When less is more and when more is more…

I’ve been thinking about this a bit due to spending some time on Reddit’s cooking subs and a common belief there that everything needs to be charred, seared, browned, etc and food automatically being superior when cooked with methods that achieve this. They are aghast at the idea of meat (and also vegetables) being BOILED :scream: (which people often use to mean simmered or even poached because not everyone knows exact cooking terms). Meanwhile I enjoy quite a number of dishes that involve cooking meat in this way, such as Hainan chicken rice, pot au feu, bollito misto, bo ssam, pork belly with garlic from northern Chinese restaurants, and others. Heck, your typical tacos de lengua and many other taco fillings are traditionally simply simmered and given a sear when it’s time to assemble the taco. For me, a lot of times less is more.

Another example is dumplings. I tend to prefer boiled or steamed dumplings to fried ones most times. I enjoy how clean the flavor of a well-made dumpling is when cooked this way. Yes I know the textural aspect of fried dumplings is nice, and sometimes I want that, but more times than not I like my dumplings boiled.

Helen Rennie swears by caramelizing cabbage, but each time I’ve tried caramelized cabbage I’ve found the end result to be worse than quick sauté or other cooking methods like braising. I do enjoy charred cabbage, but for me caramelized cabbage tastes pretty bad. The flavor is far more sulfurous and less sweet to my tastebuds than other cooking methods. Nothing has ultimately been able to salvage cabbage cooked this way for me.

On the flip side, there’s brown butter. While I don’t think EVERYTHING needs brown butter as some do, when I do brown it, I will never, ever strain it as is common practice. There has never been a time when I regretted adding all those solids to whatever I was making. Not once have I thought there was a negative effect from leaving them in. I WANT those dark solids in there! MORE solids!
If you’re like me on this, I recommend adding milk powder to the butter, btw.

So what is a case of “less is more” and when is it “more is more” for all of you?


Brocoli and Brussels sprouts.

Steamed, a light dash of salt. Nothing else.

In my case, less and less and less is definitely mucho more.


I prefer most of our local shellfish simply prepared and not gussied up - steamed lobster/steamed soft shell clams with melted butter, simply sautéed or broiled scallops, oysters on the half shell with lemon, lobster salad with a minimum of mayo (no onion, no celery, no herbs - please!). I love the briny and clean taste of the sea when I eat these things.


Mac and cheese.

Two ingredients in that name. Ok, a little butter or milk to provide something to melt the cheese into, but really. Pasta. Cheese.

Pulled pork is delicious enough on its own. Ditto lobster. Ditto ‘whatever your favorite protein’.

Mac and Cheese is a thing unto itself. It is creamy warm comfort food, which may (or may not) be a particular not-quite-found-in-nature orange and needs no additions, addendums, or accompaniments.

Fettuccine Alfredo is Mac and Cheese for grownups. It doesn’t need chicken or shrimp being obliterated by drowning in Parm. Reg.

Thank you for coming to my Ted Talk.


In the less-is-more department: fresh wild salmon. Seasonings, maybe some lemon or herbs, a glaze if you absolutely must, but no more. Anytime I see a recipe calling for fussy preperation of fresh wild salmon, I assume the author is getting some pretty mediocre fish, or has ruined the fantastic beast.


And, to argue with myself…

… sushi. Sometimes, it’s very much ‘less is much, MUCH more’. Really good, I mean, REALLY good fish needs very little. Maybe nothing at all. A sashimi slice can be revelatory. A single piece of really well done nigiri can bliss you out like little else.


I will admit to being a sucker for the Spicy-Dragon-Tuna-Rainbow-With-Garlic-Sauce-over-krab-salad-avocado roll. Especially if you throw something tempura-ish in there. Creamy, crunchy, chewy umami bombs with too much fake wasabi. Yes. All the yes.


I, on the other hand, would avoid like the plague any sushi place that served Spicy-Dragon-Tuna-Rainbow-With-Garlic-Sauce-over-krab-salad-avocado rolls in the first place.

But you can give me a plate of nachos topped with an entire salad bar’s worth of nonsense, and I will be very happy.

I do prefer my seafood mostly unadorned - steamed lobster, crab cocktail, clams on the half shell, etc. But grilled shrimp are pretty great, too.


The rainbow-spicy-whatever is to sushi what Taco Bell is to Mexican food.

Sometimes, you REALLY want Taco Bell.




I never want Taco Bell. But I definitely do want McDonald’s Filet-o-Fish, or even better, Popeye’s fish sandwich.

I feel like we’re about to segue into an intro from Stephen Colbert’s Meanwhile.


Less is more…
Pizza comes to mind. Baked at high temperatures (I use an ooni oven). Simple & minimal toppimgs. Tomato, cheese, basil :wink:


The less you do with a ingredient is better. I never understood why someone would take a piece of protein, starch , or vegetable and dump all this unnecessary seasoning on them .

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Unless you’re making kimchi …

Or pickling.

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There are quite a few cooking traditions that don’t regard a lot of seasoning as “unnecessary.”


Yes, a case could definitely be made.

That assumes a good quality ingredient to start with.

Coq au vin was a dish designed to make old, tough rooster meat palatable. Much of western (French inspired) cooking is about working with tough, gamey, sometimes verging on spoiled meat. All the sauces were ways to mask and modify those qualities. And WHY all of western Europe went nuts for spices, to the point of global colonialism and a little light genocide here and there.

There are lots of different schools of thought among the world’s cuisines as to the importance of seasonings, flavorings, ingredient freshness and quality, etc. There is no right answer.

Eat the things you like, the way you like to eat them, preferably among people you also like. That’s the best recipe for any meal of any kind that I know of.


I’m not sure if I understand the question, but if by ‘less’ you mean ingredients in a dish that haven’t been fucked with too much, I’d have to say sashimi or crudo, and nigiri. I never understood the compulsion to cover good quality fish in tons of mayo sauces. Same with grilled fish and steak - the freshness of the fish or flavor/meat quality of the steak should shine through, and not require saucing to make it palatable.

More is more… good cheese, unadorned. My PIC’s pistachio ice cream. Swoon.

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It’s really about how there are no set rules. Sometimes simpler is better and sometimes it’s not. But as I mentioned in my examples, there’s a pervasive belief that because Maillard reaction is good, things that are cooked without taking advantage of it can’t be good. But what you get with different cooking methods can vary and sometimes be preferable for some of us.
I love roast chicken with crispy skin, but I also love Hainan chicken rice or steamed ginger-scallion chicken. They even have roasted versions of Hainan chicken rice, and they’re certainly good, but not better to my mind, just different, and if given a choice I prefer the classic.

@ipsedixit touched on it because I see it with vegetables a lot, too. I see a lot of “why would you steam or blanch broccoli instead of roasting it?” Well, because the result is different and sometimes I might want that.
Or another one is throwing cheese into different foods just because cheese is good. Cheese is good, but I can think of many instances where it added nothing. That doesn’t mean it’s always superfluous, though.


FIFY. :wink:

I almost went with “continents.”

I almost went with planets.

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