We need no further proof that the food columnists of The New York Times consider Mississippi a culinary backwater than the January 26, 2016 article about the “improbable rise” of “Mississippi Roast.”
Credited to Robin Chapman from Ripley, Mississippi, this ranch-riddled beef became a web phenomenon, “a favorite of the mom-blog set”. Chapman–who was interviewed by Times writer Sam Sifton for the article,–simply called it “roast” (and still does). The recipe involves beef chuck topped with a packet of dry ranch dressing mix, a packet of dry “au jus” gravy, a stick of butter, and a few pepperoncini.
Chapman claims it’s riff off a recipe she received from an aunt who used packaged Italian dressing. But Robin wanted something “milder” (the word is in quotes in the Times article), so she used ranch instead. “Over time,” Sifton writes, “the recipe has slowly taken on a life of its own.” This is of course disturbing news to “food writers and scholars”, but not to those of us who actually cook.
To his credit, Sifton has done a considerable amount of footwork delineating the “rise” of this recipe, moving from Chapman’s kitchen to a cookbook put out by the Beech Hill Church of Christ in Ripley, then over to nearby Hickory Flat, where it was sampled by visiting food blogger Laurie Ormond, of Bentonville, Arkansas. Ormond published the recipe, which was picked up by Candis Berge on her blog in 2011. Berge claimed it passed what she called “the hubby test;” the Times italicizes this phrase to emphasize its importance as a key factor in the recipe’s “mom-blog set” popularity. Soon afterwards, “Mississippi Roast” became popular on such platforms as Twitter, Reddit, and Pinterest.
Sifton actually goes to the trouble to make “Mississippi Roast”, though predictably he is not faithful to the original recipe. He uses less butter (not saying how much less), reasoning that “there is plenty of fat in chuck roast”, uses five times as many pepperoncini, sears the roast before placing it in the cooker, “browning it aggressively beneath a shower of salt and pepper” (do I hear a faint echo of Craig Claiborne in that sentence?) and coating it with flour to create a “base of flavor” to replace the gravy mix. He even makes ranch dressing seasoning and “dumped that” into the pot.
“Eight hours later,” Sifton writes, “My family dived into their meal with glee. It was exactly the same as the original effort (my italics), and took about the same amount of time to make.”
Sifton’s slick little article ends with wine pairings compiled by one Eric Asimov (nephew of Isaac), who states, “This soft, beefy roast calls for a robust, structured red that will both complement the flavor of the meat and accommodate the bite of the peppers,” and recommends among others “a Brunello di Montalcino or its more modest sibling, Rosso di Montalcino” from Italy, “a garnacha-based wine from Montsant or its grander neighbor, Priorat” from Spain, a “southern Rhône, like a Gigondas or a Châteauneuf-du-Pape” or “if you are a fan of Argentine malbec, try one”. Anyone who can write such frivolous drivel about what wine to serve with a “Mississippi Roast” must have a background in science fiction. We can safely assume that (most) everyone at the Beech Hill Church of Christ will assiduously ignore Asimov’s alcoholic promptings.
The compelling theme behind this prolonged sneer against Mississippi–indeed against the “mom-blog set” across the nation–is a sort of exasperated incredulity that such an atrocious recipe could actually find any sort of popular appeal.