kottke.org posts about food
I’m happy and proud to announce that my pal Brian Bartels’ book The Bloody Mary will be out in a couple months.
The Bloody Mary is one of the most universally-loved drinks. Perfect for breakfast, brunch, lunch, dinner, and beyond, there simply isn’t a wrong time for a Bloody.
In The Bloody Mary, author Brian Bartels — beverage director for the beloved West Village restaurants Jeffrey’s Grocery, Joseph Leonard, Fedora, Perla, and Bar Sardine — delves into the fun history of this classic drink. (Did Hemingway create it, as legend suggests? Or was it an ornery Parisian bartender?)
More than 50 eclectic recipes, culled from top bartenders around the country, will have drinkers thinking outside the vodka box and taking garnishes to a whole new level.
Brian is probably the one person most responsible/culpable for introducing me, somewhat later in life than many, to the wonderful world of spirits and cocktails. I am not a particular fan of the Bloody Mary, but I’m buying this book because Brian has yet to steer me wrong when it comes to beverages.
After tinkering in the kitchen for weeks, Kenji Lopez-Alt has discovered a super-simple recipe for macaroni & cheese that uses only three ingredients and takes about ten minutes to make.
The idea for this came from working on my recipe for cacio e pepe, the Roman pasta and cheese dish. In that recipe, I cook spaghetti in a small volume of water, using the starchy pasta water to emulsify the cheese into a creamy sauce. I wondered if the same thing would work for an American-style macaroni and cheese, using a much higher ratio of cheese to pasta and using cheddar in place of pecorino.
It didn’t quite work the first time — the high proportion of cheese caused the sauce to break and turn greasy — but with a few tweaks, I nailed it.
Need to try this soon.
For most of the past decade, consumption of meat in the United States remained flat or declined.
For environmental, health, and animal welfare advocates, this was great news. Surely it meant that efforts to raise awareness about the disturbing impacts of meat production were inspiring people to cut back on hamburgers and bacon. As Paul Shapiro, vice president of Farm Animal Protection for the Humane Society of the United States, wrote in 2012, “The pressure is being felt all over, and for the first time in decades, our overconsumption of meat is beginning to get reined in.”
But according to research by a Dutch bank, US meat consumption jumped in 2015.
Not only was last year noteworthy for the near 5% increase in per capita consumption, but also due to the fact that the growth was achieved without the help of beef, consumption of which was flat. We expect US protein production growth of 2.5% per annum through 2018 — down from 3% in 2015 — with beef being the largest contributor relative to pork and poultry.
What drove the decline in the first place? Price. It always comes back to supply and demand.
Ranchers and farmers trimmed their herds because of the recession, historically high feed costs, and drought in the Great Plains. Meanwhile, domestic disease outbreaks like porcine epidemic diarrhea virus, or PEDv, meant that tens of thousands of hogs never made it to market. So Americans cut back on meat.
But by 2015, many of these issues driving higher prices were resolved. The retail price of beef has dropped by 22 percent, pork by 7 percent, and chicken by 5 percent. So Americans are eating more meat again.
“Consumers are responding to falling prices. That’s a big part of the story,” says Sawyer. The chicken industry, in particular, has also gotten more efficient and more capable of raising chickens fast.
I was at the grocery store last night and was shocked by the prices in the meat aisle. Lots of cuts on sale for just a few dollars a pound. (via the latest and particularly excellent issue of Susan MacMillan’s newsletter)
In Iceland, geothermal vents and hot springs abound and you can use them to bake rye bread in a pot at fairly low temperatures for 24 hours. At a spa outside Reykjavik, they have something called the Rye Bread Experience where they take guests to see how the geothermal ovens work. Filmmaker Alison Grasso went on one of the tours and made a short film about it.
On Serious Eats, Kenji Lopez-Alt tests out different recipes using slow cookers, Dutch ovens, and pressure cookers and comes to the conclusion that the pressure cooker and Dutch Oven often give better results.
