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Jun 22, 2011 02:23 PM

Nominations for Most Over-Maligned Ingredient, Technique, or Equipment

Reading CH, I see a post just absolutely hating on something that I sort of like. Vehemently and stated not as opinion but as fact, as though God Himself throws up in His Mouth every time____ is made. I resist the urge to defend the _____ in question. But it comes up so often.

Well, here is a thread to defend those slandered, maligned, and scorned aspects of our culinary culture. I ask you hounds - what ingredient, technique, or equipment is the most over-criticized?

I'll start out with a few things that didn't quite make my #1 spot:

It's not chicken liver - that's merely overlooked and undervalued.

It's not iceberg lettuce - that was overused for years, but now is so hated that you can scarcely get away with using it when it's the perfect lettuce for the situation. Nothing else has quite that crunch.

It's not boxed wine - I believe I have even heard some grudging admittances that it can taste ok and be useful for cooking.

It's not sous vide - sure lots of people hate on it (despite it being not just useful, but a GREAT technique, and probably a game changer for the industry), but most people don't even know they've eaten it, and it does have plenty of supporters.

My pick: foam. Hear me out. I don't think foam is a game changer like sous vide is. I don't like every foam I've ever tried. But I'm a baffled as to why it bothers people so much. The criticism I always read/hear is 'it looks like spit' (of course it couldn't look like sea foam or bubble bath or blowing bubbles). Fine - you don't like lecithin foams. Are its detractors even aware of siphoned foams stabilized with gelatin (and/or a few other methods)? These look like and often have a texture similar to whipped cream. Yet no one ever mentions em. As far as its detractors are concerned, all foams look like spit and siphoned foams don't exist.

The other criticism I see a lot: it's pretentious molecular gastronomy bullshit. Ignored is that there are perfectly good reasons to use a foam (it's just a sauce that is easier to keep distinct from other sauces and also doesn't saturate items that can get waterlogged like pastry crust). Unacknowledged is that the difference between a 'molecular' foam and whipped cream or mousse is not much more than academic. One is pretentious and the other is not. Why?

I know a cook at a very good restaurant. The restaurant uses all kinds of new techniques - sous vide, tapioca maltodextrin powders, fluid gels from hydrocolloids, etc. But no foam. Conspicuously absent. I asked him about it - it would seem a natural on their menu. He said they can get away with just about anything as long as its tasty, but the chef knows from recent ventures that as soon as they put foam on the menu, a certain portion of the restaurant's clientele disappears and the words 'molecular' and 'pretentious' start showing up in all the online reviews along with impassioned criticisms, even though only one thing changed on their menu.

I've rambled enough. Lord knows it felt good though. I'm sure some will find my ridicule of the argument against foam personally offensive. And if you want an argument, then I've got one for you - i'm that type of poster. But something to keep in mind - I have almost certainly talked some arbitrary and poorly considered smack on an ingredient or technique you love too (and if it wasn't me, someone surely has). I know this. Didn't you want to defend your favored ingredient?

So is there an ingredient or preparation whose reputation you want to restore to glory? Do tell.

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    1. I blame Top Chef. A show that I watch and enjoy - but now I hear people always making the "go to" vague criticisms that the judges always make on that show. And several seasons ago one of the contestants (Marcel) put foam on every dish he made. It became the "go to" criticism of him and his food by all the contestants and all the judges . . . . and I think the death of "foam" began.

      1 Reply
      1. re: thimes

        You may be onto something. Marcel for better or for worse (err. who am I kidding - definitely for worse) is possibly the single face many or most Americans associate with culinary foams.

      2. The microwave. A lot of people say they don't use one except to heat leftovers. I can't imagine steaming vegetables any other way. I don't tend to make my veggies into fancy dishes. Brocolli - rince the whole head under water. Shake and chop to size. Cover and cook on high for just a few minutes. It comes out cooked just righr, crunchy and bright green. Even a piece of corn straight from the farmers' market. Peel, rinse, shake cover and zap. Perfection in less time than it takes to

        15 Replies
        1. re: calliope_nh

          oh microwave that is a good one - how about a crock pot . . . so associated with bad "white trash" foods but really a very handy device to keep things warm, no scorching, actually kind of handy when you need it.

          1. re: thimes

            The crock pot makes miraculous jam. No pectin, no additives, no shame there!

            1. re: happybaker

              I think my crockpot is white trash (costco bought - is that good or bad???). It overheats above the coils, underheats otherwise, so it can burn and undercook all at the same time. Wow

              1. re: Eliza804

                Dang! That's not good!

                I got my crockpot from costco as well - but it behaves.

                If it didn't then it really would be trashy!

