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Mark Bittman Bites *and* Sucks

cristina Apr 26, 2007 08:44 AM

Well, Bittman has done it again. Every time he veers off the narrow path of what he has down pat, he makes an idiot of himself right on the front page of the New York Times. Yesterday was no exception.

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/04/25/din...

There are as many errors in this article as there were in his travel debacle on '36 Hours in Mexico City'. You can read his mess for yourselves and see.

Link: http://mexicocooks.typepad.com

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  1. h
    hungryinlalaland RE: cristina Apr 26, 2007 01:09 PM

    Cut to the chase, what's wrong with what he said?

    3 Replies
    1. re: hungryinlalaland
      Mari RE: hungryinlalaland Apr 26, 2007 05:06 PM

      I think his references to chiles are off - for example, serrano chiles are green, not red.

      1. re: Mari
        Rubee RE: Mari Apr 26, 2007 05:17 PM

        Actually, chili seco are dried ripe red serranos.

        I think cristina and veggo (both experts on Mexican cuisine) mean accuracy. For example, I didn't watch the whole video (and I like Mark Bittman, and am no expert on chiles), but when he says one is just a "bigger chipotle" - One is a chile morita and one a chile meco, and they each have a different flavor.

        1. re: Mari
          Regan B RE: Mari Apr 26, 2007 05:51 PM

          When serrano chiles ripen fully, they are, in fact, red. Green bell pepper and jalapenos also turn redder when they ripen.

      2. k
        kindofabigdeal RE: cristina Apr 26, 2007 02:07 PM

        He doesn't ever appear to say, "this is the apex of authenticity." He's giving guidelines that you can follow and cook foods that many people have never even thought of cooking at home. I see nothing wrong with that article. What's the deal?

        3 Replies
        1. re: kindofabigdeal
          Will Owen RE: kindofabigdeal Apr 26, 2007 03:32 PM

          Yeah, the only fault I can find with it is his assertion that washing your hands is going to get rid of capsaicin. Some of it, maybe, but if you're a nose-picker this is one route towards curing you of that habit...!

          I've found Bittman to be a fount of clear thinking and good ideas. While I prefer our LA Times Food section to the NYT one, I'm glad for my online subscription just so I can read Bittman and watch his videos.

          1. re: Will Owen
            k
            kindofabigdeal RE: Will Owen Apr 26, 2007 04:00 PM

            I love the nose idea! It always cures my nail biting... for a day.

            1. re: Will Owen
              Pei RE: Will Owen Apr 26, 2007 05:14 PM

              I too appreciate the simplicity of Bittman's approach. It's not always what I'm looking for, but it takes all kinds, right?

              And he doesn't really even promise washing your hands will get rid of all the capsaicin. He just says it's something you should do, and reminds you that even if you do it you should not touch your eyes, which is true.

              "If you have rubber gloves, use them. If not, every time you touch a chili, wash your hands with warm soapy water several times and be careful not to touch your eyes. The heat belongs on the table."

          2. Veggo RE: cristina Apr 26, 2007 04:36 PM

            Cristina, judging by the early replies, Bittman has a cadre of fiercely faithful followers. In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.

            2 Replies
            1. re: Veggo
              Pei RE: Veggo Apr 26, 2007 05:18 PM

              This is pretty much true, but I don't think it's necessarily negative. Bittman does a decent job of touching all the bases. I might use his chili recipe because it's easy, whereas I've never made chili paste before and don't know much about Mexican cuisine. If I like it, I'll do more intensive research about making a better chili.

              The same with his How To Cook Everything cookbook. I like it for very basic recipes (pancakes), and for the bare bones ingredients in things I don't know much about (eggplant dip). It's a way to dip my toes in unfamiliar waters.

              For example, I would never go to Bittman about Chinese cooking, because I've got that covered and don't need his bare bones introductory techniques. But for everything else, why not? It's a good start.

              1. re: Pei
                Veggo RE: Pei Apr 26, 2007 06:05 PM

                It would be useful if Bittman could deliver his positive lessons without leaving a scorched earth and hurt feelings behind him. Many in the Mexico City area (I can't speak for cristina) had hoped that a few merit badges were in order there. But he pretty much came and left with little acknowledgment of human toil or achievement, separate from the whirlwind hit-and-run inaccuracies.