A good traditional chicken stock is made by simmering chicken carcasses and aromatics in water on the stovetop for several hours. A couple of years ago, I ran a few quick tests to determine whether or not stock could successfully be made in a pressure cooker or a slow cooker. From my own experience, I was fairly certain that the pressure cooker would produce a superior stock, while the slow cooker would produce a thinner, less flavorful one, but I was surprised by the degree to which this was true. The difference between the stock made in a Dutch oven or pressure cooker and the stock made in a slow cooker was like night and day. This experiment was a good start, but I decided that to really get to the bottom of this, a lot more serious testing was in order.
Neven Mrgan has been preaching the gospel of the pressure cooker for making risotto on what is probably my current favorite Instagram account, Sardine Brunch.
Ham and pea risotto: arborio rice, ham stock, parmesan. 6 minutes in the pressure cooker!
(Of course, as with all recipes, this refers to the length of the longest step, really. You still have to chop the onions, fry them with the rice, get the whole thing up to temp/pressure. But that would be the case with a traditional recipe, too, except you’d have to add at least half an hour of stirring!)
Mrgan uses The Instant Pot, which seems to be the internet’s choice for pressure cookers.
This folding measuring spoon on Kickstarter is clever as hell. Polygons lays flat in a drawer and, depending on how you pick it up, folds into four different volumes.
Premarked areas on both spoon sizes (tablespoon and teaspoon) let you know where to pick up from to measure the volume required for your recipe. Practicality and simplicity at its finest.
The spoons come in two sizes (the smaller measures teaspoons and the larger one tablespoons), they’re marked with US and metric measurements, you can flatten it to easily scrape every last bit of stuff into the bowl, and it doubles as a knife when flat as well. (via colossal)
Update: Hmm, it looks like Polygons needs a little more work to be a fully functional product. (thx, mac)
A quick short film about how different people in LA approach breakfast, from the woman who nibbles to the professional bodybuilder who eats 30 egg whites and a cup of grits on his off day.
Me? I almost never eat breakfast and have been unwittingly following an intermittent fasting regimen for many years.
In the village of Nanshan in China, traditional Suomian noodles are still very much made by hand. The noodles are made and dried outside, which puts the whole process at the mercy of the weather.
The noodle maker has to add different amounts of salt and flour according to the seasons and has to be very observant about the weather when it comes to choosing the days to dry the noodles.
The video doesn’t say, but I’d be very interested to hear what the unique stretching and drying process does to the taste and texture of the noodles.
More than 40 years ago, food enthusiast and artist Salvador Dali published a cookbook called Les Diners de Gala. The book mixes Dali’s surrealist imagery and with dozens of recipes, including some that originated from the top restaurants in Paris at that time. The original book is quite rare and valuable now, but Taschen is reprinting it; it’s available for pre-order here.
This reprint features all 136 recipes over 12 chapters, specially illustrated by Dal’i, and organized by meal courses, including aphrodisiacs. The illustrations and recipes are accompanied by Dal’i’s extravagant musings on subjects such as dinner conversation: “The jaw is our best tool to grasp philosophical knowledge.”
See also The Artists’ and Writers’ Cookbook. (via colossal)
This is entertaining: Megan McArdle considers four possible economic approaches to how couples should order food in restaurants.
3. Individual property rights, with option trading. Now we’re moving toward a more centrally planned economy. The menu is individually consulted, and then the two parties state their preferences. If these preferences are strong, then matters proceed much as in the above strategy. However, if indecision is expressed, the trading is opened: “If you get the clam chowder, I’ll get the mushroom crostini, and we can split.” Option trading is usually, but not always, confined to the appetizer course. Any offer can be refused, and a substitute offered — “What if I got the clam chowder, and you got the ham timbales?” — or both parties may reluctantly conclude that no trade is possible, and revert to their original choices.
Well done, Team Restaurant! You are now beginning to realize the magnificent benefits of trade. Coordination and cooperation have permitted you to agree on choices that jointly improve utility.
