Gourmet or Generic: Attempting to make fancy versions of regular foods

Elena Higuchi and Annabel Tiong

There are a couple of tried-and-true classics of the American diet that never fail to satisfy us after a long day of work or school. From frozen finger food to popularized candies, we tasked ourselves with taking these classics to a new level, much like the YouTube series “Gourmet Makes” by American chef Claire Saffiz. Using our best discretion as to what constitutes “gourmet” food, we will be attempting to transform three popular foods into versions fit for fine-dining experiences. Key word: attempting.

Marshmallows – 

Using this recipe from Nielsen Massey, I felt deceptively confident about the process and outcome. I ended up with glutinous sugar cubes with a rice cake consistency. If that’s how gourmet applies to marshmallows, then I suppose I succeeded.

One of the things that many people neglect when handling sensitive ingredients, especially heat-sensitive ingredients, is that cooking is very closely tied to science. I didn’t have a candy thermometer, and I thought I could fare without it, but the gelatin quickly became way too thick, way too fast. I also didn’t have a stand mixer, so I held an electric mixer until my arm threatened to sue me for violating safe labor regulations and still didn’t achieve the consistency that was described. 

These were all minor inconveniences compared to the actual issue. The smell was awful. I omitted the vanilla bean paste because other recipes mentioned it would be okay, but unflavored gelatin is not a friend of the nose. It can be best described as the odor emitted from a dog’s wet tail. Needless to say, when I ate it, it just tasted extremely sweet and mushy. Luckily, the smell didn’t come through in the flavor, so it was still edible, but far from good.

I’ve always enjoyed cooking recipes where there was freedom to omit a few things and add in your own spin on the dish, but I realized from this experience that sometimes the recipe should be strictly adhered to. I also thought combining advice from multiple sources would be alright, but when dealing with temperamental materials like gelatin, it’s best to ensure that the recipe steps are being treated as law.

Now I will say, some gourmet dishes appeal to odd palates, so perhaps there is hope. But next time, I’ll get a candy thermometer. Or just buy marshmallows.

Bagel bites – For this one, I chose not to find a recipe, following my own creative vision instead. I purchased ready-to-bake pizza crust from the frozen food aisle, tomato sauce, pepperoni and shredded mozzarella cheese and assembled the bites myself. 

The pizza crust was a bit tough to roll into perfectly “bagel bite” shaped circles, but I realized that once you layer on the pizza sauce, the uneven surface is not visible, so it doesn’t really matter. Besides the unnecessary amount of time I obsessed over getting the dough to form balls, it was extremely simple. I simply used a spoon to spread on the sauce, sprinkled some cheese and pepperoni and then placed them inside the oven for about 15 minutes.

They came out delicious and with a much stronger pizza flavor than actual bagel bites. I suspect the freezing and reheating process of bagel bites dilutes some of the actual sauce and cheese freshness, and nothing can beat the warm gooeyness of pizza bites right out of the oven. Thus, I would consider these a success, both in taste and presentation. The process was also simple enough for an amateur (amateur might be generous) chef like me to follow, so I think anyone could make these for a movie night snack or for a party. They are sure to amaze!

Chicken nuggets

I followed a recipe on seriouseats.com to make these chicken nuggets. This was my first time handling raw chicken or frying foods, but it turned out to be a less daunting task than I originally anticipated. Though the process of making these nuggets was messy, the end result of a crispy outside and a juicy chicken made the journey worthwhile. 

My least favorite part of making the nuggets was when I had to blend chicken breast in my smoothie blender. The recipe called for a food processor but since I didn’t have one, I resorted to defiling my Vitamix with a pound of raw chicken. From then on, it was pretty simple. I rolled my chicken into little balls and flattened them into shapes that loosely resemble McDonald’s chicken nuggets. Afterwards, I put the nuggets into the batter and began frying them, which seemed scary at first, but turned out to be doable. Instead of an instant-read thermometer to check the heat of the oil, I periodically dropped in droplets of batter and waited until the oil erupted into a flurry of bubbles. I fried the nuggets five at a time and cooked them until they turned golden-brown. 

The chicken nuggets were scrumptious! The chicken was savory and so juicy that I could’ve just eaten the chicken part alone, but the flavorful crust complimented the chicken exquisitely and made a delicious pairing. My only disappointment was that the crust was not evenly crunchy throughout the nugget. I would invest in an instant-read thermometer to make sure oil is hot enough to create a more even texture. 

I would definitely recommend making these gourmet chicken nuggets. They’re beginner-friendly and great to share with family and friends.