Classic American Cuisine, America Eats, from Life in the USA: The Complete Guide for Immigrants and Americans

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apple pie cherry pie

Fresh-baked fruit pies at a farm stand typify classic American cuisine.


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Classic American Cuisine
Though the United States expresses its culinary culture in many types of regional and ethnic cuisines, there are certain foods that can be found on family dinner tables and restaurants in every region of the country; these dishes make up what may be called standard or classic American cuisine. They tend to be hearty, filling, and simple. It may be a joy to sample these dishes at the table or restaurant of a fine cook; it may be a chore to attempt to navigate these same dishes if they are not lovingly prepared.

The classic heavy American breakfast: eggs (fried, scrambled, poached, or fancy variations like eggs benedict), bacon, sausage or ham, corned beef hash, home-fried or hash brown potatoes, pancakes or waffles (in maple syrup).

The lighter American breakfast: cold cereal (corn flakes, oat flakes, granola, or sweetened children’s cereal) or hot cereal (oatmeal, cream of wheat), cottage cheese.

With either breakfast: muffins, toast, orange juice, coffee or tea.

The classic American lunch: hamburgers, frankfurters, sandwiches (BLT: bacon, lettuce and tomato, tuna salad, tuna melt, chicken salad, egg salad, grilled cheese, ham, sliced turkey, salami, roast beef, corned beef), macaroni and cheese casserole.

American dinner or cocktail party appetizers: deviled eggs, shrimp cocktail.

American classic meat main dishes tend to be based on beef, pork and chicken with some seafood. Pot roast is made from a usually inexpensive cut of beef oven-roasted in liquid with onions and other vegetables. Meat loaf consists of ground meat mixed with breadcrumbs or other fillers and flavorings, oven-roasted in a loaf pan. Pork chops are often pan fried. Chicken is roasted or pan or deep fried. Ribs (beef or pork) are usually slow cooked in a sweet or vinegar-based sauce. Steaks, chops, and fish fillets are pan-fried or broiled. Turkey is prepared for holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Casseroles (the term in the United States refers to the food, not the cooking dish) are baked dishes in which a main ingredient—canned tuna or often green beans—is combined with a starch (noodles) and various vegetables and flavorings, a thrifty, nutritious dish, easy to make well, equally easy to ruin.

Pot Pies are basically stew mixtures of chicken or beef cooked inside a pastry shell. These are frequently mass-produced frozen, though the fresh version can be excellent.

Common American side dishes are French fried potatoes, mashed potatoes, egg noodles, rice, baked beans, cole slaw, potato salad, macaroni salad, green salads with a wide array of dressings, and vegetables like carrots, broccoli, or green beans. Corn on the cob is typically American.

Among American classic desserts, apple pie has a deep connotation in American culture: mom, grandma, the doting aunt, home, warmth and family love. The adage is that some thing or institution is, “as American as apple pie.” Other fruit pies (cherry, peach, rhubarb) are also popular. Pecan and pumpkin pies may be served for occasions and holidays. A simple chocolate cake and ice cream will round out the meal.

Beverages for lunch or dinner: sodas (cola and citrus-based), juices (apple or orange), and beer. Wine is widely enjoyed but less so than in many other countries.

All this said, given American food trends today, these classic American dishes may well share the table, or share ingredients with, exotic foods and ingredients from around the world as well as with regional American staples. The influence of Mexican and southwestern American cooking is particularly strong.