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Embracing Culinary Clichés


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Any time I see or hear the words "mango salsa" in a restaurant, my knee-jerk is "Oh, God, this place is soooo stuck in the 90's". And also, often, "Yuck", when it's used to defile an otherwise Godly foodstuff – foie gras, for example.

But today...

Today I bunged into the fish monger and picked up some salmon, by request of one of the kids. Grill it, I says to myself. Then I stops by the groceria for some attendant produce. Head of Boston lettuce for dinner's salad, coupla zucchinis to sauté up with too much garlic, bunch of fingerling bananas for school lunches. And there are giant and perfectly ripe mangoes for sale. A deep-down instinct says "mango and salmon" and I instantly slap myself for being soooo stuck in the 90's, but I pick up a coupla mangoes anyway and, for good measure (or, really, to try and dilute my clichéed impulse) some Granny Smiths, Vidalias, a lime and a bunch of cilantro.

When I get home, I whup together a marinade for the fish: crushed garlic, spot of soy sauce, spot of fish sauce, lime juice and a lot of OO. And then I do the unthinkable. I make a :swallow hard: salsa of mango, apple, onion, garlic, cilantro, lime juice and fish sauce. And I grill the salmon until the flesh is cooked ideally and the skin is charred and crunchy and I sauté up that zucchini with the too-much garlic (and skip the salad because now it's 8 o'clock and we're all damned near starving).

And that, um, :cough: salsa is the perfect counterpoint to the salmon, all tart and bright and fruity to the fatty rich crispy smoky fish. And I find myself totally unrepentant for my transgression. Sometimes clichés hang on for good reason.

So, do tell: what are the clichés you still cling to?

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since the beginning of time man has enjoyed grilled bacon-wrapped halibut. (is that even a cliche? i just wanted to use the "beginning of time" thing.)

a student long ago once began a paper with the immortal line: "it was so quiet you could hear a pig drop"

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One of your students, Mongo? :laugh:

I rarely cook nowadays, but what could be more of a cliche than a sandwich? A noodle soup? A congee? I love 'em all.

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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Here's a hoary cliche: Schnitzel.

I had a pounded out turkey breast cutlet in the fridge, so, for a laugh tonight, I decided that schnitzel would be my dinner. Flour, egg, flour. Saute in olive oil and butter. Flip. Crispy, golden. Deglaze with lemon and capers. Quite tasty, if I say so myself.

“"When you wake up in the morning, Pooh," said Piglet at last, "what's the first thing you say to yourself?"

"What's for breakfast?" said Pooh. "What do you say, Piglet?"

"I say, I wonder what's going to happen exciting today?" said Piglet.

Pooh nodded thoughtfully.

"It's the same thing," he said.”

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I was in my local chef's supply store discussing w/ one of the staff how best to roll a Wellington, and one of the guys in there says "Wellington? That's so OLD school."

I think a good food idea should get to stick around. Period.

sg

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I guess I'd draw the line by saying that a cliche is something I dislike and a classic is something I like...

Hmmm...Thinking about it in musical terms, cliches are banal and usually produced by third-rate musical minds. Think about how many diners serve banal cliches. Then think about the few that serve those same menu items up as classics.

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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One of your students, Mongo?  :laugh:

yes. scary thought isn't it?

Could just be a typo. I've gotten a lot worse than that...

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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oh, i thought you were incredulous about the possibility of my being allowed to have students.

the "pig drop" thing was a typo (she meant "pin"), but it is the kind of unexpected poetry that only comes our way due to the way technology has changed our approach to spell-checking (this is really a late 20th century phenomenon); another favorite: a student once referred to "the body pubic".

i like "so quiet you could hear a pig drop" a lot. very evocative--a pig dropping from a height might make a lot of noise (imagine the squealing on the way down, the dull, meaty thud as it makes contact); on the other hand a pig keeling over from sunstroke or exhaustion might make not very much sound.

so, anyone have any experience in dropping pigs?

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oh, i thought you were incredulous about the possibility of my being allowed to have students.

