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When less is more


Ellen Shapiro
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I thought it might be interesting to discuss three themes that we've been discussing in the Shaw/Shapiro (aka “Shawpiro”) household lately:

When cheaper is better

When less is more

When none is enough

I'll start a separate discussion on each and edit in the links after they're up. (done)

“When less is more” is a topic that has come up a lot lately when we've been out at restaurants. It seems that there is an unfortunate tendency, especially among “New American” chefs, to say “one ounce of cream is good, therefore ten ounces must be better!”

But when you think that way, you get dishes that taste like cream and nothing else. There are appropriate amounts of ingredients for different purposes and more is not necessarily better.

I use the example of cream, because cream can make food delicious but at some point it starts to mask and dull flavors. What are some other examples of overused ingredients where cooks could benefit from understanding that, sometimes, less is more?

Ellen Shapiro

www.byellen.com

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1. Sun-dried tomatoes. This is my MAJOR food pet peeve! What is it, some kind of a holdover from the 80's??? Sun-dried tomatoes must be used SPARINGLY (if at all), people, or the whole damn dish tastes like nothing but sun-dried sweet acidic tomatoey goodness (or ickiness. Full disclosure - if you can't already tell, I'm, well, less than fond of the little bastards).

2. Rosemary. This is one of my favorite herbs, but it DOES have the tendency to overwhelm a dish if one isn't careful.

3. Oh, garlic, I suppose, although I tend to fall in the "it isn't too much garlic till you're sweating it out...and maybe not even then" category.

K

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Gruyere cheese angelhair please

And a vichyssoise and a cabbage and a crawfish claws.

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Iwouldn't go so far as to say that any ingredient fits the bill unless the context is provided as with Ellen's cream example. If any ingredient is intended as an accent and it dominates a dish, then it is too much. But, if the ingredient is intended to be central then it isn't too much unless one doesn't like the flavor or texture of the ingredient. I can never have too much of a 100 year old balsamico. But then I'm never likely to actually get too much of that! :laugh:

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

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I find that many people use too much cheese in dishes and it overwhelms anything else.

Also, the licorice flavored herbs (tarragon especially) can be overbearing if not used judiciously.

And of course, hot peppers. All heat and no flavor is no good!

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Hmmm, I guess I have to say I don't get it. I am a firm believe in more is more. I have never met a dish that was too complicated, too overloaded with a flavor, or too convoluted that I didn't enjoy it. I like complex tastes, I love huge stacks of things, I love strong herbal tastes.

In most recipes I find myself doubling the amount of most seasonings to get it to taste the way I like it to taste. Rosemary is strong, granted, but if I add rosemary, I want it to me a dominant flavor. If other flavors need to play in there as well, I add a bunch of them as well, creating a virtual turf-war on my tongue.

In fact, nothing is more dissapointing to me than ordering a dish specyfying it has a certain ingredient in the name, and only ending up with a couple token specks of it.

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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I'd say that salt is #1 in this category. I feel that salt normally should be there to give a touch of flavor and help the other flavors to come through. It shouldn't be very assertive per se but should blend in. So I find that strongly-salted dishes can be OK if they're also very hot-pepper and have several other strong flavors in them (as is the case in some Korean dishes, for example). But not in desserts, thank you very much!

I would also say this is true about butter, cream, and oil. All are important in their place, but an excess of them is the bane of digestion and I don't think that most of the time that is justified by considerations of taste.

I find that sage is often used a bit more than I'd prefer in dishes that include it. I like it but find it a very strong flavor. Thyme, rosemary, and oregano can be overused, but I seldom come across overuse of those herbs at restaurants.

In terms of spices, nutmeg can be overused, though again, I don't come across this too often.

And here are some items that are pretty hard to overuse:

Sauteed garlic, basil (I guess it's conceivable to overuse the stronger Thai basil), mushrooms. And while I can imagine overusing lemon zest, I've never come across such overuse. I've also never exclaimed "There's too much cardamom in this!" :biggrin:

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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roasted garlic. only one head please.

potato rolls. cheap, so good.

funny foreign sodas.

christmas chocolate, like the advent stuff.

yellow mustard sometimes is better

does this come in pork?

My name's Emma Feigenbaum.

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Cilantro. Cilantro is the sun-dried tomato of the new milennium, and too much of it makes everything taste all weird and soapy. I do like it in moderation though.

"An appetite for destruction, but I scrape the plate."

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Rosemary's probably my biggest pet-peeve. I like a little bit of it, but the flavor is so assertive that it easily overwhelms the rest of the dish. And it doesn't belong in everything!

