by John Ryan
Dining from the Edge
This is an occasional column that keeps you on the edge of the supermarket. The edge is the best place to shop. (At least until summer when I'll try to push you off the edge and out into the street where farmer's markets are held.) The edge is where all the fresh food is. For all the differences between supermarket chains, you'll notice that produce, fish, and meat are located against the walls--on the edge. Most of the boxes, bags, cans, and bottles are in the aisles.
The edge is a happy place to shop. Not only is food cheaper on the edge, it's prettier. Take something like tomato sauce. You can pay several dollars for a jar of something mediocre that looks like hospital food. Or you can buy an array of fresh ingredients from the edge. If you go with fresh ingredients you'll have a better sauce for less than half the price of the prepared stuff.
Fresh, beautiful food, however, creates a delicious dilemma: what to do with it. I'm not talking about rare, exotic items, I'm talking about a lively bunch of parsley or beautiful seafood. Scallops, for instance, can be grilled, baked, or breaded and deep-fried—whatever you choose creates an equal cause for regret and anticipation.
Speaking of fancy ingredients, not long ago I was reading a story in the paper about recipe developers in a major test kitchen debating whether or not to include sage in a recipe. The developers weren't arguing about taste, but whether the average kitchen still had sage in its spice rack. A call to the marketing department confirmed that yes, in a recent poll something like 57% of households had sage on their spice rack. So sage went into the recipe.
But what happens when sage is in only 48.7% of households?
Even though I believe that recipes should be taste driven, I didn't find myself annoyed. Since I'm often appalled at the arrogance of cooks/writers who expect me to run down tasso and buckwheat noodles for a "simple" dish, I appreciated their efforts to be accommodating.
Anyway, that's what I like about shopping on the edge—I'm not faced with polls, bottles, or pretentious chefs, I'm faced with beautiful food. And, generally, the less you do to beautiful food, the better. So dining from the edge is easier too.
But there's still the basic problem of shopping on the edge: If I go with lemon-glazed sea scallops tonight, I can't have breaded scallops, and breaded scallops are sounding pretty good.
Both chef and musician, John Ryan wrote the Just Good Food blog from 1996 through 2001.
This page created May 1999