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Apr 26, 2007 08:44 AM

Mark Bittman Bites *and* Sucks

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.

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.


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

    3 Replies
    1. re: hungryinlalaland

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

      1. re: Mari

        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

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

      2. 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

          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

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

            1. re: Will Owen

              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. 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

              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

                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. 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

                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.


                1. re: cristina

                  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

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

                    1. re: ccbweb

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

                  2. re: cristina

                    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

                      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

                        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.


                2. 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!).