              2. re: happybaker

                Makes an excellent light chicken stock as well.

            2. re: calliope_nh

              You don't even have to peel the corn before you microwave it- you can just leave it in the husk. The peel and silk come right off with no mess and almost no effort after it comes out. I learned that here. I don't use the MW a ton but I do use it for corn.

              1. re: ErnieD

                Ditto. And double ditto about the silk- so much easier.

                1. re: ErnieD

                  Holy cow! Really? Tell me more! Do you need water, or do you seriously just put the corn in, husk and all, and nuke it? I usually shuck mine right in the grocery store, but I can't get the silk off and there are always other people waiting to use the trash barrel to do theirs. So if I can just avoid the whole task, wow!

                  1. re: Isolda

                    I wrap corn in wax paper or plastic wrap first, but I don't know if you really need to. The silks really do come right off with the last layer of husk. I use the pulled-back husks for a handle, too.

                    1. re: Isolda

                      Not quite the same, but one of my favorite ways of making corn is keeping it in its husk and just throwing it in a 350 degree oven for about half an hour - 40 minutes. Steams it gently, even seems to concentrate the flavor a bit. And it avoids the wrinkled, chewy texture I've had on occasion with microwaved corn (though I've never microwaved in-husk).

                  2. re: calliope_nh

                    That IS a good one.

                    I've seen some pretty cool things done in a microwave - take a look at this bread:

                    1. re: calliope_nh

                      I so agree. When did a microwave become uncool anyhow??? My broccoli is best via microwave - so there (as my mother used to say).

                      1. re: Eliza804

                        You can reduce sauces/broths FAST in the microwave. I even use it to make dulce de leche. So why the hating? Use it for what it's good for, don't use it for what it's not.

                        1. re: happybaker

                          How do you use it to reduce sauces? My stuff always explodes in the microwave....

                          1. re: harryharry

                            I use a WAY bigger cup/vessel then I would on the stove. Like 1 cup of liquid in a 4 or 5 cup bowl at least. This gives me plenty of room to avoid boil overs etc.

                    2. i'm one of the lecithin foam haters, most notably because it tends to bear a striking resemblance to the salivary substances my cat used to spit up...but my "issue" is limited to this specific type of foam.

                      as for the rest:
                      - i'm anti-boxed wine based on *my own experience* with it...which is limited to some truly awful, cheap plonk at college dinner parties 20 years ago
                      - i *adore* chicken liver
                      - i appreciate the texture of iceberg but just don't enjoy it unless it's mixed with other lettuces
                      - i'm all for sous vide (and most MG techniques) if the results are tasty and texturally pleasing

                      ingredients that i absolutely love but *many* people seem to hate:
                      - mushrooms
                      - beets
                      - brussels sprouts!

                      15 Replies
                      1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                        Brussels sprouts seem to be getting popular recently - maybe riding kale's slightly bitter coattails. I see a lot of beet salads at nice restaurants, though I don't see many other beet preparations. I didn't realize that mushrooms were particularly hated upon, though I certainly know some people who seem to have an aversion to them for no reason they can particularly articulate (my wife hates em, says they're slimy - but if i sear em so they're dry, she still won't try em... she's finicky).

                        1. re: cowboyardee

                          i've seen scores of posts on CH by people who claim beets taste like "dirt." and as far as i can tell, your wife is in the majority with the mushroom aversion being more of a textural issue, though some people have a problem with their earthy flavor as well.

                          1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                            Beets do taste like dirt. Delicious, yummy, life-affirming dirt.

                            Seriously, y'all, I was actually in my 30s before I ate a beet for the first time, but I have been making up for lost time ever since. A good beet is one of summer's greatest joys.

                            In another thread recently, I mentioned that the first food piece I ever had published during my newspaper days compared brussels sprouts to Yoko Ono: many of the people who reflexively hate on sprouts have never actually eaten one, but since they're lazy shorthand for "nasty food that people hate," they just assume they don't like them.

                            1. re: cowboyardee

                              Hi, cowboy:

                              Brussel sprouts were never high on my list until I learned to roast them (OK, in plenty of fat). They carmelize nicely, and lose the bitterness that turns many off. Having lived in England (aka, The Land of Boiled Brussel Sprouts), I still have to *thinK* when the roasted version comes to fork, but they really are good.

                              Beets I consider an aphrodesiac in the same league as oysters and a good artichoke. In all cases, one is allowing one's self to revert to the earth.

                              #1 wife/mushroom cure: get fresh Morels. Milk+flour breaded, and panfied in your beloved cast iron. Draped over your wife's favorite steak, and enrobed in her favorite sauce. Serve with beets and Champagne. Take your ginseng now, so you're ready.


