Capital Crimes of Cuisine II
My first rant pepper on Pepper Steaks ruffled a few feathers and generated some email so this is no time to get timid and retreat. I might as well finish my list before the suicide bombers arrive. This list does not all directly pertain to pepper but I think most pepper lovers are similarly passionate about their other foods as well.
1. Horseradish Sauce: This travesty has slowly crept up on an unsuspecting public until hardly anyone knows what horseradish tastes like any more and the real item is almost impossible to get. How did this occur? In case you do not know, horseradish sauce is prepared by diluting a very hot ground root (horseradish) with a sour cream, that pretty much neutralizes all the qualities that make horseradish attractive in the first place. I guess this is horseradish for culinary eunuchs. Sour cream is to horseradish what a fire extinguisher is to combustion. Would you turn on your air-conditioner and furnace at the same time? Go figure! I really would not care about horseradish sauce except that most servers have forgotten how to distinguish the difference. I enjoy a good prime rib from time to time at restaurants, as this is something that I never prepare at home. I also refuse to order this entrée without a good stiff horseradish (not the bloody sauce). I even go to the trouble to ask to taste the HR beforehand to see if I can get the real thing. The last time I ordered Prime Rib at my parent’s private club the waiter let me sample their “horseradish” that was so mild you could feed it to an infant. He assured that the real thing was available and I asked to them to fetch it in advance. Sure enough it arrived 10 minutes after the entrée was served and well cooled off. I hereby proclaim horseradish sauce to be a capital crime punishable by some suitable form of medieval torture.
2. Eggs Benedict: Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE Eggs Benedict. It is reason enough to eat out for breakfast, something I ordinarily do not do unless traveling. What gets me steamed up are the restaurants that do “Our version of Eggs Benedict”. If you see those words rush for the door and never look back. What the menu should say is, “We really don’t have anyone here competent enough to do real Eggs Benedict so we cobbled up this poor imitation”. Now THAT would be truth in advertising! As most people know, the foundation of good Eggs Benedict is a great Hollandaise sauce, and lots of it. This is sauce placed over an English muffin topped respectively with a slice of Canadian bacon and one poached egg. Yumm! I have seen biscuits and croissants substituted for the English muffin, and even gravy substituted for Hollandaise. That is pornography! I agree that Eggs Benedict sounds much classier than biscuits and gravy over eggs, but then I also know that my Ford truck is not a Rolls Royce either and I would never advertise it as such. If you cannot make a decent Eggs Benedict don’t torture your paying customers by serving some squalid substitute. By the way, there was one place that mastered the art of Eggs Benedict while also being able to offer some lovely variations. About 20 years ago the Aspen Mining Company offered Eggs Benedict plus at least two variations that were “to die for”. I suspect they had mastered the original long before they started mucking around with variations. I suggest others do the same or suffer the ultimate penalty.
3. Escargot: This is another delicacy that has always had a limited constituency but has a high profile for pure epicureans. It has also strayed a little far from its roots. Okay I understand that it is a pain to serve these things in their shells but a good escargot requires real butter and enough garlic to immobilize vampires within a five mile radius. I do not want to see mushroom caps or other additions other than small points of toast to soak up that lovely buttery sauce and maybe a bit of lemon on the side. Come on guys, this is so simple. Why screw it up by adding things that don’t belong there?
4. Carpaccio: I was denied this sublime creation until I had it for the first time at 32 years of age, in Dubai of all places. I still mourn all those lost years when i did without. I also mourn the fact that I have never had a Carpaccio since that matched that first one. Surprisingly, second place was found in Hong Kong. I have had some good Carpaccio in the USA , but none that were superb. If this is confusing you let me explain. Carpaccio is raw tenderloin beef sliced paper thin and spread over a platter. It is covered with thin sheets of (not grated) Parmesan cheese and then covered with a thin layer of olive oil mixed with a bit of fresh lemon juice. Sometimes a few capers are also dotted about. A little salt and freshly ground pepper completes the preparation. This is just about my favorite hors d’oeuvre in the world. So where is the capital crime? I guess there really is none. I think most of the attempts to make this are well intentioned and did not involve shortcuts, but I wish more people knew how to do this well. I have never made Carpaccio myself, but I am ready to try. The only hint that I was offered to was to mildly freeze the beef before slicing it to allow the paper-thin slices that are required. A
5. Green Bell Pepper: As far as I am concerned, green bell pepper is fit only for a compost pile, and I continue to be amazed that it continues to appear in grocery produce sections. It is a culinary classic for its underachievement. It has no flavor, no bite, nothing at all to recommend it. Maybe I should feel sorry for it knowing that is has been picked before it has ripened and been given an opportunity to show what it can do. I see these things setting next to red peppers, and the red peppers sell for three to four times the price and actually have some flavor. They also have about four times the vitamin C. So, I have to ask the question, “Why would anyone pick these things while they are still green?” This conspiracy has to stop. Just say NO to green pepper.