I’ll just tell y’all: I am not a food snob! Not. At. All. Rather, I simply enjoy pure flavors and fresh ingredients and deeply appreciate the skill of a true culinary pro using the proper technique to craft a dish. I’ve spent most of my adult life pursing excellence within the hospitality industry. That excellence can be evident on many levels—not only in fine-dining establishments, but in casual, everyday cuisine. You’ll see me enjoying breakfast at T-Ray’s, where the chef-owner has quite a flair for making the best, most personalized hash browns on Amelia Island (and no doubt beyond), and you’ll see me at dinner, enjoying the competence and confidence SALT’s Chef Ricky displays conjuring delectable dishes The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island is known for. At every price point, for every cuisine category, there’s fantastic, tasty, well-made food.
The opposite’s also true. At every price point, for every cuisine category, there’s insipid, dull, poorly made food. (Here’s looking at you, Corporate Restaurants of America.) Just because an edible item is popular and ubiquitous doesn’t mean it’s good, tasty or healthful. You want examples? OK, here’s one: Today I’m all worked up about that revolting, nauseating, gag-inducing, industrial-chemical-tasting, concoction known as Ranch Dressing!
May I share a little secret, just between us gastronomes? I HATE BOTTLED RANCH DRESSING. IT REVOLTS ME. Just the other day, one of my guests asked if I had any in my kitchen. NO … and I never will. I’ve never had the putrid, gut-wrenching OOZE in any of my kitchens and I never, ever, ever, ever will.
Ranch dressing was created, innocently enough, by a California dude ranch owner. The basic ingredients were a blend of fresh garlic, herbs, buttermilk and sour cream. Yum. Sounds delicious and fresh—the inverse of what it is today. In the 21st century, you get industrial ranch dressing—and the modern industrial food industry is not in the business of pedaling pure, unadulterated flavors. No, the top concerns the mondo “food” outfits have are to make the product as cheaply as possible, and be sure it’s shelf-stable, lasting until the end of time.
Here’s a short list of 22 or so ingredients in a bottle of a popular ranch dressing brand: phosphoric acid, xanthan gum, modified food starch, monosodium glutamate, artificial flavors, disodium phosphate, sorbic acid and calcium disodium edta as preservatives, disodium inosinate and disodium guanylate. Verbatim. Does those words spell Y-U-M-M-Y T-U-M-M-Y to you? To me, they read more like a list of noxious chemicals dug up at an EPA superfund site, contaminated by hazardous waste and identified by said EPA as candidates for a serious cleanup because they pose risks to human health and/or the environment. Definitely not wholesome. And, hey, do you really like the taste? Or are you holding on to some long-ago flavor memory from before the industrial food industry took over and injected fake flavor chemicals into the bottled muck?
Now you know what’s in that slop, so STOP BUYING IT. Instead, take five minutes to make your own fresh, delicious, good-for-you dressing. I’m sharing a favorite this week.
Chef Bill’s BUTTERMILK DRESSING
• 2 shallots • 1 minced garlic clove
• 2 Tbsp. chopped parsley • 2 Tbsp. chopped basil
• 1 tsp. Dijon mustard • 1 egg yolk
• 3 Tbsp. sherry vinegar • 9 ounces canola oil
• 4 ounces olive oil • 1 ounce buttermilk
• 1 tsp. black pepper • Salt to taste
1. Combine shallots, garlic clove, parsley, basil, Dijon mustard, egg yolk and sherry vinegar in a container that can hold at least 20 ounces. Blend with hand mixer until smooth.
2. Slowly start adding canola oil.
3. Add olive oil. The mixture should be the consistency of mayo.
4. Mix in buttermilk.
5. Adjust seasoning.