Standard: Peanut Butter & Jelly
July 13 2014
It’s pretty safe to say that American cuisine has turned a corner. No longer the stuff of Velveeta and Cambell’s-soup-based casseroles, the country’s regional, ethnic and populist midcentury dishes have been modernized, tarted-up and remixed for a new generation. Southern barbecue or New England clam chowder, made with care and rendered in quality ingredients, can now hold their own against any coq au vin or vichyssoise. And leaving aside scary issues of GMOs and nefarious corporate food interests, in terms of sheer imaginative variation, the USA has become easily one the best places on earth for everyday fantastic food.
The PB&J, though, is one pillar of American chow that hasn’t quite reached the halls of haute cuisine. It turns out to be quite the contentious little sandwich, and positively everyone seems to have exacting and deeply-held preferences about their own—probably because it was the first dish any number of us were able to prepare solo. The number of variations is infinite, and the term “PB&J” even seems to have grown into a bit of a coverall for any number of sandwiches loosely related to the original—many don’t have jelly or jam at all.
As an archetype, the PB&J is nondescript, smooth peanut butter and purple jelly spread on processed white bread—the classic shut-up-and-eat variety your babysitter might have made. But in practice, we found (lunatics) even in our own studio with affinities for PB&J’s laced with hot sauce, cheese, Karo syrup, fresh and dried fruits, sprinkles, curious space-age Marshmallow fluff, and meat. Our little buddy below even comes to life with arthritic Cheetos legs and vicious raisin eyes.
Wonder Bread toast be damned, too. Any carbohydrate patty is fair game: bagel or English muffin, on a baguette or on rye. There’s a certain subset who even prefer theirs toasted, which makes for a molten delight unfit for eating in the presence of others. Some even prefer Uncrustables, a ready-made gringo empanada of sorts injected with 0% fruit jelly and rather oily peanut butter. Some take theirs with coffee. Others with wine.
So for as icky as any single variant might seem, the PB&J is nonetheless an extraordinarily rich canvas on which to experiment. Done well, they can be downright delicious—even gourmet—and we’re suckers for platforms that invite us to break the rules. Cobbled together any way you like, the humble PB&J may well be the most democratic food of modern times. Maybe just keep the stinky stuff to yourselves.
For good measure, we even tried out drinkable grown-up version. While it might be a bit much alongside a PB&J, its combination of hazelnut and raspberry, tastes surprisingly like its namesake and is just about as easy to make. Bring it along on a summertime picnic.
a cocktail shaker
Combine a half shot of each liqueur, shake with ice, then strain and pour.