I usually tell people that I make "healthful comfort food", but I recently realized how hard it is to articulate what that means. Isn't any enjoyable food comforting to some extent? I've found that whether or not a food comforts me has almost nothing to do with how unhealthy, or healthy, the meal is. For me, comfort food is intensely satisfying in texture, has rich flavor, and offers brightness too. For me, balance is comfort.
My ultimate comfort meal, which would also be my last meal on Earth if I had control over that matter, would be braised short ribs in a beefy red wine reduction, served over chunky mashed potatoes and lemony garlicky roasted vegetables. I love the way short ribs fall apart with ease, but still have enough of a bite that you need to chew them. I also crave that deeply flavorful red wine broth reduction, and how it flows over a mountain of not-too-smooth mashed potatoes and roasted vegetables.
My fiance Andrew's ultimate comfort meal is Rigatoni Bolognese, for many of the same reasons I mentioned. He described the texture as being perfectly comforting- the al dente rigatoni having a nice bite, but "you don't have to work for it" and the velvety slow cooked ground beef enveloping each noodle's ridges and crevices. "It's also just so beefy." We clearly like beef.
There are comforting aspects of almost everything we eat. One of my favorite and most surprisingly comforting meals I've had out was last New Years Eve at Vandal in NYC- Salmon with Wasabi Pea Pesto. It was light and healthy, the perfect late dinner before going out out (remember those days?) yet so incredibly satisfying. I wasn't fully prepared for the nutty bite of herby spicy pesto, followed by the soft, velvety texture of the perfectly cooked piece of salmon I was about to enjoy. Plus I was equally comforted by the lack of bloat that typically ensues after eating my entire appetizer, entree, and dessert at an awesome restaurant. I snapped a picture and took mental notes of the words "crunchy", "spicy", "herby", and "buttery" as memory aides for when I'd eventually attempt the dish myself a few weeks later. I may never enjoy this exact dish again, as Vandal has permanently closed due to the COVID-19 Pandemic.
Then there's the comfort of friends and family with whom you eat. I'm obviously not the first genius to recognize this. It's likely that eating my Grandma's lasagna, for example, with my big Italian family every Christmas and Easter growing up is at least part of the reason I find lasagna to be as comforting as it is. I wonder what I would have thought of the salmon if I had eaten it alone on any other night of the year. I wonder how I'd feel about lasagna if family holidays were chaotic disasters every year. Maybe our associations with these widely-used textures and flavor profiles force us to crave more of them, in different forms and variations, depending on where we are, and what we need in that moment.
What are some of your favorite comfort foods? Why?