However, I must tell you that you are still probably not at the highest valued use of your food dollar. You are almost certainly investing most of your effort in appetizers or shared desserts, which are the minority of your spending, time and consumption. If you want not merely to improve your utility, but to maximize it, then you are going to have to invest more effort in coordination.
Her conclusion is spot on; it’s the best way to dine out.
Episcopal Community Services runs a program called CHEFS that provides food industry training for homeless and low-income people in San Francisco. Photographer Wesley Verhoeve visited the program to take portraits of the students and staff. The photos accompany a San Francisco Magazine article that has more information on the program.
The seven-month program culminates in a 240-hour internship at participating eateries like Nopa and Kokkari; Hanks completed her internship at Lotta’s Bakery in Nob Hill, where she was struck by the universal power of food. “We cook when somebody dies, we cook when a child is born,” she says. “I’ve realized cooking is related to everything: to family, to religion, to happiness, to sadness.”
While I don’t quite agree, I did enjoy reading Andy Kryza’s take on In-N-Out: In-N-Out Is Crushingly Disappointing.
This is your basic, salty, flat-grilled burger that you can get absolutely anywhere. If somebody gave me a blind taste-test between this and most other fast-food burgers, I might be able to distinguish In-N-Out, but it’s not guaranteed. It’s highly generic, as if culled together from a series of stock photos: bun, burger, watery lettuce, and a slice of tomato. Sure, you can get it Animal Style, but be honest: Animal Style sauce tastes like Whole Foods’ version of Big Mac sauce, except not as good.
And as Anil Dash said on Twitter:
it’s the best burger for people who eat a burger for the vegetables
They are in different leagues — an In-N-Out cheeseburger is $2.35 while a Shackburger goes for $5.29 — so a comparison is unfair, but in my mind, that extra $3 at the Shack buys you a lot of flavor. Still, as Kryza says, next time I’m in CA, I’m gonna get myself a burger at In-N-Out.
From photographer Brea Souders, an assortment of food photographed using a thermal camera.
As an object’s temperature increases, so does the amount of radiation it emits. This special camera uses state-of-the-art technology to detect infrared radiation, thereby displaying differing levels of heat in various colors and creating images reminiscent of pop art.
That, my friends, is a photo of Kenji López-Alt’s homemade McRib sandwich. The McDonald’s version is beloved but has been on and off the menu with maddening irregularity, so Kenji spent weeks/months creating a McRib recipe for the home cook.
The problem is that, while the McRib might be inspired by real barbecue, it’s ultimately a lie. Despite its corrugated appearance, it has little to do with actual ribs. (McDonald’s doesn’t even indicate that the product contains actual rib meat.) It’s not smoked, as one would expect of barbecue ribs. Indeed, it’s not even grilled — it’s cooked on a griddle. We can do better.
My goal? Take everything we love about the McRib sandwich and turn it up to 11, by starting from scratch with a few high-quality ingredients and a lot of good technique (including honest-to-goodness smoking). I wanted to maximize flavor and texture, unlocking the sandwich’s full potential and allowing it to evolve, Pokémon-style, into something so much better.
One of my favorite pieces of food writing from the past few years is Willy Staley’s piece on the economics of the McRib.
And for recipes for more of your favorite fast food at home, see the homemade Shack Burger, homemade McDonald’s fries, homemade Egg McMuffin, homemade Big Mac, and homemade Chick-Fil-A.
Gluten Free Museum takes works of art (high and low) and removes all of the gluten from them. A one-trick pony, but a particularly entertaining one. (via tmn)
Ian Parker wrote about the NY Times’ restaurant critic Pete Wells for the New Yorker this week.