            2. g
              gido RE: cristina Apr 26, 2007 05:49 PM

              Why would a food story be on the front page of The New York Times? Or was that just hyperbole?

              7 Replies
              1. re: gido
                cristina RE: gido Apr 26, 2007 06:08 PM

                Bittman's column 'The Minimalist' always makes the NYTimes front page. His recipes are frequently simple (minimalist, even) and delicious. But sometimes he writes and speaks without knowing very much about what he's talking about. This business of chile paste is one of those times.

                Several of you have brought up some of what's wrong with what he wrote, and with what's wrong on the video. Here are a couple of other things to ponder.

                First, in the video he shows us some different kinds of chiles. One poster pointed out that he talked about 'two sizes of chipotles', when in fact the specific chiles are very different.

                Then he picks up a small chile ancho and talks about it. After that, he picks up a larger chile ancho and says it's some other kind of chile. It's not, it's just an ancho of a different size. THEN he shows us a fresh poblano chile, but says we're not using that one today. He doesn't mention that the poblano, when dried, IS the ancho.

                I won't go into his pronounciation of 'guajillo', and it's not crucial to the plot. It would seem right, though, that he'd learn how to say it if he's going to say it in an internationally publicized video.

                In the written article, he mentions that most chiles chipotle are made from chiles jalapeño, but that some chipotles are made from other chiles. No, Mark, never.

                Next: "For Mexican-style chili paste, add a bit of cumin, and some oregano or epazote." No. No. A thousand times no. Never.

                He leaves us with raw chile paste but never says what we should do with it. Why not mention in passing that in Mexico, this sort of chile paste is fried before liquid is added to it? The frying gives the depth of flavor that any dish requires.

                No, this article wasn't as error-ridden as the '36 Hours in Mexico City' disaster. But this man has an international reputation and following. Why not take the time to get it right?

                And, Pei, Bittman's take on chile paste is not a good start for the same reason you wouldn't suggest that a novice preparer of Chinese food start by substituting oyster sauce to a dish for the required hoisin sauce. It's just wrong.

                Link: http://mexicocooks.typepad.com

                1. re: cristina
                  g
                  gido RE: cristina Apr 27, 2007 06:50 AM

                  I don't know of any columns, especially food columns, that run on the New York Times front page.

                  Maybe a section front, but not the front page of the paper.

                  1. re: gido
                    ccbweb RE: gido Apr 27, 2007 09:11 AM

                    I'm guessing _guessing_ that she means the front page of the NYTimes.com website.

                    1. re: ccbweb
                      g
                      gido RE: ccbweb Apr 27, 2007 03:18 PM

                      Good guess. Virtually everything in the current on-line edition is linked on that page.

                  2. re: cristina
                    g
                    gourmanda RE: cristina Apr 27, 2007 07:24 AM

                    Actually, the word chipotle means "smoked chili pepper", not "smoked jalapeno".

                    Etymology: Mexican Spanish chipotle, chilpotle, from Nahuatl *chIlpOctli, from chIlli chili pepper + pOctli smoke, something smoked

                    While jalapenos are typical, they are not the only variety of smoked chili .

                    1. re: gourmanda
                      cristina RE: gourmanda Apr 27, 2007 11:49 AM

                      Here in Mexico, only smoked jalapeños are called chiles chipotle. Re-read my posts and you'll see that I didn't discuss the definition of chipotle, but instead talked about Bittman's misuse of the term.

                      Sure, there are several other kinds of smoked chiles--but they're not called chiles chipotle. Mecos, yes, and moritas are two that come to mind.

                      And yes, Bittman's article and video appeared on the front page of the NYTimes online edition. The Minimalist (title of his column) appears there every time one comes out.

                      1. re: cristina
                        paulj RE: cristina Apr 27, 2007 09:35 PM

                        Rick Bayless, in Authentic Mexican, under "chile chipotle' says:
                        - the name of smoke-dried jalapeno (which does not air dry well)
                        - one variety is about 2 1/2" long, 1" wide, woody tan color. These are called chipotles in most parts. In Puebla and Veracruz these are called chipotles mecos (meaning red with black stripes).
                        - a smaller variety, dark burgundy, called chipotle in Puebla and Veracruz, These are called moras (burgundy color) elsewhere.

                        While I may have gotten the summary wrong, and Rick is not necessarily the ultimate authority on these matters, it is evident that there are regional variations in both the use of chiles, and in their names.

