Saturday, July 27, 2013

Disambiguation You Can Eat

Now and then, right in the middle of an otherwise enjoyable meal, my headspace has been invaded by a question like, "What's the difference between frankfurters and wieners?" It's like an itch I can't scratch. Only, thanks to Google, I actually can scratch it. And here, boiled down to their essence, are some of the answers I've found to pesky questions about what makes the difference between two equally delicious things. At least now, you won't have to Google them yourself.

Wiener vs. Frankfurter
I guess this is the obvious starting point. When it comes to the two pieces of "tube steak," either of which can form the active ingredient in a hot dog, the real difference is that there is no difference—except, perhaps, whether the manufacturers trace their lineage back to Germany (where Frankfurt is) or to Austria (home of Vienna). Some hot-dog brands, however, market products under both appellations. The distinction, in those cases, probably exists more for marketing purposes. There is a perception, for example, that wieners are slightly smaller, or that franks tend to be made of a single kind of meat (such as all-beef or all-turkey) rather than a blend (such as chicken, pork, and turkey). But in my opinion, that perception is all a matter of carefully-crafted imagery.

Not a sausage in sight!
Wienerschnitzel vs. Jägerschnitzel
Here's where I begin to cut through some confusion and misinformation. Some popular answers to the question of what separates these two delicious morsels allege that one is made of veal, the other of pork; or that one is breaded, and the other isn't. The trouble is that they can't get straight which is which; reports conflict with each other. The most credible authorities, however, admit that both dishes may be made of pork, but are most authentically and preferably made of veal; breading is optional; and being pounded thin with a meat tenderizer before pan-frying is crucial. But the single factor that really determines which is which is the mushroom gravy. Jägerschnitzel has it. Wienerschnitzel does not. (A twist of lemon, however, would not go amiss.)

Cannelloni vs. Manicotti
The confusion between these two mouth-watering baked-pasta dishes is not helped by packaged pasta sold in grocery stores, nor by dishes offered on the menus of Italian-American restaurants, which treat the two as virtually interchangeable names for all but identical dishes. The only difference seems to be what you stuff the pasta tubes with. But actually, if you're stuffing ingredients into tube-shaped pieces of pasta out of a box, it's got to be manicotti. Righteous cannelloni starts with flat rectangles of dough, which are loaded with toppings and then rolled into a tube or shell shape before being cooked. The former tends to have a cheese-based filling and a red, tomatoey sauce (sometimes with meat and veggies added). The latter tends to be stuffed with the meat and veggies, and the sauce may be either red (marinara) or white (bechamel). And Roberto's your uncle.

Stromboli vs. Calzone
I've looked up the difference between these two delicacies on several websites, and some of the explanations I've found are pure static. Again, restaurants are no help—the products I have seen served under these very different names are sometimes nigh unto indistinguishable. And frankly I don't care what city each one originated in, or whether one of them got its name from a song lyric. What I really wanted to know (and now I can share with you) is that, although both dishes start with pizza dough and come out of a steaming oven, stromboli is conceptually a rolled-up sandwich while calzone is more of a folded-over pizza. So, essentially, it's what goes inside the dough that makes the difference.

Springrolls vs. Eggrolls
Depending on whether you dine out at a Chinese-, Vietnamese-, or Thai-themed restaurant, you may come up with a variety of ideas on what distinguishes these two appetizers. The trouble is that the boundary will seem to change as you go from one ethnic tradition to another. Are springrolls supposed to be fried or not? Are they supposed to be bigger or smaller than eggrolls? Is one more authentically Chinese and the other rather Indochinese? Actually, neither of these questions is quite the right question (though the third one is close). The difference is really in the dough. Springroll dough is made from more of a rice-noodle mixture, while eggroll dough is more egg-noodle based. Thus, whether uncooked or fried, the rolled part of the springroll will tend to be thinner than its eggroll counterpart.

Wontons vs. Potstickers
Again, wontons are made of a thinner type of dough, and they are more likely to end up either deep-fried to a crunchy crisp or floating in a soup. Potstickers, whether steamed, boiled, or pan-fried, are sheathed in a thicker dough and may also be slightly longer in shape.

Which Mexican Soup Should I Order?
You're at an authentic Mexican restaurant. You're thinking about starting with a soup. The first thing you should know is that the difference between a "small" bowl and a "large" bowl is not the same as the difference between a "cup" of soup and a "bowl" of soup at most restaurants. If you order a "small" bowl, you will get an honest-to-goodness bowl. It may even be bigger than the largest size of soup-bowl served at most restaurants. A "large" bowl, on the other hand, will be big enough to drown a litter of puppies in (or kittens, depending on your proclivities). After settling that part of your ordering decision, the only other thing you need to know is that: Pozole is made with pork parts (soup-bone-type pieces, such as the face, knees, and ankles); Menudo is made with with beef parts (and in this case, I use the word "parts" out of delicacy—put another way, the dish will pass through the part of you that the cow contributed to it); and Albóndigas is made with little spicy meatballs. Either Pozole or Albóndigas may also include little balls of hominy, sort of like a maize-based matzo soup. I recommend them all, though it takes guts (pun intended) to chew on the meat pieces in Menudo, once you start thinking about where they come from.

Chickpeas vs. Garbanzo Beans
There is actually no difference. They're the same thing.

Jam vs. Jelly
It's simple. Whole fruit = jam. Gelled fruit juice = jelly.

Whiskey, Bourbon, Rye, Brandy, or Schnapps?
Whiskey is a distilled liquor, usually barrel-aged, made by fermenting a mixture of water and malted grain. Certain types of whiskey, such as Scotch, Canadian Whiskey, Irish Whiskey, etc., are literally named after the country in which they were produced. Bourbon is an American variant of whiskey in which the grain in question is specifically corn. Rye is another version of whiskey featuring a particular variety of grain (which, funnily enough, is rye). Brandy, though similar in color and often aged in the same kind of barrels, is made by distilling wine. And anything purporting to be brandy, but made from fruit rather than wine, technically falls under the broad category of Eau-de-vie, which means "fruit-based distilled liquors." This broad category branches out into narrower ones delineated by their country of origin; for example, Schnapps comes from Germany. Some drinks that ride the boundary-line between brandy and eau-de-vie are the pomace brandies, such as grappa, made in Italy; these are made from what's left of the grapes after wine-making. And even these categories leave out a lot of choices for your next choosy bender.

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