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Friday, September 17, 2010

Appreciating the bedrock

"What did you think of the tres leches flavor?"

My companion and I looked at each other as we slowly discarded the sampling spoons, thanked the gelato vendor, and walked away from the colorful freezer case. We had intended to get some gelato from an inviting display, and after tasting five different flavors, came to the same conclusion: the actual gelato cream base had too much overrun. The flavor didn't matter, the resulting product was an insipid castle built on quicksand. And I sadly find this situation, when the accouterments overshadow the fundamentals, occurs rather frequently in American mainstream cuisine.

Take pizza crust, for example. Most often, when people speak of liking a particular pizza, they speak of what it was topped with, be it fontina cheese or "Thai" chicken or 25 different options. The crust itself is lost in the equation, mentioned by pizza aficionados but a discarded nuisance on paper plates for most of the public. Sandwiches can come in ridiculous overstuffed versions, piled high with meat and cheese, but the nature of the bread is taken for granted, as one of the generic products of the industrial sliced bread regime.

And bread itself is spoken of by what is added to the base component of "white", turning it into whole wheat, cinnamon raisin, but one of the wondrous things about bread baking is the near alchemical variety of types one can generate from mixing flour, salt, yeast, water and technique, ranging from baguettes to bao. Sadly, rice is in the same camp, even as it comes in a range of varieties and cooking styles, it is often relegated as an unappreciated and abused backdrop of boiled white rice (don't even bring up the boil in the bag variety).

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