                        In your regional useage, what are the fresh versions of mecos and moritas called? Rick writes that while pickled pepper of the Jalapeno size are all called jalapeno (from Jalapan), subtypes go by names like cuaresmenos (Lenten) and huachinangos or gordos (fat ones).

                        The Chile Pepper Encyclopedia has a couple of pages on Chipotle, mentioning these names and several others
                        chile ahumado
                        tipico (typical)
                        morita (little blackberry) (same fresh chile as typico, but not smoked as long)
                        chico - smoked green Jalapeno
                        capones - rare smoked red Jalapeno without seeds

                        Given the limited availablity of chipotles in the USA, I suspect Bittman's explaination is sufficient.

                        Peppers The Domesticated Capsicums, Jean Andres (U Texas Press), names 15 Jalapeno cultivars and subtypes.

                        paulj

                2. farmersdaughter RE: cristina Apr 26, 2007 09:05 PM

                  I'm not an expert in any ethnic cuisine, but I've read enough recipes and cookbooks to know that Bittman's "ethnic" recipes usually aren't authentic. They kind of get there, but in a less complex fashion. This lack of pure authenticity doesn't mean we should throw out the baby with the bathwater. Some of his recipes are good, and his techniques helpful. It's a matter of the astute reader being able to separate the wheat from the chaff. If the Times wants to give him the ink, that's fine with me; it's up to each reader to evaluate the usefulness of the information provided, and avoid what is not helpful or is incorrect (and point it out in a letter to Bittman and the editor!).

                  1. ccbweb RE: cristina Apr 26, 2007 11:08 PM

                    He never roots his chili paste in any one cuisine nor does he ever claim that he is offering a recipe for a chili paste from a particular cuisine. In each instance when he suggests adding something (like cumin, etc) it is in terms like "mexican-style", "similar to harissa," and the like. Its a technique for home cooks to make a smiple chili paste, thats all. It doesn't purport to be anything more than that.

                    He should rightly be flogged, of course, for getting anything wrong in a column and accompanying video about food. Its unconscionable that he would say that chipotles can be made from anything other than a jalapeno. And certainly everyone is completely within their rights to then call names and hurl insults. Because we're simply better than anyone who isn't engaging only in the ultimate pursuit of one authentic cuisine at all times and anyone who would dare to offer a recipe for something that isn't rooted in thousands of years of tradition must be forcibly ejected from any food related profession or hobby.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: ccbweb
                      j
                      julesrules RE: ccbweb Apr 27, 2007 07:09 AM

                      I have to agree with your first sentiment. It's not an article about Mexican cuisine. But he should do a little more research on the details - or someone should fact-check for him - the NYT is not a blog, nor should he be redefining commonplace items like chipotles.

                      1. re: julesrules
                        ccbweb RE: julesrules Apr 27, 2007 09:12 AM

                        Very fair point on the fact checking part. Clearly my sarcasm got the better of me last night. No reason to get anything flat out wrong in terms of definitions in the NYTimes.

                    2. amyzan RE: cristina Apr 27, 2007 03:40 PM

                      I don't like his food writing and I find most of the recipes of his I've tried were bland. I kind of wrote him off after that, and am still in disbelief the NYT loves him so. It's strange, but to my mind the NYT is like that sometimes, quirkily narrow minded and parochial. Still read it online every day. <shrug>

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: amyzan
                        cristina RE: amyzan Apr 27, 2007 08:46 PM

                        Yep, me too--I read it every day. In fact, I just got finished watching his video on steak frites in Paris. I suspect he didn't go too far wrong with steak and potatoes.

                        Link: http://mexicocooks.typepad.com

                        1. re: amyzan
                          f
                          fara RE: amyzan May 3, 2007 10:00 PM

                          The good thing about the NYT is you do know it's perspective and can take that into account when reading something. I think it's impossible to have completely objective reporting, especially on politics.
                          Anyhow, I like Bittman although I don't think I've ever made any of his recipes. I just enjoy watchng the videos for some reason. I think I avoided his anchovy thing b/c I know his own recipes are not that authentic. But with the guest chefs it must be right, no? Batali, the Spanish paella man, etc.
                          He is called "the minimalist." I don't think he claims to be authentic, it's really for people that don't know anything about the ingredients or have never made the dish. It's rachel ray for intellectuals. there's nothing wrong with that.

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