Wells is generally a well-mannered critic, if not an overly respectful one. In his first years on the job, he was sometimes faulted in the food press for being too generous in his appraisals; he had made a point of publishing fewer one-star reviews than his immediate predecessors. “No one likes one-star reviews,” Wells told me, in a conversation at his apartment, which is in a Clinton Hill brownstone. “The restaurants don’t like them, and the readers don’t like them. It’s very tricky to explain why this place is good enough to deserve a review but not quite good enough to get up to the next level.” He added, “I’m looking for places that I can be enthusiastic about. Like a golden retriever, I would like to drop a ball at the feet of the reader every week and say, ‘Here!’”
Parker covers Wells’ most notable reviews — Per Se, Fieri, Senor Frog’s, Momofuku Nishi — as well as the reactions of the restaurants to the reviews.
“I can’t ever read that review again — I’ll get so fucking angry I’ll die,” Chang said. “I made a lot of that food! I tasted it! It was delicious. And… fuck! I believe in the fucking food we make in that restaurant, I believe it to be really delicious, I believe it to be innovative, in a non-masturbatory way.”
I love David Chang. Never change. But back to Wells, I had a conversation last night with a friend who worked in a restaurant that Wells reviewed and he said that Wells is perhaps not physically suited for undercover restaurant dining — “he’s an odd looking dude” was the quote. And I have another friend in the restaurant industry who, after living in Clinton Hill for a few months, told me, “I think Pete Wells is my backyard neighbor.” Several months later: “Yeah, Pete Wells definitely lives behind me.” We joked about Wells talking over the fence in the style of Wilson, the neighbor in Home Improvement whose face is always partially hidden.
While attempting to do a commercial for the chicken pot pie at Dysart’s Restaurant in Maine, this gentleman has a little problem with saying his lines. This just gets funnier and funnier as it goes on, and it is imperative that you watch until the very end. This is the hardest I’ve laughed all week.
P.S. If you live in New England, you can get a Dysart’s pie shipped right to your house. Fruit pies only, but they presumably still have that buttery crispy crun- … dammit! (via @heyadamroberts)
Here’s a gem from the archive of the NY Times. One day in September 1976, NY Times food critic Mimi Sheraton and Colonel Harland Sanders stopped into a Manhattan Kentucky Fried Chicken. The Colonel, then estranged from the company he founded, strolled into the kitchen after glad-handing some patrons and proceeded to tear into the quality of the food:
Once in the kitchen, the colonel walked over to a vat full of frying chicken pieces and announced, ‘That’s much too black. It should be golden brown. You’re frying for 12 minutes — that’s six minutes too long. What’s more, your frying fat should have been changed a week ago. That’s the worst fried chicken I’ve ever seen. Let me see your mashed potatoes with gravy, and how do you make them?”
When Mr. Singleton explained that he first mixed boiling water into the instant powdered potatoes, the colonel interrupted. “And then you have wallpaper paste,” he said. “Next suppose you add some of this brown gravy stuff and then you have sludge.” “There’s no way anyone can get me to swallow those potatoes,” he said after tasting some. “And this cole slaw. This cole slaw! They just won’t listen to me. It should he chopped, not shredded, and it should be made with Miracle Whip. Anything else turns gray. And there should be nothing in it but cabbage. No carrots!”
Sanders sold his company to an investment group in 1964, which took the company public two years later and eventually sold to a company called Heublein. After selling, Sanders officially still worked for the company as an advisor but grew more and more dissatisfied with it, as evidenced by the story above. When the company HQ moved to Tennessee, the Colonel was quoted as saying:
This ain’t no goddam Tennessee Fried Chicken, no matter what some slick, silk-suited son-of-a-bitch says.
And he got sued by a KFC franchisee after he commented:
My God, that gravy is horrible. They buy tap water for 15 to 20 cents a thousand gallons and then mix it with flour and starch and end up with pure wallpaper paste. And I know wallpaper paste, by God, because I’ve seen my mother make it.
To the “wallpaper paste” they add some sludge and sell it for 65 or 75 cents a pint. There’s no nutrition in it and the ought not to be allowed to sell it.
