American food refers to wide range of foods that have originated in the United States of America and form an integral part of the cuisine of the region. The American cuisine follows a food preparation style that bears the strong influences of the European culinary techniques, which laid their foundation during the European colonization of America. The cuisine further expanded throughout the 19th and 20th centuries following the influx of immigrants from several nations of the world, which diversified it manifold. Today, the American foods like Apple Pie, Fried Chicken, Hamburgers with French Fries, and Mashed Potato have become iconic foods that are recognized all over the world.
American cuisine can broadly be classified based on three regions -
- Latin American: This refers to traditional foods, beverages, recipes, and cooking styles prevalent in the various nations of Latin America. However, the cuisines and food habits of the people differ from nation to nation. Latin American foods have their own unique taste due the spices used such as guacamole, chimichurri, pico de gallo, mole, and pebre. It is also seen that every nation in Latin America has its own spice and the amount of spices used in the dishes also differ from country to country. Maize-based dishes of Latin America like tortillas, tamales, and pupusas have made Latin American cuisine a hot favorite across the world.
- North American: This refers to foods that are popular and native to countries like USA, Mexico and Canada. Interestingly, North American cuisines are heavily influenced by various international cuisines of the East and the West. Even Jewish cuisine has a big influence on North American food.
- Cuisine of the United States: The history of this cuisine dates back to the colonial period when American Indians followed a cooking style which was unique in terms of its ingredient usage. Gradually with the influence of the European cuisine, the methods of preparing foods changed to almost what is being followed in the modern era.
- Native American: This is the cuisine of the indigenous inhabitants of America also known as the First Nations or the Aboriginals who dwelled in America before the Columbian age. The cuisine contributed significantly to the modern day American cuisine. The festive turkey and cranberry, blueberry dishes, or hominy and mush which are popular dishes of the modern cuisine that have their roots in this primitive cuisine.
History of American Cuisine
The food prepared by the indigenous Americans was greatly influenced by the ingredients and styles of cooking brought to the continent by the colonial Europeans. The American cuisine of the 19th and the 20th centuries was dynamically incorporating new inclusions from various ethnic cuisines. The range of American recipes grew multifold with amazing variety and regional specializations. Though more stable in the present age, the trend of expansion is still observed in the American cuisine. The colonial Britons after seriously endeavoring to establish the British cuisine, were successful in establishing a cuisine similar to the original British cuisine which dominated till the Revolution. In the meantime, the French culinary influence on the American cuisine was also observed though it was not very well established. The Acadian French (Louisiana), Spanish, Dutch, Caribbean and African cuisines influenced the Southern cuisine. The new age American cuisine spanning the 20th and the 21st centuries comprises a medley of dishes from not only the European cuisine, but also from all the other cuisines of the world, one of the most prominent of which is the Asian cuisine.
Commonly Used Ingredients in American Recipes
North, Central, and South America are historically known to present to the world the best American recipes. Ingredients used in various American foods are diverse, but some of the most important ones include avocado, chili pepper, chocolate, corn, papaya, peanut, potato, pineapple, tomato and vanilla.
Popular Methods of Cooking
In the primitive ages, American food was cooked by grilling, spit-roasting ( a method of cooking done over a pit), and stone boiling( a method in which hot stones were added to water in a pot to bring it to boiling point and cook the food in it). Even cooking in a bison stomach sac or hide were popular practices. Primitive hornos or adobo ovens were also used. The food was cooked in the ashes of the fire lighted for cooking. The methods of cooking were region specific. Mostly root vegetables and meat were cooked by these methods. The French and other European colonial cuisines introduced new styles of cooking in America. The Louisiana cuisine was one of the first cuisines to be developed by the colonial French. Brick baking ovens, ice houses, and poultry farms were the main features of the American cooking in the middle ages. Contemporary American food and methods of cooking are usually designed to suit a busy and fast lifestyle. Cooking is largely dependent on the usage of electrical gadgets and readily available commercial ingredient preparations. There is no one dominant or centralized method of cooking in the American cuisine. The methods of cooking adopted by the American cuisine are an interesting medley of major types like baking, barbecuing, braising, blanching, stewing, chilling, and boiling.
Internationally Popular American Foods
It is still believed that hamburgers, apple pie, and potato chips have shape the American gastronomy. Some of the American food items that make it great are:
- New England clam chowder (Massachusetts) - a creamy clam and meat (salt pork or bacon) soup made with potatoes and onions, and thickened with a base of hardtrack crackers.
- Pastrami (New York) - a meat preparation savored as a bread accompaniment, as hamburger topping or independently as a stuffed roll. This delicatessen beef or turkey dish is prepared in several steps that involve brining, partial drying, seasoning with herbs and spices, smoking and lastly steaming.
- Smithfield Ham - a type of cured ham from Smithfield belonging to the category of country hams.
- Po-boys - a meat or seafood traditional sandwich made with a Louisiana styled submarine bread resembling a French baguette.
