Does the United States have a classic American cuisine?
America, from our very beginning, was a cross-cultured people, with diverse languages, traditions, methods, and cuisines.
In those early years, our only commonality was the indigenous ingredients found in this bountiful land. While there were skirmishes and unrest, misunderstandings and barriers, in order to survive, the peoples of this land found that food could help bridge that wide cultural divide.
When considering American cuisine, one has to look at the abundant natural resources found here in the 16th and 17th centuries. Native Americans hunted, trapped, fished, gathered wild plants, cultivated and grew from seed foods every spring. Indigenous ingredients part of their everyday diet were foods like:
With Native American aid, settlers adapted to this new land, learning how to find and grow food. Bringing with them innovation, like the grist mills, they also brought their own unique blend of traditions, including livestock like chickens, goats, sheep and cows. And together they began to form a new land, a melting pot of flavors, textures and goodness we can see reflected in our food — even in the 21st century.
When considering the question of what constitutes American classic cuisine. The answer is… there isn’t really a “classic” cuisine. But when you look at ingredients, you see the trend. As the Native Americans did, we find ourselves eating locally, eating seasonally and eating many of the same ingredients, with new flavors, twists, and adaptations, just as the Pilgrims and the Native Americans before us.
Do we have a classic American Cuisine? Regionally, we most definitely have our culinary differences. Yet from region to region across America we find hints of our Founding Cuisine.
New England cuisine is noted for its seafood, “a legacy inherited from coastal tribes like the Wampanoag and Narragansett, who equally used the rich fishing banks offshore for sustenance. Favorite fish include cod, salmon, winter flounder, haddock, striped bass, pollock, hake, bluefish, and, in southern New England, tautog.” However, in addition to fish and shellfish, New England is also known for its meats, like Yankee Pot Roast and boiled meats.
While in my mind, I can’t help but think of Clambakes as the perfect meal to symbolize New England regional cuisine, we chose instead:
New England Clam Chowder
The mid-Atlantic region (New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Pennsylvania and Northern Maryland) has been a cross-culture amalgamation of flavors since its founding in 1653 by the Dutch. New York City is and always was a major cultural capital of the United States where immigrants from every corner of the world have influenced its cuisine like the Dutch, Italian, German, Irish, British, and Jewish.
Dishes of note originating or popularized in New York City include; The New York Strip Steak, Lobster Newberg, Waldorf salad, vichyssoise, and eggs benedict. But did you know this region is also responsible for American classics like; apple pie, cole slaw, hot dogs, mayonnaise, doughnuts, waffles and all forms of pasta like spaghetti and macaroni and cheese? Just to name a few. “The original Dutch settlers of New York brought recipes they knew and understood from the Netherlands… in many quarters of New York their version of apple pie with a streusel top is still baked… their predilection for waffles in time evolved into the American national recipe, and they also made coleslaw, originally a Dutch salad. The internationally famous American doughnut began its life originally as a New York pastry that arrived in the 18th century as the Dutch olykoek.
But it’s Baltimore where they host the annual Maryland Crab Feast that we’ll head for the mid-Atlantic region:
Get the recipe at Fine Cooking.
The Midwest region (states comprised near The Great Lakes and The Great Plains). This is a land filled almost endless waves of grain, a vast prairie land populated only by interwarring nomadic tribes like the Sioux, Osage, Arapaho, and Cheyenne. These tribes survived on plants from the Three Sisters which are beans, maize and squash. The region is known for its roaming herds of bison, as well as vast corn and wheat production.
With an influx of Eastern and Northern Europeans, regional cuisine certainly represents those cultures. In particular, the Germans from Russia, immigrated in large numbers into the Dakotas, influencing common dishes. See our Apple Kuchen recipe, a favorite any time of the year. But whether it’s Cinnanati Chili or Kansas City Barbecue, the Midwest offers an abdunant supply of classic American cuisine.
Kansas City Ribs
Get the recipe at Food Network.
Sources say, European influence began soon after the settlement of Jamestown in 1607 and the earliest recipes emerging by the end of the 17th century. To the upper portion of the South, French Huguenots brought the concept of making rouxs for sauces and soups, and later French settlers hunted for frogs in the swamps to make frog’s legs. Germans often settled in Appalachia on small farms or in the backcountry and invented an American breakfast delicacy, apple butter, based on their recipe for Apfel kraut, and later introduced red cabbage and rye. Settlers from the UK, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, brought seed stock for peaches, plums, and apples to grow orchards. The staples meat of the South is pork.
And to the American South, we look for the quintessential American food, Fried Chicken. This recipe went viral.
Fried Chicken in the 18th Century
This region comprises of state in the Four Corners (Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah) plus Nevada, Southern California and West Texas. Originally part of the Spanish Empire for more than two centuries before California’s statehood in the 1830s, immigrants from Mexico and Central America largely influece its regional cuisine. High quality beef is a feature of this region known for its cowboys and cattle ranches.
Cuisine in this region tends to have certain key ingredients: tomatoes, onions, black beans, pinto beans, rice, bell peppers, and cheese, in particular Monterey Jack, invented in Southern California in the 19th century. Chili peppers, namely the Anaheim and Hatch, play an important role in the cuisine. Cornbread is also a favorite. Outdoor cooking is popular and still utilizes an old method settlers brought from the East with them, in which a cast iron dutch oven is covered with the coals of the fire and stacked or hung from a tripod: this is very different from the earthenware pots of Mexico.
America has been in love with Southwest cooking for ages. We all have our favorites and most likely regularly appear in our weekly menus.
To bring a little corn and a little cast iron flavor to our classic American cuisines, we choose
Cast Iron Skillet Cornbread
Get the recipe here.
The Pacific Northwest as a region generally includes Alaska and the state of Washington near the Canadian border and terminates near Sacramento, California. Here, the terrain is mostly temperate rainforest on the Coast mixed with pine forest as one approaches the Canadian border inland. One of the core favorite foodstuffs is Pacific salmon, native to many of the larger rivers of the area and often smoked or grilled on cedar planks. In Alaska, wild game like ptarmigan and moose meat feature extensively since much of the state is wilderness. Fresh fish like steelhead trout, Pacific cod, Pacific halibut, and pollock are fished for extensively and feature on the menu of many restaurants, as do a plethora of fresh berries and vegetables, like Cameo apples from Washington state, the headquarters of the U.S. apple industry, cherries from Oregon, blackberries, and marionberries, a feature of many pies. Hazelnuts are grown extensively in this region and are a feature of baking, such as in chocolate hazelnut pie, an Oregon favorite, and Almond Roca is a local candy.
Crabs are a delicacy, and included in this are Alaskan king crab, red crab, yellow crab, and the world famous Dungeness crab. Californian and Oregonian sportsmen pursue the last three extensively using hoop nets, and prepare them in a multitude of ways. Alaska king crab, able to get up to 10 kg, is often served steamed for a whole table with lemon butter sauce or put in chunks of salad with avocado, and native crabs are the base of dishes like the California roll, cioppino, a tomato-based fisherman’s stew, and Crab Louie, another kind of salad native to San Francisco. Favorite grains are mainly wheat, and the region is famous for sourdough bread. Cheeses of the region include Humboldt Fog, Cougar Gold and Teleme.
Seattle Style Crab Cioppino
Get the recipe here.