For a long time, I thought I hated mussels and clams. I thought they were rubbery, chewy, and tasted of wet dog. And I grew up on the Chesapeake Bay, so this was nothing short of sacrilege! But one good meal of moules frites changed my mind forever, and I’ve never looked back. What’s more, I realize that my problems came not from my inherent inability to enjoy bivalves, but in the fact that I always ate them poorly cooked. All one needs is a good recipe, and nearly anything can be made delicious.
Here, 15 foods that many people dislike, and the proper preparation to allow you to appreciate their full splendor.
1. Brussels sprouts
For a long time, I hated brussels sprouts myself, even though my mother’s are objectively delicious, looking back. I think I got it in my head that they had this inexplicable, brussel-y quality that tasted… well… like farts. But how wrong I was! Brussels sprouts – when roasted with some brown sugar to a nice, slightly caramelled crisp (with maybe a sprinkling of crispy bacon or prosciutto) – is basically my favorite dish in the world. There are many ways to make them well, and basically the only way to force them into a mushy, farty submission is to over-steam them. It’s a crime for any vegetable, really, but it’s especially a tragedy for the delicious little sprouties.
2. Baked chicken
As a white person, I can confirm that a prominent element of White Culture is going to friends’ houses when you’re a kid and having fucking awful baked chicken. It’s all dry and uniform in texture and desperately, desperately lacking seasoning. If your parents were one of the Baked Chicken Assassins, I’m really, really sorry. But baking is one of the best ways to prepare chicken! You just have to load that shit up with some aromatics and seasonings, not to mention a little oil, (white wine never hurts, either), and control the temperature/cook time enough to leave it juicy on the inside and a little crisp on the top. Learning how to cook really good baked chicken is not difficult – here’s a great and easy recipe – and once you do, you’ll never need fried again. (Well, almost never.)
3. Canned tuna
Some people are traumatized by the gloopy, mayonnaise-smothered tuna salads that are more trans fats than fish, and I get that. But canned tuna can be a great and wonderful thing, you just have to put the right stuff in there! How about a squeeze of lemon and a drizzle of olive oil, with some fresh herbs and salt and pepper? What about some nice garlic or chopped onion in there? How about mixing it into an actual salad, instead of the sad potluck “salads” in which the lettuce is Miracle Whip? The options are limitless, and canned tuna doesn’t have to be gross.
Yes, everything tastes better when sautéed with garlic. But nothing tastes as good as broccoli. There is no reason to hate broccoli, not in a world where we have access to sauté pans and olive oil.
I used to be one of those people who hated beer. And to a certain degree, I still do. But I hate it much less now! And that came from drinking monaco’s in France, which are a splash of grenadine in a blonde beer. Yes, to beer purists that sounds foul, but I don’t care. For people who would love to get into beer but can’t get past the bitterness, it’s a great way to ease into it. I started taking less and less grenadine until I genuinely started enjoying some of the very light beers, and now I’m working on enjoying heavier and more complex stuff. It’s training wheels for beer, but it’s worth it.
Of all the vegetables that need a light hand when cooking, asparagus might be the most delicate of all. Many times we are used to eating over-blanched, sad, smelly, bitter asparagus. It’s easy to hate when you get it that way. But one of the great things about asparagus is how easy it can be to cook when you get a nice, fresh bunch! Just quickly roast ‘em with some salt, pepper, and olive oil, don’t worry about blanching! Your asparagus should have a lil’ texture and bite. Eating something that tastes like a soggy piece of cardboard will make anyone sad.
There are way too many people who look at salads as a chore, instead of a delicious vehicle for the things you already love. There is no reason to separate food into “salads I am eating because I have to be good” and “foods I am eating to have fun and enjoy myself.” (This goes hand-in-hand with not having to drown your salad in heavy dressing just to get it down.) Start looking at a salad as an alternative to things like bread, tortillas, or crusts. Put your taco components on a bed of lettuce, or chop up a variety of sandwich fillings to go in one. Use it as a base where you would noodles, covered with things like sesame chicken, chopped veggies, and yummy peanut sauce. It is a healthier, more filling, much-less-calorie-dense alternative to almost all other food vehicles. Experiment with ways to include salad as part of a more “fun” meal, and never feel deprived again.