And another thing. That new crispy chicken is nothing in the world but a damn fried doughball stuck on some chicken.
Colonel Sanders: serving up chicken and sick burns with equal spiciness. (via @mccanner)
When he was asked to design a new outpost of iconic NYC hot dog joint Papaya King in the East Village, Andrew Bernheimer went around to several other establishments in the city built to serve food quickly — Chipotle, Russ & Daughters, Katz’s, Shake Shack, Gray’s Papaya — and looked at their floor plans and flow of customers through their spaces. Mark Lamster talked to Bernheimer about the survey.
ML: I think at fast food joints we’re conscious that we’re in a very controlled environment, but perhaps don’t realize (because we are in a rush), just how manipulative that space can be. How did you see this playing out in the places you looked at?
AB: It ranged. Artisanal places (like Russ & Daughters) don’t feel manipulative in an insidious way at all (other than showing off some great food and triggering all sorts of synaptic response), while others do (Five Guys and their peanuts, a pretty nasty and obvious trigger to go order soda or spend money on WATER). We didn’t just look at fast food joints, but also icons of New York (R&D, Katz’s) that do try to serve people quickly but I don’t think qualify as “fast food joints.” In these cases the manipulation is either entirely subliminal and beyond recognition, or it has been rendered unnecessary because a place has become iconic, the domain of the “regular.”
Speaking as a customer, places like Katz’s and Russ & Daughters always felt like a total mess to me. Katz’s in particular is the worst: the whole thing with the tickets, paying on the way out, the complete lack of a single line, separate ordering locations for different types of food, etc.
That Gray’s Papaya that used to be on the corner of 8th St and 6th Ave, however, was fantastic. It had the huge benefit of being situated on the corner, but when you walked in, there was the food being cooked right in front of you. It was obvious where the line was and what direction it was moving. And after getting your food, you could exit immediately out the “back” door or circle back against the line to find a counter spot to quickly eat your meal.
There are lots of ways to boil an egg. You can drop them in already boiling water. You can start them in cold water and bring to a boil. You can bake them in an oven at a low temperature. You can sous vide them for awhile. I’m sure you have your technique.
The easiest, fastest, and tastiest way I’ve found to make perfect hard boiled eggs is Kenji López-Alt’s Perfect Steamed Boiled Eggs Recipe. That’s right, you steam the eggs.
Fill a large pot with 1 inch of water. Place steamer insert inside, cover, and bring to a boil over high heat. Add eggs to steamer basket, cover, and continue cooking 6 minutes for soft boiled or 12 minute for hard.
Since that little bit of water boils much quicker than a full pot, you’re done much quicker. And peeling is easy too; I don’t even wait the 15 minutes or do it under running water, those shells come off super easy.
P.S. I’ve been cooking more recently, and I’m almost exclusively using recipes and techniques from Serious Eats and The Food Lab. (For instance, I made this Spanish tortilla a couple of weeks ago and it was amazing.) I’m sure I’ll branch out soon, but for now, *kisses fingers*.
Frank Ocean dropped his long-awaited album the other day and to go along with it, he gave away a magazine called Boys Don’t Cry for free at four pop-up locations in LA, NYC, Chicago, and London. Kanye West contributed to the album and magazine, penning a poem about McDonald’s for the latter. Here’s the poem:
The French fries had a plan
The French fries had a plan
The salad bar and the ketchup made a band
Cus the French Fries had a plan
The French fries had a plan
I know them French fries have a plan
I know them French fries have a plan
The cheeseburger and the shakes formed a band
To overthrow the French fries plan
I always knew them French fries was evil man
Smelling all good and shit
I don’t trust no food that smells that good man
I don’t trust it
I just can’t
Them French fries look good tho
I knew the Diet Coke was jealous of the fries
I knew the McNuggets was jealous of the fries
Even the McRib was jealous of the fries
I could see it through his artificial meat eyes
And he only be there some of the time
Everybody was jealous of them French fries
Except for that one special guy
That smooth apple pie
Man, I can’t help but like Kanye. Just when you think he takes himself way too seriously, he does something like this and you can’t tell if he’s taking himself way WAY too seriously or not seriously at all. McDonald’s, man. Kanye drawing courtesy of Chris Piascik. (via @gavinpurcell)
On a recent episode of the Serious Eats podcast Special Sauce, Ed Levine talks to Danny Meyer about the origins of the Shake Shack.
