Avid foodies and celebrity chefs, along with football's growing female audience, are influencing big-game grub. Let your guests think you're giving them the old standby snacks, then fake them out with a few gourmet twists.
Blue 42! Blue 42!
This Super Bowl Sunday, there will be lots of rushing, scrambling and snapping — on the field and at your buffet table. Just hope there's no tackling or horse collars at home.
Football is complicated. There are bootlegs, shotguns, nickel backs and nose tackles. I've been watching it for about five years, and I still sometimes forget which are plays and which are players.
I'm not alone. Millions of Americans will celebrate the Super Bowl this Sunday, many of whom think a "pigskin" refers to something on a nose-to-tail restaurant menu.
It doesn't matter. What does matter is that they know their nachos and beer.
The Super Bowl isn't a national holiday, but that doesn't stop more than 130 million Americans from treating it like one. This year marks only the 44th Super Bowl in American history. Yet, the Super Bowl is the second-biggest food consumption event after Thanksgiving. In the days leading up to the game, Americans spend more than $55 million on football-friendly fare.
For the most part, we're buying fun foods that are usually salty, fatty and fried. In other words, guy food. Munchies like pretzels, popcorn and chips and guacamole. Hand-held foods like chicken wings, barbecued ribs and pizza. Gutbusters like chili, gumbo and jambalaya. And beer. Lots of beer.
In many ways, the Super Bowl traditionally has been a male holiday, a day when men are encouraged to hang out together and eat as much as possible of their favorite foods. It's a day when it is expected you'll eat with your hands. China plates, glass stemware and ornate cutlery are out. Paper plates and huge plastic cups perfect for refills are in. Finger licking is requisite. How else do you get the chicken wing sauce off of your fingertips?
Things are changing, though. More women are watching the Super Bowl, according to Nielsen ratings. They're also participating in planning Super Bowl parties. Their influence, along with that of avid foodies and celebrity chefs such as Todd English and Bobby Flay, has spawned "gourmet" versions of Super Bowl favorites, such as chili made with filet mignon instead of ground beef, and lamb ribs instead of pork ribs. Wine is encroaching on beer's hallowed status.
Our tastes may be more sophisticated than they were 10 or 20 years ago, but where do we draw the line? Lobster chowder instead of clam chowder is upscale without being frou-frou, but does wine-poached salmon belong at a Super Bowl party? That depends on whom you ask. Purists will throw the red challenge flag at just about anything that veers from traditional football grub. Others are open to new interpretations of classic dishes. As for low-fat, low-carb and sugar-free, well, the ruling on the field stands: Keep them away from Super Bowl parties. It's not the kind of event where people want to count carbs and analyze the number of antioxidants in the black bean dip.
No doubt Colts and Saints fans will make regional favorites such as Indy-breaded pork tenderloin sandwiches and New Orleans gumbo. As for the millions of fans whose teams aren't in the big game, they'll most likely choose the usual favorites. I can't blame them. I will, too. But how about a little gourmet play-action pass? Make your guests think you're giving them the old standbys, but fake them out with a few twists.
Guacamole is highly versatile. Add brightness with fruit such as pomegranate seeds, pineapple or mango, or heat things up with chipotle chilies or Cajun seasonings.
For chili, substitute meats such as chicken, turkey or kobe beef for ground beef, or go vegetarian. Play around with unusual ingredients such as chocolate, coffee or beer.
Try new pizza toppings. Replace traditional pepperoni with pancetta, prosciutto, venison or even oysters. Experiment with different cheeses such as Asiago, gorgonzola and smoked Gouda.
Chicken wings are essential. If you're tired of buffalo wings with blue cheese dipping sauce — Can you actually get tired of buffalo wings? — then try Chinese, Thai or Indian spiced wings.
Consider braised short ribs instead of barbecued pork ribs, or nut-encrusted chicken tenders rather than nuggets.
Keep desserts simple. Cookies and brownies are the crowd favorites. Though no one would balk at a modern take on a nostalgic dessert, say a beer float made with coffee ice cream and full-bodied, chocolatey Guinness beer.
With this new playbook, you're guaranteed a victory this Super Bowl Sunday.