Thursday, December 3, 2009

Feeling Saucy?

It has been my acute observation for about as long as I can remember enjoying food that there are certain foods that just go well with others. Certain foods compliment others. Now I know, this isn't really a "Eureka!" statement, in fact it is about as obvious an observation as you can have and is more than likely a studied, observed and "proven" food science truth. I am not brash, conceited or even ambitious enough to tackle such an open subject as complimentary food nor will I try to expound on the deliciousness of, say, tomatoes and basil, pork and apples, or even olive oil and vinegar. But I would like to briefly describe an observation that I have been developing for some time now about the complimentary nature of certain sauces and dips to the vehicle for which they are specifically designed to be consumed together with.

Sauces are to be delivered into your body as food, nourishment, but are uniquely designed as taste enhancers for other specific foods. Food history shows this to be the case ever since the first cookbooks were written--most likely in Medieval Times--and then perfected as an art by classic French chefs into some form that we all can recognize as sauces. And if you are at all familiar with sauce, you know that most classic sauces are historically and commonly paired with complimentary foods. For Example, Hollandaise sauces is traditionally served with vegetables, fish, or eggs (think: Eggs Benedict). Bearnaise sauce can really enhance the flavor of red meat (especially if the meat you are eating is not of the highest quality...part of the history of sauces) or some shellfish.

I know, all of this is all well and good and quite commonly known, studied, taught, and developed, but I would like to take a more contemporary (and maybe less serious) approach to this subject and pay homage to the genius that is matching modern sauces to specific foods.

99% of Americans have probably eaten at McDonald's, agreed? Many in my circle claim the McDonald's French fry to be the ultimate, the best, the one fry that all others should strive to be. Do me (and yourself) a favor, the next time you are at McDonald's, try a fry dipped in McDonald's Sweet 'n Sour sauce. Yes, the very sauce designed to accompany another delicious creation, the McNugget. You will see that both fry and McNugget are perfect compliments to the sweet and sour (artificially flavored I'm sure) elements of the Sweet 'n Sour sauce that the geniuses at Hamburger University have created. It truly is miraculous how the flavors combine to meld perfectly on your pallet and create a sum-is-greater-than-the-parts moment.

Another American fast-food staple, Wendy's Old Fashioned Hamburgers also has a delicious combo of their own. In Wendy's case, the sauce is honey mustard and the complimentary vehicles are again, the fries and the chicken nuggets. Each delicious in their own right by themselves, but emphatically better when combined in the process of dipping prior to consumption.

But I challenge you to try to combine the Wendy's sauce with the McDonald's vehicles, or vice versa. The complimentary nature flies right out the door. They are no longer complimentary and, one might observe, are almost wholly unappetizing as a pairing. Why? Well, I just don't know. I'm sure someone at Hamburger U could explain it to me and after I'm done with my long-winded, open-ended question, i will probably look it up. But this is more of a discussion to make someone else aware of this peculiar phenomenon.

So in the spirit of awareness, think about your favorite Mexican restaurant. Those of you who have lived in California are probably more apt to realize this next observation. Think about the classic starter that all Mexican restaurants serve; chips and salsa. Now think about how at each subsequent restaurant, the salsa (a form of sauce) is unique. The same is true for the chips. But at each restaurant, the combination of chips with salsa yields a wonderful taste 100% anomalous to the specific restaurant. Some chips are homemade, others from a bag, some are warm, some are room temp. And there are even more numerous options for salsas--chunky, smooth, roasted, hot, mild, and so on...

My point is that dipping restaurant A's chips in restaurant B's salsa will not produce the same level of pallet satisfaction as would pairing the sauces/salsas with their intended complimentary vehicles. I dare you to see for yourself.

I am not sure what far-reaching ramifications this observation may propagate, nor am I sure that this is even an original thought, but I am quite positive that the more we look for complimentary flavor combinations, and the more great institutions of thought and science like Hamburger University continue to push the limits of combined deliciousness, the more we as humans have to look forward to eat.

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