Did Meyer have any idea that that hot dog cart would eventually become the massive sensation it is today? Not at all. It was a happy accident, born of his love of burgers, Chicago hot dogs, and the custard that’s still served at Ted Drewes in his native St. Louis.
In Situ is Corey Lee’s new restaurant in the recently refurbished SFMOMA. Like the museum does with art, In Situ brings culinary masterpieces from chefs around the world and presents them to guests. The current menu, which provides the name of the chef and the date the dish was first made in the style of the info cards next to artworks, includes Shrimp Grits from the now-closed WD-50 (Wylie Dufresne, 2013), Spicy Pork Sausage Rice Cakes from Ssam Bar (David Chang, 2007), Meyer Lemon Ice Cream and Sherbet from Chez Panisse (Alice Waters, 1980), and Wood Sorrel & Sheep Milk’s Yogurt from Noma (René Redzepi, 2005).
This sort of thing is not exactly without precedent. From the very beginning of Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas’ Next, one of the ideas was to present the menu from the French Laundry from Achatz’s first day on the job there in October 1996 (which is happening this fall) and the Chicago restaurant has already featured menus with dishes from El Bulli and Trio (Achatz’s first restaurant as head chef). Ssam Bar used to have cocktails from other places (Milk and Honey, Death & Co., etc.) on their beverage menu, properly credited. But as Pete Wells explains in his positive NY Times review, In Situ takes the concept further:
Would any chef have dreamed of building a restaurant like this 25 years ago? Would anyone have gone there? In Situ probably requires a steady supply of customers who care about restaurants in Lima and Copenhagen enough to have seen some of these dishes in cookbooks or at least in the Instagram accounts of the chefs in question. Mr. Lee depends on, and caters to, a class of eaters who pay attention to the global restaurant scene the way certain art hounds follow the goings on in Basel, Miami Beach and Venice.
One thing In Situ proves, just by existing, is that certain chefs are now cultural figures in a sense that once applied only to practitioners of what used to be called high culture: literature, concert music, avant-garde painting. A Redzepi dish can be visited in an art museum in 2016, and nobody finds this very strange.
What In Situ is doing also underscores how context and the renown of an artist can affect our perception of what is creative appropriation versus theft or plagiarism. That In Situ is helmed by one of the best chefs in the US and affiliated with a world-class museum matters. The similar work of an unknown chef might not get the same treatment, as Robin Wickens found out in 2006, when he presented dishes from WD-50 and Alinea on the menu at his Australian restaurant:
That’s what happened three months ago on the eGullet.com Web site. Sam Mason, a pastry chef at WD-50 in New York, set off an international dust-up when he posted a link to the Web site of Interlude, a restaurant in Melbourne, Australia, and asked: “Is it me or are some of these dishes strikingly similar to a few American restaurants?” Interlude’s site showed photos of such unusual fare as noodles made of shrimp and a glass tube full of eucalyptus jelly and yogurt, dishes pioneered at WD-50 and Chicago’s Alinea, respectively. Interlude’s chef, Robin Wickens, had worked for a week at Alinea as a stagiere, or unpaid intern, and had dined at WD-50 while visiting the U.S.
EGullet’s administrators then juxtaposed Interlude’s images to nearly identical ones from WD-50 and Alinea. Within a few days, restaurateurs and chefs from around the country and dozens of eGullet members added to the thread, many branding Mr. Wickens a plagiarist.
