One incontrovertible fact about the United States is this: they know how to do comfort food over there. Nostalgic dishes that remind you of good times every time you tuck into them. Even as I write this, my mouth is watering and my stomach is grumbling, and I’m planning what to eat the next time I visit the States. Some of these dishes, such as apple pie or mac and cheese, are prepared and consumed all over the country in different styles, but they’re unmistakably true to the original.
Here I have compiled short list of some of Americas greatest comfort foods and where in my opinion is the best place to sample them. I’d be interested to hear yours.
Key Lime Pie
The official pie of Florida since 2006, this dish is thought to have originated in the nineteenth century, possibly from native sponge fishermen around Key West. The basic ingredients are very simple – egg yolks, sweetened condensed milk, and the essential, Key limes, a very tangy and flavoursome fruit found throughout the Keys. It can be made with other limes of course, but then it’s not a Key lime pie is it. When ordering, combine with a martini for an even fresher taste.
Southern Fried Chicken
Scottish immigrants would deep-fry chicken joints, but it was also of course a delicacy among the African-American community, particularly taken up in the south. What distinguishes SFC is to leave the skin on and season it well, so it crisps up deliciously. Some of the best you’ll ever taste comes from roadside joints in the American south, but why not plump for Buffalo wings in New York City too? Cold beer goes great with this dish, but a standard coke is just as good.
Another southern dish, this has Creole origins, being a mix of Spanish and French cooking. Essentially it boils down to just four elements – meat, usually chicken or sausage; vegetables; rice, and stock. They can be either mixed together or cooked separately and combined at the end, but you want to see a minimum simmering time of around forty minutes for the best flavour, so expect to wait a while for the best meals. Red or white wine pairs nicely with jambalaya but make sure you get one that will compliment the spicy kick.
Macaroni and Cheese
There’s little more to this dish than a pasta bake really, but the number of ways you can vary it has ensured longevity, and it’s been a staple of American households since Thomas Jefferson introduced it to the White House at a state dinner in 1802. For that reason alone, I’d suggest trying it in Washington DC, since this is where it originated in North American culture. There are many drinks that go fantastically with mac and cheese, but some English pale ales seem to be a perfect match.
There are numerous claims to who invented this most iconic American foodstuff, and there are thousands of places you can get a good one, even some fast-food chains. The best are those which use good-quality meat, and an interesting selection of cheeses to top it. It’s generally accepted that cheeseburgers originated in California so that’s a good a place as any to eat one, and I would suggest a strawberry milkshake as the classic accompaniment.
No such vagueness with clam chowder – the only place you should eat this incredible seafood dish is in New England, where with luck the clams will be fresh off the boat. Boston has always been one of my favourite American holidays, for the simple reason that they have superb form with chowder, and I especially love eating it out of a bread bowl – when you finish off the bread at the end it tastes sublime. White wine and oyster crackers are mandatory.
Nothing says America quite like Apple Pie. It came over with the Pilgrims, and this is one dish that has become intertwined with American culture like no other. Eaten steaming hot with vanilla ice-cream, with freshly-picked apples and baked pastry, there’s no more comforting of foods. New Mexico is reputed to do it best. There are many drinks you could match it to, but personally I would prefer no other tastes to compete until I’d finished.
Rob’s greatest ambition is to sample the ultimate comfort food from every American state.