:laugh::laugh::laugh::laugh:

Not at all.

Someday, we should trade stories over some drinks...

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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I guess I'd draw the line by saying that a cliche is something I dislike and a classic is something I like...

Hmmm...Thinking about it in musical terms, cliches are banal and usually produced by third-rate musical minds. Think about how many diners serve banal cliches. Then think about the few that serve those same menu items up as classics.

Yes, but it isn't exactly a fair comparison, because in that last instance you're talking, not about different compositions, but about different performances of the same composition (and you don't want to get me started on that subject! :raz: ). I shall remove myself from temptation and bring the subject back with a firm hand to the issue: I don't think you can call either the sandwich or the schnitzel a cliche, not inherently - though of course there is a case to be made for preparations and presentations that make them seem that way. Nope, I think fundamentally those are classics. They may vary somewhat in content or saucing, but in themselves they are timeless. I can't imagine either of them ever becoming passe. Whereas the mango salsa that started this thread is... damn, I'm not sure whether even that is so much a cliche as a fad... but a classic it ain't.

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So, Lisa, how would you explain the difference between a cliche, a fad, and a classic? :raz:

(OK, fads are easy to spot merely because of the rapid onset and eclipse of their heydays, I suppose...)

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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i like "so quiet you could hear a pig drop" a lot. very evocative--a pig dropping from a height might make a lot of noise (imagine the squealing on the way down, the dull, meaty thud as it makes contact); on the other hand a pig keeling over from sunstroke or exhaustion might make not very much sound.

so, anyone have any experience in dropping pigs?

Yes! I have!

Well, almost.

pob1.gif

We recovered just in time. But based on that almost-experience I think I am justified in saying that in order to determine just how much noise it would make it is important to consider [1] the nature of the surface on which it is being dropped; [2] the height from which it is being dropped; [3] whether or not it is dead before being dropped. I am sure you can see how important these factors might be, jointly or severally. In the case above, for instance, had we not recovered our grip, I'm willing to bet that the event would have made remarkably little noise - the pig being dead and the sand soft. OTOH, the sand was damn hot, so had the pig been alive... well, hang on a sec, though, of course I'm forgetting that if we had shoved that piece of rebar through it while it was alive it would of course have been making one hell of a racket long before being dropped. Silly me.

Yes, many possibilities to contemplate. A most poetic and fruitful image indeed. I thank you for it.

Edited by balmagowry (log)
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So, Lisa, how would you explain the difference between a cliche, a fad, and a classic?  :raz:

(OK, fads are easy to spot merely because of the rapid onset and eclipse of their heydays, I suppose...)

A very good question, and one that will require some rumination. By way of illustration, though, I do think, as I said above, that the mango salsa falls more under the heading of fad, and that the sandwich is a decided classic. I personally am inclined to place the schnitzel in that category too, though I suppose not everyone would agree. I'm having a harder time placing the culinary cliche. I can see overlap between fad and cliche and can understand how one would become the other by being done to death, so yes, the mango salsa might well qualify under both. Hmmmm. It's all grey areas, isn't it. For instance - I don't think one can argue against the sandwich itself being a classic, but there are certain sandwiches which start out fads and eventually become cliches - the monte-cristo, for instance. Whereas I can't imagine the po'-boy or the grilled-cheese or the BLT ever going out of fashion or becoming a bore. Where would you place Jell-o? Both classic and cliche, I'd say; with certain variations on the theme falling into the Void of Fad. Tuna casserole: cliche, I think. Especially if topped with soggy potato-chip or corn-flake crumbs. Foams: fad. Roast beef and yorkshire pud: classic.

Hey, I don't actually know. But I do know that when you cited the sandwich, something in me rose up in protest against the idea of calling it a cliche. Maybe just because the category is too broad and too infinitely expandable - it'd be like calling chicken a cliche. This may be one of those situations where studying the question is more important than finding the answer....

Oh, and BTW, all of the above assumes that the question is being raised purely in the gastronomic context, yes?

