Most of us have that one food we hate. Maybe more than one.
Liver and onions, beef tongue, oysters.
Beets, spinach, Brussels sprouts.
Mayonnaise, cilantro, black licorice.
There’s even a map at thedailymeal.com that shows the most hated food state by state across the U.S.
In Pennsylvania, it’s chai latte — if you call that a food. Our neighbors in Ohio hate pesto, while West Virginians say “no thanks” to tofu.
Even chefs aren’t immune to dietary dislikes.
“One thing people don’t know about me is that I’m an extremely picky eater,” says Chef Dave Cassler, co-owner with wife Carol Cassler of Carol and Dave’s Roadhouse in Ligonier.
The food he loves to hate is soup.
“I don’t like overcooked, mushy vegetables, and that’s all soup is to me,” he says. “I make a really nice bacon and cheddar soup, but even with that, I pour it over French fries.”
We asked Cassler and some other local chefs and restaurant owners for one food they think gets a bad rap from the dining public, why that is, and a reason to give it another try.
Here are their answers:
Justin Severino, Cure and Morcilla, Pittsburgh
Ask people what they want on pizza and many will say, “Anything but anchovies.”
Severino says that the canned “bad version of an anchovy” that generally comes on pizza is probably the only exposure that most people have to the silvery little fish.
Part of the problem is with the preservation process, he says: “In America, most food that goes into a can is cheap.”
When buying anchovies, he suggests, avoid those that are packed in salt and opt for those packed in olive oil — preferably a European brand.
Severino says he makes a simple pasta sauce at home to which anchovies add “great depth and flavor.”
He sweats garlic and onion in a pan with olive oil, then adds chili flakes and anchovies — the trick is to saute the ingredients until the anchovies dissolve. He then adds San Marzano canned tomatoes and simmers until the sauce thickens.
“It makes a rich sauce that is good over any pasta,” he says, including his favorite, rigatoni.
Lisa Hegedus, Caffe Barista, Greensburg
The sharp flavor and odor of blue cheese make it a polarizing food, Hegedus says.
“People either love it or hate it,” she says. “It has a reputation as a stinky cheese, and it has an odor, no doubt — it’s a moldy cheese, after all.”
The signature blue-veined appearance of blue cheese comes from the addition of cultures of the mold Penicillium, which actually gives it some antibiotic properties.
A little bit goes a long way, Hegedus says, so it’s best used in small quantities to accent dishes such as the Buffalo chicken or cauliflower and green, rice or pasta salads that she serves.
The flavor and aroma also mellow when it’s heated, as opposed to being served cold, she adds.
Mark Henry, Chef Mark’s Palate Catering, Latrobe
“When most people see kohlrabi, they say, ‘What is that?’ It’s such a unique, alien-looking little vegetable,” Henry says. “I don’t know if it’s that they hate it, or they’ve just never tried it. They don’t seem to know what to do with it.”
Kohlrabi is related to cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, Brussels sprouts and collard greens. Its bulbous stem can be green or purple and it can be eaten raw or cooked.
Henry says he likes to make a slaw of raw shredded kohlrabi, finished with a light vinaigrette or creamy slaw dressing.
“It has a nice apple flavor,” he says.
Another option is a kohlrabi latke. Again, shred the kohlrabi, add some diced onion, “a little touch of onion and flour,” form into patties and saute.
“It makes a nice complement to a steak,” Henry says.
Ray Flowers, Sun Dawg Cafe, Greensburg
Sometimes called a “hillbilly mango,” the pawpaw tree is native to most states east of the Mississippi River and south of the Great Lakes, but its fruit is still unfamiliar to many people.
That’s possibly because its fragility makes it hard to transport, Flowers says. It’s only good for a day or two after picking.
It’s another food that people either love or hate, he says, mostly because of the texture.
“It’s like a softer version of a mango,” he says, which some people find literally hard to swallow.
With a flavor that hints at mango, banana and strawberry, it can be eaten raw, in the manner of a mango. The large seeds at the center are edible, but have a peppery flavor.
Pawpaws also can be baked into dessert-type breads or made into pudding or ice cream.
Dave Cassler, Carol and Dave’s Roadhouse, Ligonier
Most people who don’t like polenta object to the texture, along with the often bland flavor, Cassler says.
“They think of it as cornmeal mush, just a big bowl of mush,” he says.
Cassler says he has tweaked his polenta recipe to give it a more interesting texture: “It’s crispy and caramelized on the outside, while the inside is still really creamy.”
He pumps up the flavor, too, with the incorporation of lots of butter, cream and Parmesan cheese.
“If people tell me they don’t like polenta, I say, ‘Well, have you tried mine?'” he says.
Christophe Fichet, French Express, Latrobe
It sounds like a pastry to enjoy with an afternoon cup of tea or coffee, but that’s a far cry from what it is.
“Sweetbread” is the name given to the thymus or pancreas of a calf or lamb (or less commonly, beef or pork).
A distaste for — or fear of trying — organ meats is what makes them an “ugh” food for many people, Fichet says. When prepared properly, though, he says they are tender and moist, with a mild but rich flavor.
The sweetbreads should be soaked and blanched and any outer membrane removed. The next step often is to press them to a flatter, uniform thickness.
Fichet says he likes to braise them in a Madeira or white wine, with mirepoix (diced onions, celery and carrots) and fresh thyme. Slow cooking is key.
They should be basted often with the cooking liquid, he says, “until they’re nice and shiny, like a baby’s butt.”
If that image causes another “ugh” reaction, sweetbreads also can be grilled or breaded and fried.
Shirley McMarlin is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Shirley at 724-836-5750, [email protected] or via Twitter @shirley_trib.