"I just hate health food"--Julia Child

Jennifer Garner

buttercream pastries

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Nothing is really too much for me unless its a flavorless body/textural ingredient (too much rice, cream, dough, etc) As long as the body ingredient is kept in balance, most dishes need more of someting (or something else.)

In general, though, "too much cream" is just "not enough everything else." :raz:

The only real exceptions for me are a few select alcohols (too much whiskey can kill any meat) and lime.

Edited by PurpleDingo99 (log)
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Salt definitely

Citrus ( lemon especially )

Hot sauce or hot peppers.

I never could understand the idea behind making a dish were you can only taste BURNING

I'm sick and tired of being told that ordinary, decent people in this country are fed up with being sick and tired. I'm certainly not, and I'm sick and tired of being told that I am!

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Salt definitely

Citrus ( lemon especially )

Hot sauce or hot peppers.

I never could understand the idea behind making a dish were you can only taste BURNING

Different people have different tolerances/tastes for heat in a dish. I tend to be very heavy handed with the spices, especially the hot ones and the hot peppers (and I never, ever, toss out those delightful ribs and seeds where the tasty heat lives). I'm a bit used to it, I still definately get the heat sensation, but it doesn't block out the taste of the other ingredients in the dish, just enchances them. My roomate on the other hand, seems to only be able to taste the heat. I like the system they have at certain ethnic eateries where you can request how spicey they make your dish, but it is very dissapointing when you tell them to go all out and give you the full whallop and the dish comes out medium-hot at best.

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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On the "less is more" thread, what about actual serving sizes? And I don't mean to refer to the tapas phenomenon, either.

There is an excellent restaurant here in ABQ that serves real/sensible portions of high-end food. This type of restaurant, if it served 'normal' portions, might be a $30 entree kind of place, but as it is the menu items top out at about $16. This creates a weird customer response (that I've seen several times) where people order a $12 item and seem to expect it to be larger.

Its kind of a weird paradox that I hope I'm getting across in this post. I tell them to think of this place as a "$30-50 per head restaurant" and not go by the numbers on the menu. Having things that are small, proportionately priced but VERY high quality just seems to throw people for a loop. There is a duck confit on the menu at $10 and its a small duck LEG - not even shredded. Serious yummy bargain, that.

I apologize if this is turning into a little bit of a rant, but I do scratch my head when I have to contemplate the expectations of diners who see things for $30+ on a menu vs when those same diners see things for $10-15.

Small portions rule. Fat pants be banned! :-)

Andrea

http://tenacity.net

"You can't taste the beauty and energy of the Earth in a Twinkie." - Astrid Alauda

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  • 2 weeks later...

Pizza toppings.

I used to be "a whole lot of everything" sort of person, until I noticed that I couldn't taste any individual flavor. These days, I like standard margherita best, or at most one topping. Any more and they fight and cancel each other out.

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On the "less is more" thread, what about actual serving sizes?  And I don't mean to refer to the tapas phenomenon, either.

I apologize if this is turning into a little bit of a rant, but I do scratch my head when I have to contemplate the expectations of diners who see things for $30+ on a menu vs when those same diners see things for $10-15.

Small portions rule.  Fat pants be banned!  :-)

Andrea

http://tenacity.net

I couldn't agree more! I would dine out more often if the sizes and prices were more reasonable. It would also be a relief to say good-bye to "doggie bag" culture!

I really can't accept with good conscience throwing out half a plate of food AND I don't want to over eat!

Life! what's life!? Just natures way of keeping meat fresh - Dr. who

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Definately wasabi, I don't know if it's a gaijin pissing contest to see who can stand the hottest taste or the kitchen trying to pass off bad fish but every time I've dined out, even using 1/10th of the wasabi provided leaves me tasting lumps of interestingly textured wasabi. Nowadays, I just poke my chopstick into the lump of wasabi and use whatever sticks to the chopstick.

Are you talking about raw red onions in salads? I've never seen any other type served raw.

PS: I am a guy.

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...

Are you talking about raw red onions in salads? I've never seen any other type served raw.

Sweet onions like Walla Walla, Maui or Vidalia are another option for use in the raw state... (These all come from the US; Washington/Oregon, Hawaii and Georgia, respectively, not sure if there is a 'down under' equivalent).

"Under the dusty almond trees, ... stalls were set up which sold banana liquor, rolls, blood puddings, chopped fried meat, meat pies, sausage, yucca breads, crullers, buns, corn breads, puff pastes, longanizas, tripes, coconut nougats, rum toddies, along with all sorts of trifles, gewgaws, trinkets, and knickknacks, and cockfights and lottery tickets."

-- Gabriel Garcia Marquez, 1962 "Big Mama's Funeral"

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