Mortified, Mr. Wickens says he removed the dishes from his menu and his site, and sent letters to the chefs whose work he’d copied explaining that he only wanted to utilize what he’d learned on his travels. “I never tried to claim them as my own,” says Mr. Wickens, who says he told many patrons that the dishes had originated at the American restaurants.
I wish I had San Francisco travel plans…In Situ is the first new restaurant I’ve been excited about visiting in ages (for obvious reasons). Soon, hopefully.
Chef and Momofuku founder David Chang spends a lot of time thinking about food and he’s arrived at what he calls the Unified Theory of Deliciousness.
My first breakthrough on this idea was with salt. It’s the most basic ingredient, but it can also be hellishly complex. A chef can go crazy figuring out how much salt to add to a dish. But I believe there is an objectively correct amount of salt, and it is rooted in a counterintuitive idea. Normally we think of a balanced dish as being neither too salty nor undersalted. I think that’s wrong. When a dish is perfectly seasoned, it will taste simultaneously like it has too much salt and too little salt. It is fully committed to being both at the same time.
I’m not sure his observations are exactly unified, but they are interesting and also why I enjoy eating at his restaurants so much. A meal I had at Ssam Bar shortly after they switched away from the initial Korean burritos menu is in my top 5 meals of all time and a pair of dishes at Ko (both somehow simultaneously familiar and new) are among the most delicious things I’ve ever eaten.
For an episode of food podcast Gastropod, hosts Cynthia Graber and Nicola Twilley consider how sound influences our perception of food and drink.
In this episode, we discover how manipulating sound can transform our experience of food and drink, making stale potato chips taste fresh, adding the sensation of cream to black coffee, or boosting the savory, peaty notes in whiskey.
One takeaway: don’t listen to the sound of breaking glass if you want to continue eating potato chips:
He recruited 200 volunteers willing to eat Pringles for science, and played them modified crunching sounds through headphones, some louder and some more muffled, as they ate. And he found that he could make a 15 percent difference in people’s perception of a stale chip’s freshness by playing them a louder crunch when they bit into it.
“The party version” of this trick, according to Spence, was developed by colleagues in the Netherlands and Japan. Volunteers were asked to crunch on chips in time with a metronome, while researchers played crunching sounds back, in perfect synchrony, through their headphones. All was well until the researchers replaced the crunching with the sound of breaking glass-and “people’s jaws just freeze up.”
The human brain is fascinating.
In today’s post on “What is barbecue?” I skipped past “is a hot dog a sandwich?” so quickly that I forgot to answer the question. So in the same spirit in which someone can boldly declare that only smoked, slow-cooked pork is barbecue, here is my minimal definition of a sandwich:
A sandwich is any solid or semi-solid filling between two or more slices of bread. Not a roll, not a wrap, not a leaf of lettuce: sliced bread. What is inside far less than the container.
- A hot dog is not a sandwich.
- A burrito is not a sandwich.
- A wrap is not a sandwich.
- A cheeseburger on a roll is not a sandwich. Sliced bread only.
- A lobster roll is not a sandwich.
- A hoagie is not a sandwich.
- An ice cream sandwich is not a sandwich.
- A hot turkey sandwich is not a sandwich.
- An open-faced sandwich is not a sandwich.
- If you make a sandwich using one end of the bread and one proper slice, it’s kind of a sandwich still, but not really. See also folding over a single slice of bread for a half-sandwich.
- If you make a sandwich using both ends of the bread, it is no longer a sandwich at all.
- A peanut butter or grilled cheese sandwich is a sandwich.
- A mayonnaise, butter, or ketchup sandwich is probably a sandwich — I’m not sure whether those fillings are solid enough — just not a very good one.
- A sandwich made with crackers instead of bread is not a sandwich, but an imitation of a sandwich.
- A sandwich made with crackers between two slices of bread is a sandwich, but not a very good one.
Alternatively, “sandwich” is a family-resemblance concept and we can’t appeal to definitional consistency to get away from the fact that language is a complex organism and its rules don’t always make perfect sense.