Every time I see someone sliding a tomato off their hamburger in disgust, I feel a little weepy inside, because I know they’ve been exposed to a lot of grainy, salmon-pink, way-out-of-season tomatoes in their life. And that is sad, as an out-of-season tomato is a tomato that should never see a plate.
9. Whipped cream
I’ve met a surprising number of people who have a hard time with whipped cream, because it’s too sweet and they are used to eating the crappy pre-made stuff. But whipped cream is one of those things that is truly always worth making yourself, and takes almost no effort to do. You get to control the sweetness and vanilla levels, you get to add a pinch of salt, and you get to enjoy that real, wonderful cream flavor. (I personally enjoy whipping mine until it’s just a second or so shy of butter, because I love that extra-thick whipped cream. But to each his own.) There is no reason to eat the canned stuff again… unless you like squirting it in your mouth, which, yeah.
Two rules to start loving melons with the fire of a thousand suns: Always eat them in-season (like tomatoes, except instead of being mushy and awful, they will be all hard and flavorless), and sprinkle them with a little salt before eating. They become a juicy, incredibly flavorful wedge of nature’s candy.
11. Pan-seared fish
If you hate pan-seared fish – or never dare to make it – it’s likely for one simple reason: the pan wasn’t hot enough. If your pan isn’t at the temperature to make it hiss, sizzle, and brown up right away, you are going to be left with some soggy ass fish skin and overdone meat, which is a total crime. Crisped up, flaky-and-tender on the inside fish, with a perfect crust of seasoning, is a food fit for a God. And I say this as someone who never used to be a fan of fish other than tuna. I am becoming a white fish devotee, because that pan-seared perfection is just unbeatable.
12. Scrambled eggs
I feel genuinely bad for people who don’t like eggs because, come on, eggs are perfect?? But at the same time, I know a lot of households really mess scrambled eggs up, because they have been raised in a tradition of eating messed-up scrambled eggs themselves. It’s a self-perpetuating circle of weirdly chewy-yet-mushy eggs that leak that gross egg water. The important rules? Don’t add milk, keep the heat low, and don’t overcook. You want smooth, silky, flavorful eggs with a touch of salt, pepper, and butter. You don’t need those weird, orange clouds you get at the sad hotel breakfast buffet that taste like wet socks. No one does.
Salt. And. Squeeze. Your. Eggplant. Slices. Dry. Before. You. Cook. Them. Otherwise. They. Get. Bitter. And. Mushy. And. Gross.
I have to be honest here and say that I am still very much in the beginning stages of learning to love mushrooms, but I have found that there are really two keys to doing this. One, as Julia Child says, never crowd the pan. That’s how you end up with little slimy mushrooms that make you feel like you’re eating rain-soaked garbage. And two, start yourself off slowly by integrating them into sauces for the flavor, but leaving the whole pieces out. The texture is the really tough part for a lot of people with mushrooms, myself included, but their flavor is hard to deny. Start enjoying that bit by bit, and integrate the texture after. You will eventually find yourself enjoying it, as I am now. And when you get a delicious, perfectly-balanced marsala sauce, you will know that it’s worth it.
Okay, no one hates pasta. But a lot of people would love it more if they cooked and ate it the right way! The sad (often American, we need to do better) tradition of straining every bit of pasta water out and then dumping a clump of sauce on top of your noodles has got to go! Save a cup of that perfect, clingy pasta water and add a bit to your sauce pan, along with your fresh noodles. It makes for wonderful pasta with sauce that coats every bite, with enough of the starchy water to cling and feel thick in the mouth. None of those wet noodles with some sad red sauce dripping off of them – you deserve rich, evenly-distributed pasta with a wide variety of flavor profiles. Once you get used to saucing in the pan, everything becomes a possibility.