Great minds cook alike, but lesser ones do, too. These are some of the biggest cliches in food you'll find today. Rather than bitch about cupcakes or burgers, this list is ingredient-based, with stuff that we're over, or will just make us keel over from eating it much. Although we love to hate, check in next week for a list of the least exploited foods in the American oeuvre.
There's no substitute for real butter, but there's no need to eat it as much as we do. From bagels to pasta to buffalo wings (the hot sauce is half butter), it's on practically everything, and in such gargantuan proportion it would make a 19th-century cook faint. With a well-meaning backlash against fake butter in the works, the stuff's been treated almost like health food. It's not.
9. Fingerling Potatoes
These French potato varieties have an adorable, chubby finger-like shape and great texture when roasted, but they not very versatile beyond that, and they cost about twice as much as other kinds. Hence, they're only a gateway potato to other heirloom varieties, which are so various they might have purple or crimson flesh.
8. Angus Beef
Breed isn't everything when it comes to meat. The feed, lifestyle and handling of cows counts for a lot in flavor. While it's great to support farms raising heritage livestock to keep the strain alive, Angus isn't one that's in threat. The trademark “Angus beef” simply denotes that it came from a cooperative of Angus beef farmers that is so wide-ranging in its farming practices and geography it's practically like saying nothing at all.
One of the “Four Fishes” so exploited and explored in Paul Greenberg's best-selling book, cod is known for its ultra-mild flavor and light, flaky texture that's akin to polystyrene puff. In other words, it's a good fish for folks who don't care much for fish. Overrated and overfished, the name now might stand in for any number of similar, white-fleshed fish.
6. Brussels Sprouts
Over the last couple decades, we've seen Brussels sprouts rise from the ugly duckling of yucky vegetables to the darling of chefs and Thanksgiving spreads. The favoritism has drawn more availability year-round and less-fresh heads that stink of sulfur, especially when overcooked. We get it, they're healthy--but so are other brassicas, such as cabbage, which keeps longer and has multiple harvests year-round.
Since they're so expensive it's like an exclusive club to get your hands on one, truffle love has spurned imitation-flavored oils that will overpower a dish with one drop. Bad “real” truffles can be used, too – preserved or thawed to the texture of rubber, with little flavor in the end. It's wiser to splurge on whatever wild mushroom you can find in its prime; you can die happily without joining the truffle club.
4. Chicken Breast
The tenderest cut of chicken became so endeared that industrialized farming methods have effectively destroyed everything delicate and flavorful about it. It isn't chicken breast that's to blame, really--and you can still enjoy it in its pure intent from a pastured young hen. But a juicy thigh from the same one will be ten times tastier.
3. “Mesclun” Greens
A big, messy pile of this stuff seems an all-too-easy out for adding some green and lightness to a plate. It's also an all-consuming moniker that hides whatever varieties of greens used. What about scattering chicory, cresses, or fresh herbs instead? Our fetish for baby greens has rendered this stuff into a year-round, bland lettuce mix that wilts in one day.
We all know that bacon has its charms, and who can resist it once in a while? But do we need to find it in every chocolate bar or cookie, in every vegetable side, soup stock, or seafood dish, and so on? There are other types of cured meats out there, as well as other non-meat foods to satisfy umami sense.
In another way of looking at it, this could be “wheat,” and all the gluten-rich, wheat products that we consume, many of them in the bread family. Refined wheat bread has replaced the nutritious gruels of yesteryear, with its whole-grain proportions of protein, fiber, and much more. If we varied our grains a bit more, we might not get bloated and “burn” in energy so much after eating, too, since refined grains (in most breads) typically do this. Something to think about every time you tuck into a burger, or slice of pizza, or XYZ sandwich.