could drink if they so chose. This does not mean the would, it just means it was marketed for that use. This is the rule I use.

"As life's pleasures go, food is second only to sex.Except for salami and eggs...Now that's better than sex, but only if the salami is thickly sliced"--Alan King (1927-2004)

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Hello- Does anyone here use "cooking wine", wine that comes with salt already in it. I have heard that it should never be used, that one should use a wine that one could drink if they so chose. This does not mean the would, it just means it was marketed for that use. This is the rule I use.

 

I use them all the time, both Chinese and Japanese iterations.

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Do you use "bad" wine?

 

I pretty much agree with you (considering I don't know what you mean by "good" wine) as I generally use some acceptable table wine when wanting wine in a dish.  Often I'll use a wine that a guest has brought to dinner that I didn't want to serve with the meal and which has been sitting in my wine cellar (bottom drawer of the filing cabinet) waiting to be used.  I've had good results with TJ's 2-buck Chuck merlot in some spaghetti sauces.  Not going to use the 84 Martha's Vineyard for that <LOL>

 

Actually, I do use "bad wine" for cooking, and I am very proud that I do.

 

"Bad" because the wine does not taste like what others have told you what a "good" wine should taste like.

 

Bad wine can have a great taste which adds complexity to food when cooked.

 

Don't forget, and do you realize that there is not one seasoning tastes good by itself? But when cooked with other seasonings and food, the combination can be heavenly.

 

dcarch

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I use them all the time, both Chinese and Japanese iterations.

 

I don't believe in using good wine for cooking.

 

dcarch

 

Do you use "bad" wine?

 

I pretty much agree with you (considering I don't know what you mean by "good" wine) as I generally use some acceptable table wine when wanting wine in a dish.  Often I'll use a wine that a guest has brought to dinner that I didn't want to serve with the meal and which has been sitting in my wine cellar (bottom drawer of the filing cabinet) waiting to be used.  I've had good results with TJ's 2-buck Chuck merlot in some spaghetti sauces.  Not going to use the 84 Martha's Vineyard for that <LOL>

dcarch and Shel_B- I confess that I am not an expert on this matter. I was curious to see if there is any sort of consensus on this issue. How do you feel about the use of "cooking wine"?

"As life's pleasures go, food is second only to sex.Except for salami and eggs...Now that's better than sex, but only if the salami is thickly sliced"--Alan King (1927-2004)

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huiray brought me up short as he is often wont to do! I was quite prepared to say I NEVER use cooking wine but that is BS! Any Asian wine that I use for cooking is meant for that purpose and not for drinking. However, except for a couple of brands of sake there are no such things as Asian drinking wines in my Bailiwick. Would I use them if they were available? Hard to say. The recipes that I use to make Asian dishes seem to assume ingredients from the grocery store. In my province in Canada alcohol suitable for drinking cannot legally be sold in a grocery store. But until huiray's post up topic I had never seriously considered the question.

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Anna Nielsen aka "Anna N"

...I just let people know about something I made for supper that they might enjoy, too. That's all it is. (Nigel Slater)

"Cooking is about doing the best with what you have . . . and succeeding." John Thorne

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