|I'm afraid you'll have to wait for dessert.|
Earlier this month, the New York Times published a roundup of its most popular recipes of 2016, one of which was the infamous Mississippi roast.
Forgot about the Mississippi roast? I’ll refresh your memory: Sometime circa 2001, a Mississippi woman named Robin Chapman put a piece of beef chuck in a crockpot with a stick of butter, a packet of Ranch dressing mix, a packet of au jus gravy mix, and some bottled pepperoncini. Eight hours later, her family was chowing down on what would become known as the Mississippi roast. Chapman’s roast proceeded to become a huge hit with “the mom blog set,” thanks to a church cookbook, a blogger in Arkansas, and Pinterest. Based on the demographics of Chapman and the cooks who seem to have embraced the dish with the most enthusiasm, I will call this original roast the Red State Mississippi Roast.
At some point, New York Times food columnist Sam Sifton got wind of this recipe and last January wrote a story about its genesis and popularity. Good piece. Different. I’d love to read more stories about how everyday people around the country cook. But when it came to including the actual recipe, Sifton just couldn’t. He expressed some mild distaste for the artificial ingredients and “faint chemical bite” they imparted to the meat. So he devised his own recipe for Mississippi Roast that eliminated the offending powdered mixes.
I have to pause here to say that while I understand why he did this (as you will see), I think this was a questionable editorial decision, like writing about the popularity of kale salad then featuring a recipe that substitutes iceberg lettuce because you find kale unpleasant.
Based on Sifton’s demographic and the paper he works for, I’ll call his version the Blue State Mississippi Roast.
Here are a few of the choice comments Sifton’s piece inspired:
Jim Propes Oxford, MS January 27, 2016
There is an unsettling tone of condescension running through the story. . . . Once again, we see the reluctance of "experts" to acknowledge the source of their subject. I chuckled at the "improvements" made by the writer. Really? Call it a variation based on culinary correctness.
Been There, Caught That NC mountains January 31, 2016
Wow, the NYT, that bastion of political correctness, has allowed Ivy-Leaguer Sam Sifton to use its pages for a blatant example of cultural appropriation, taking a down-home, wildly popular, Mississippi-born recipe and turning it into a New York-ified culinary mashup designed to appeal to food snobs. . . Who but an effete easterner would try to tart up a humble Southern recipe that is monumentally popular due to its simplicity and great taste, and then try to tell readers doing so is a good idea.
cbahrcbahr Southwest January 31, 2016
This turns out to be a wonderful article... rich (if tinged with snotty) in itself but the comments are where the truth (unknown at the NYT) emerges: there actually is a real America still out there!! Congratulations, AMERICANS.
When I first read Sifton’s story in January, I too rolled my eyes. There was something that seemed slightly prissy and, yes, condescending. Good grief, are readers of the New York Times so fine they can’t survive a little MSG? I might live in a bastion of food snobbery, but I was, to quote cbahrcbahr, a real AMERICAN.
At least until I made the Red State roast.
Mississippi roast was an insult to cattle. No steer should have lost his life for this cloying, salty, brown abomination that tasted like a hospital cafeteria smells. Two shiny $1.89 envelopes of chemicals had completely vanquished the noble flavor of beef, replacing it with something ersatz, aggressive, and smarmy. This was truly one of the grossest things I’d ever cooked. You couldn’t pick around the bad parts as the bad parts had impregnated every molecule. Now I knew why Sifton hadn’t included the original recipe. Not because he was an effete Ivy Leaguer snob, but because it was awful.
Maybe he should have just said so. Maybe he was too polite about everything. Maybe his diplomacy read as condescension. I don’t know
But the result was that a lot of the ensuing conversation had nothing to do with the quality of the roast itself. It was about perceived slights, phoniness, snobbishiness, political/culinary correctness. The roast became an innocent football in a little pick-up game of elite-bashing.
I thought no more about the Mississippi roast until Mark’s sister visited this past weekend and I was looking for something to make for a small crowd with minimal effort. I happened to see the Blue State Mississippi roast in the Times’ “most popular recipe” roundup. This’ll do, I thought.
|If you ever make a Mississippi roast, remove the stems from the pepperoncini. I learned the hard way.|
And boy did it. You salt and pepper a chuck roast, dredge it in flour, brown it, put it in a low oven (or slow cooker), with some butter, pepperoncini and a homemade ranch dressing that takes about a minute to stir together in a cereal bowl — mayonnaise, vinegar, paprika, dill. Go decorate the Christmas tree or read comments on the New York Times web site and come back many hours later to a pot of the richest, beefiest beef you’ve ever put in your mouth. It was not significantly harder than the Red State Mississippi Roast (I am super lazy these days and would not lie about this) and it was several million times better.
My point? The Sifton version of the roast is awesome and you should try it, but mostly this: I have read dozens of essays on Donald Trump’s mystifying (to some of us) popularity, and it was amazing last week to find all of it right there, seething in the comments on a seemingly innocuous piece about pot roast back in January.
|a wicked, wicked, wicked cake|
On another subject, after many years of wanting to, I finally baked a Harvey Wallbanger cake, named for a vile-sounding cocktail popular in the 1970s. (Funny history of said cocktail here.) Into your butter cake batter go orange juice, Galliano (a lurid yellow herbal liqueur), and vodka. Bake in a bundt pan. Remove from pan, cool, drizzle with a sugary, boozy glaze. Slice. Overeat. There was a faint metallic edge of alcohol under all the butter and sugar — and while that sounds potentially nasty, it was wonderful. Dangerous. A very subtle flavor, like that elusive flavor of the alcohol in the Harvey Wallbanger cake, makes me want to keep going back for more to see if I can finally catch it. I loved this cake to distraction and on Tuesday afternoon ate such a big, fattening, filling chunk for a snack that I could not face making or eating dinner. I used the scratch recipe from Vintage Cakes because that’s the first recipe I saw, but apparently the original was made with cake mix and vanilla pudding mix. I wouldn’t hesitate to go with the mix version. Yes, I know this whole post was about my dislike of a dish made from mix, but cake mix is different. Only an effete Ivy Leaguer easterner snob would object to cake mix.