                              1. re: kaleokahu

                                Howdy Kaleo,

                                I love roasting brussels sprouts. I'm a big fan of deep fried brussels sprouts as well - cut out the core and break em up mostly into individual leaves. Fry in 350 deg oil until mostly crispy. Sprinkle with salt, capers, diced onion, and some balsamic. Far tastier than kale chips IMO (and less healthy).

                                My wife doesn't eat steak. Or milk. Or beets. Maybe I should start with the Champagne, lots of it. Sounds delicious though.

                                See yinz later (that's 'aloha' in Pittsburghese)

                                1. re: cowboyardee

                                  Hi, cowboy:

                                  You Portagee? There are a lot of Portugese in Hawai'i (from fishing, I think), and what they call Portagee sausage is a breakfast mainstay. You make sausage?

                                  The fried Morels are good on anything or just by themselves. I made a mess of them last night for grilled chicken, and I saved the extras and diced the leftover chicken and stored it all in the cooking butter. All went on a sandwich today... All I can say is that if your wife doesn't like infused mushroom butter, check to see if she's an alien.

                                  See yinz later,

                                  1. re: kaleokahu

                                    I'm wondering why you ask if I'm Portuguese - I don't remember mentioning it, and you would have to be pretty sharp to pick it out of my posts. Actually, my mother was raised by adopted Portuguese immigrant grandparents and I grew up eating a lot of Portuguese food. So no Portuguese blood, but it's still my main food heritage, along with American homecooking classics. But aside from quick seafood sausages and the like, I've never made any sausage. Definitely never tried linguica and such, though I'd love to eventually.

                                    I'll see if I can get away with a morel butter. My wife is partial to decent bread with a little butter. I don't have high hopes though. I've checked my wife many times - she does not appear to be an alien. I haven't ruled out Cylon.

                                  2. re: cowboyardee

                                    Yinz. YINZ! I haven't heard that in YEARS!


                              2. re: goodhealthgourmet

                                I think anyone who has every had a pet can relate to your foam-aversion:-)

                                I mix iceberg with other lettuces every day - love the crunch. And it really is the only lettuce, for me, on a BLT.

                                1. re: EM23

                                  2 cats and a dog currently. Doesn't bother me. OTOH, ever since my mom had a couple rabbits, I'm iffy around raisins.

                                  Glad to see iceberg getting a little love.

                                  1. re: cowboyardee

                                    The iceberg wedge at Eva with the homemade green goddess dressing? OMG, I could LIVE off of it.

                                    1. re: cowboyardee

                                      I've mentioned this elsewhere, but fellow iceberg users: Please look up Barbara Kafka's spirited defense of iceberg in "Vegetable Love" . . . One of the most delightful, common-sense pieces on this badly maligned staple. Also, Jacques Pepin is very big on iceberg in his "Fast Food My Way" books.

                                  2. re: goodhealthgourmet

                                    Yep, I've only had the nasty sort of foam myself. Personally, I don't see the point of it.

                                    Agree with you about liver, beets, 'shrooms and iceberg. And my green posole recipe absolutely requires iceberg in the bowl you serve it in. Other lettuce gets gross and loses texture when you pour the hot broth over it.

                                    But, as I've stated before, I will never love Brussels sprouts. I am incapable of it. I just recognize that they taste better to others than they do to me.

                                  3. I still don't wanna eat bubble bath OR sea foam!

                                    5 Replies
                                    1. re: Jenny Ondioline

                                      But you could form non-food visual associations with all sorts of foods. It's easy.

                                      Herbs can look like grass clippings.
                                      Lobsters are giant bugs
                                      Egg yolk looks like yellow paint
                                      Raspberry sauce looks like blood
                                      I don't think I have to elaborate on lemonade, do I?

                                      Why should that stop you from enjoying something delicious?

                                      1. re: cowboyardee

                                        Well, I have yet to have a truly delicious foam is the main problem...

                                        1. re: Jenny Ondioline

                                          It's just a liquid, like any other sauce. Most often, the foaming agents contribute no flavor and generally don't dull the flavor that is there.

                                          In other words, if you normally find a sauce delicious, more often than not it can be foamed and taste the same (in some cases, concentrating the sauce before foaming is useful, but not always).

                                          1. re: cowboyardee

                                            I think it's a silly fad thought up by somebody needing to be "wildly creative" rather than a good cook, and I say the hell with foam.

                                            1. re: jmckee

                                              It was thought up by Ferran Adria. His bona fides as a 'good cook' are pretty damn impressive, if you ask me.

                                              The important thing is not THAT you dislike it but rather WHY you dislike it. I don't really like peanuts or pudding but I'm not gonna pretend that's because they're inherently bad.