Jennifer’s mother-in-law cooks her brisket with Coca-Cola. Steve puts Spanish olives on his peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Have you ever tried extra virgin olive oil drizzled over premium vanilla ice cream? Who knew these bizarre food combinations could be so good? And who was the first genius to stick a can of beer inside a chicken carcass before grilling?
Some unusual food combinations and recipes have been around for years, some are chef’s secrets, and some seem to come about after a night of refreshing beverages and not much to work with . . . fried chicken with kimchi, anyone? Some of them make sense, like carrots with a pinch of sugar in the classic French recipe carrots Vichy. But tomatoes with a pinch of sugar? Try it, the acidity of the tomatoes works beautifully with a hint of sweetness. Another intriguing tomato trick I discovered but have not tried yet: cooking a small bit of the tomato vine with tomatoes because this is where a great deal of the flavor is stored.
The combination of chocolate and chilies has become popular in the form of both chili powder in bittersweet chocolate and a pinch of cocoa powder in chili recipes.
Some seemingly odd combinations became popular in the years of nouvelle cuisine — strawberries or peaches with black pepper, strawberries with balsamic vinegar. I resisted these for a while, but if you try very, very good, old balsamic vinegar (just a few drops!) on perfect summer berries, it really is delicious. Brie cheese with raspberries, and blue cheese with honey are reputed to be magical pairings. My friend Kathleen once gave me a jar of truffle honey with a card suggesting it be drizzled over Cypress Grove’s Humboldt Fog goat cheese. What a spectacular combination! Since I ran out of the truffle honey, I simply stir a few drops of truffle oil into honey and recreate it quite successfully.
Apparently, a pinch of salt in coffee brings out the flavor but I’m skipping that one.
Chef’s secrets include a pinch of star anise with stewing meats — it enhances the flavor but is undetectable — and Thai fish sauce in tomato sauce. I have used this trick and it is magical. Don’t be thrown off by the fishy smell, this dissipates when cooked. Just a dash in your basic marinara!
In the olden days (probably when doctors were smoking in their offices and we didn’t wear seat belts), there were a lot of recipes involving shortcuts and soda pop and the kind of advertising that would make Don Draper proud. How about this suggestion from the folks at 7-Up:
“Ham Basted With 7-Up — a he-man favorite made richer, more succulent! Pour half-cup 7-Up over ham, bake one and a half hours at 325 degrees. Try with duck to make gravy with an unusual, delicious flavor!” Honestly, doesn’t that last suggestion just sound lazy?
Here’s another doozie from a time when we must have made our dentists very rich:
“A Little Trick That Makes A Treat! Mother knows that this is a wholesome combination. The addition of 7-Up gives milk a new flavor appeal that especially pleases children.” Nothing like a little fizzy corn syrup milk to start your darling’s day!
This recipe just sounds like an incomplete haiku by an angry person:
“Deer Roast. 4 lb. deer roast, one apple, Coke.” Yum.
Some other combinations that appear over and over again are cheddar cheese in vanilla ice cream, bananas with sour cream, and bagels topped with everything. My favorite strange bagel topper — cream cheese, yellow mustard, gobs of fresh ground black pepper. Some combinations are logical in that we crave the salty-sweet or crunchy-creamy mouth feel. But pepper jack cheese with pineapple? Sourdough pretzels with avocado? Tomatoes dipped in ketchup?
Just as chicken rice is a delicious street food in Singapore — probably because the rice is cooked in a lot of chicken fat and this is usually eaten at 3 a.m. after a night on the town — there is a popular Filipino breakfast dish called champorado. It begins with a sweet, glutinous rice cooked with cocoa powder and condensed milk. Sounds good so far, right? Then it is topped with salty, crunchy dried fish.
Some food combinations are genius. Try popcorn with champagne. Apples cooked with vanilla. Beer can chicken is the perfect vehicle for adding flavor and moisture to your bird. The Dr. Pepper-Coca-Cola marinade concept adds a touch of sweetness and helps tenderize the proteins in the meat. It also takes rust off of nails in case you’re looking for other uses for your colas.
I found a recipe for sauerkraut cupcakes and have heard about black bean brownies and chocolate cake moistened with mayo, but I’m not sure I’m ready or willing to try them. But a homemade apple pie infused with vanilla bean? Yes. Even fried chicken with kimchi sounds freakishly appealing. . . .
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