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Jell-o's just Jell-o. Jell-o salad is a cliché. Unless it's Rachel's stunning gay-pride Jell-o mold. :biggrin:

Honestly, I wasn't looking for a semantical clarification. I'm just curious about others' guilty pleasures. And maybe that thread's already been done.

Mango salsa started as a fad; now it's a cliché. But it was still delicious over grilled salmon.

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Let's try to cover all the bases here: cliche, fad, and classic. I would imagine a filet of salmon roasted on a cedar plank, topped with a mango salsa, and served with grilled asparagus topped with a hollandaise foam. OTOH, this entire meal would be a cliche, NO? :huh:

"Beer is proof God loves us, and wants us to be happy."

-Ben Franklin-

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Let's try to cover all the bases here: cliche, fad, and classic. I would imagine a filet of salmon roasted on a cedar plank, topped with a mango salsa, and served with grilled asparagus topped with a hollandaise foam. OTOH, this entire meal would be a cliche, NO? :huh:

It sounds an awful lot like a variation on an old joke, "My dish is a classic, yours is a fad, hers is a cliche."

Arthur Johnson, aka "fresco"
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a student long ago once began a paper with the immortal line: "it was so quiet you could hear a pig drop"

Imagine a flying pig crash landing!

Back OnT: To me, almost any word used in wine tasting is cliched.

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Why is there even a need to call something fad, cliche or classic? Good food is good food, if it is good, eat it, and enjoy it. If it is bad, and just around because it is trendy, don't eat it or don't make it.

The cedar-planked salmon with asparagus and hollondaise may be cliche, but I bet it is also quite good, so why not cook it and enjoy it if you are in the mood for it? If mango salsa tastes good and compliments a dish well, why not use it?

Last night for dinner I had creamed spinach and bacon wrapped scallops, both definately old school dishes, but it was delicious, and I enjoyed it immensely. I feel that we sometimes get too caught up in everything having to be new and and different, there is an elegance and beauty in simple, tried and true cooking. If I am going to spend a bundle on dinner at any restaurant I am much more interested in freshness and quality of ingredients, and in the execution of the meal than in the meal itself being innovative.

There is a place for innovation of course, but there are so many classic established dishes out there that one could spend an entire lifetime trying to sample them all and still be eating things for the first time each day.

I love Beethoven, I love Hindemith, I love Shostakovitch and Stravinksky and Wagner. I also love bacon wrapped scallops and filet mignon, lobster with loads of butter, bleedingly rare london broil, creamed spinach, corned beef and cabbage, and borscht with a big dollop of sour cream. To me it matters not that none of these things are any longer innovative, they were once genius, and in my mind, that genius is not diminished with age or with innovations hence.

He don't mix meat and dairy,

He don't eat humble pie,

So sing a miserere

And hang the bastard high!

- Richard Wilbur and John LaTouche from Candide

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Why is there even a need to call something fad, cliche or classic? 

Because, like much ritualized behavior, dining is a lot about fashion.

Arthur Johnson, aka "fresco"
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Let's try to cover all the bases here: cliche, fad, and classic. I would imagine a filet of salmon roasted on a cedar plank, topped with a mango salsa, and served with grilled asparagus topped with a hollandaise foam. OTOH, this entire meal would be a cliche, NO? :huh:

Could we make that roasted mango with cedar-infused salmon salsa, planked hollandaise and asparagus foam? :laugh:

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Cliches I can do without ("cliche" defined as something that is utterly predictable and no longer very original, but still treated as both original and novel -- such as what started this thread out, mango salsa)...

raspberry vinaigrette

garlic mashed-potatoes

molten chocolate cake

ramen noodle "Asian" salad

grilled chicken Caesar salad

sun-dried tomatoes in pasta dishes

port wine reduction

flavored coffee (maybe not a cliche, just a bad idea

bruschetta

insalata caprese that has nothing Italian in it

That's enough for now.

We cannot employ the mind to advantage when we are filled with excessive food and drink - Cicero

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