- Fajitas - a Tex-Mex tortilla with a grilled meat (traditionally the skirt steak) topping
- Chicago Hot Dogs - Obviously created in Chicago this hot dog has a poppy seed bun with grilled, steamed or boiled beef and mustard ,onion , tomato, cucumber, or pickled relish toppings. Ketchup is traditionally omitted in the assemblage.
- Chile Verde - a spicy American- Mexican chili and pork sauce or stew popularly used as a filling for the San Francisco Burrito.
- San Francisco Sourdough - The dough that is used to make the San Francisco sourdough bread which is known for its unique sour flavor.
- Olympia Oysters - a popular seafood preparation of the San Francisco and Pacific regions of America. Apart from these, some of the most popular traditional American dishes include Cooney island Hot dogs, fried chicken, potato fries and hamburgers.
American Cuisine - A Typical Meal
American food is generally consumed as a three course meal comprising of breakfast, lunch and dinner with snacks to appease in-between meal hunger.
- Breakfast - The ideal full breakfast, also known as country breakfast of the Canadians and Americans includes eggs, meat ( which may be pork rolls, chicken fried steak, bacon, sausage or ham), toasted bread(which may be wheat, white or rye ), potato( hash browned or cottage fried), fresh fruit and fruit juice/ coffee. The lighter version of this breakfast is known as continental breakfast. The Sunday or Big Breakfast of the Southerners includes grits, cinnamon rolls, biscuits and gravy, or pancakes in place of those in the ideal Northern menu. The Canadian breakfast includes buckwheat galletes, pommes persillade, crepes, cretons, and maple syrup. The Central American menu includes fry jacks, a dough item resembling beignets. The Central American menu includes fried bananas, refried bean dish and tortillas in the breakfast menu.
- Lunch - the traditional American lunch consists of hamburgers complemented with French fries. Sandwiches, pizza or hot dogs are other dishes which are included in the lunch menu. Soups may be consumed as appetizers and salads are popular accompaniments. The Americans like to complete their meal with coke. The American cuisine usually prescribes a light menu for lunch.
- Dinner - traditionally, it includes meat accompanied with meat recipes. The meat is roasted or fried chicken, pork, meatloaf or steak, which is served with vegetables, amongst which potatoes are a compulsory fare. Green bean, peas, carrots, and corn recipes are other vegetable accompaniment dishes. Bread and butter may be included in the dinner menu . Lastly, cow milk is served. Apple pie, chocolate chip cookies and iced cake are typical desserts served at dinner.
- Snacks and fast food - Potato chips, knot pretzels, popcorn, tortilla chips, cheese puffs and cracker jacks are some of the American foods served as typical snacks. Hamburgers, were by far, the traditional fast food of the Americans. Fried chicken, fish and chips, chicken nuggets, sandwiches, pizza, tacos, pita breads, hot dogs, and ice cream are other fast foods that have gained prominence in contemporary food culture.
American Cuisine - Eating Habits
American food habits involve eating a heavy breakfast and dinner with an interim light lunch. Dinner, as compared to other cultures, is usually consumed early, between 6-7 PM. The dining etiquette is quite relaxed in comparison to that of a lot of other countries. One should know the correct usage of cutlery and also, the host should set the meal table wisely. The fork is held with the right hand while the knife with the left. They are placed as a cross on the plate to indicate that eating of the meal is not over. They are placed on the sides of the plate parallel to it to indicate the completion of a meal. Hands may at times be used for eating foods that are suitable for consuming that way. One should feel free to refuse food which is not liked on the dinner table. A small amount of food may be left on the plate after the completion of a meal.
Famous Chefs of American Cuisine
- James Beard- who won the title of the Father of American Gastronomy was one of the greatest trainers of American cooking and author of classic cookbooks.
- Grant Achatz - contemporary chef and restaurateur who contributed significantly to menu design and won the "Best Chef of United States Awards" from the James Beard Foundation in 2008.
- Bobby Flay - celebrity chef and restaurateur who hosted Food Network, Iron Chef and other television shows.
- Alton Brown - a multifaceted foodie who created the Food Networks, authored a number of cookery books particularly the "How to" ones and also hosted a number of TV shows.
- Todd Gray - a revolutionary contemporary American chef
Health Benefits of American Recipes
American food, which is a collection of the best foods from different cuisines of the world is ideally healthy. But in recent years, the healthiness of the American diet is being questioned, not because of the inherent characteristics of the American recipes themselves, but because of the food preferences and lifestyles of the people of that country. Owing to a busy lifestyle many Americans have started resorting to unhealthy, commercially packaged, readily available food and harmful beverages. The eating of junk and fast foods increased amongst the younger generation over the recent years. However, with the growing health consciousness amongst a sector of the general mass and adoption of healthy food choices like a vegan or organic food, and taking simple and low calorie foods, it is expected that American food is going to be one of the healthiest in the world once more. Chocolate, corn, vanilla, avocados, papaya, squash, beans, potatoes, chili peppers are all native American ingredients used by the Aztecs long before the colonials arrived on the continent. Without the introduction of various food ingredients by the Native Americans there would have been no tomatoes in Italy and no potatoes and vanilla in Europe. The culinary landscape of this globe would have been very different.