(PS: I do not speak for Jason or Kottke.org on this matter, please do not argue with him about sandwiches)
Update (from Jason): Boy, you leave Tim to his own devices for a few hours and he establishes the official kottke.org stance on sandwiches. [That new emoji of the yellow smiley face grabbing its chin and looking skeptical that you might not have on Android IDK I’m Apple Man] I was just talking to my kids the other day about this important issue and Ollie, who is almost 9, told me that both hamburgers and hot dogs are sandwiches because “the meat is sandwiched in between the bread; it’s right there in the word”. When Ollie and Minna take over the family business in 2027, they can revisit this, but for now, Tim’s definition stands.
At Eater, Chris Fuhrmeister hits on another topic near to my amateur linguist heart: policing the word “barbecue”:
When it comes to American barbecue — I certainly won’t attempt to set ground rules for other barbecue cultures across the globe — there are absolute rights and wrongs. Sure, there’s some room for interpretation, but good-intentioned “barbecue” lovers across this country are blaspheming day in and day out. Before declaring what barbecue isn’t, it’s best to define what it is: pork that’s slow-cooked with smoke.
This is controversial, because “barbecue” is also used to mean:
- n. other slow-cooked smoked meats, e.g., beef
- v. the act of cooking or eating such meats,
- v. grilling anything outdoors,
- n. an outdoor grill
- a. a type or flavor of sauce, potato chips, and other foods
- and so forth.
It’s also odd because, as Fuhrmeister notes, it’s an American controversy, and Americans tend to play faster and looser with food words than people elsewhere. Cognac has to be from Cognac, champagne from Champagne, and so on. Americans have lots of different regional words and practices when it comes to food (soda vs pop, sub vs hoagie, etc.), and we’re definitely competitive when it comes to where and how food is made best, but we’re generally pretty pluralist about definitions. Which is probably why “barbecue” has metastasized to mean so many different but related things.
I tried to come up with a shortlist of honest-to-goodness American food word debates.
- What is barbecue?
- Is a hot dog a sandwich?
- Is Chicago-style pizza really pizza?
- Is it donut or doughnut?
- Is a wrap a burrito?
- Why do we say “chai tea” when “chai” means “tea”?
From here you start to get into all the ways Americans abuse imported food words, which is a much longer list. British English also has a debated distinction between cake and biscuit that I don’t fully understand. Some of us like “is a patty melt a hamburger?,” because the ontology of hamburger is pretty complex stuff. But this is enough to get started.
Donut/doughnut is a straight-up style dispute, and doesn’t have anything to do with definitions. “Are hot dogs sandwiches?” is almost too much about definitions — there’s no history, no implied values, or real stakes. Chicago vs NYC pizza is a regional value rivalry posing as a definitional one: press people, and they’ll say, “yeah, what they make is pizza, it’s just not as good as ours.”
Barbecue is the debate that has everything. It’s a regional rivalry with value attached to it, that’s making definitional claims. And there are so many possible distinctions! Texas and Carolina partisans might unite to reject “barbecue” to mean “cookout,” but fall apart again over the merits of beef vs pork. You can even vote on it; the voting will decide nothing. It is an infinite jewel.
From the International Center for Tropical Agriculture, a map showing where the world’s most used crops originated. Potatoes and tomatoes are from the Andes, watermelon from southern Africa, bananas from south & southeast Asia, and blueberries from North America. (via @CharlesCMann)
From Flowing Data, an animated infographic that shows how the American diet has changed since 1970. We eat less beef, potatoes, margarine, and whole milk than we used to, but more chicken, cooking oil, bananas, and Italian cheese.
From CBC Radio show This Is That, which previously did a bit on Artisanal Firewood, comes a spoof on fancy shows about chefs like Chef’s Table called Cooks.
What do I want people to think of my food? Well, that it’s fast, it’s cheap, it’s a little salty, and most importantly, that it was cooked all the way through.