Fare fit for the playoffs

by Brian Clarey

While everybody else is fretting about what to serve at their Super Bowl parties — Should I do chili? Nachos? Do people still eat wings? — I’m here to spit out a fundamental truth: This weekend’s conference championship games are going to be way better than the Super Bowl, and there are going to be two of them, which means there are more opportunities for gambling. So beat the clich’s and hold a party to commemorate the end of the playoffs, and don’t worry about what to serve, as I’ve got your menu all planned out.

Four teams enter into this weekend: The New York Jets, the Indianapolis Colts, the Minnesota Vikings and the New Orleans Saints, representing distinct regions of the nation, each with its own culinary achievements and traditions.

If you’re a Minnesota Vikings fan, then you likely are aware that the team made it to the playoffs largely on the arm of aging but capable quarterback Bret Favre. But you might not know about Minnesota’s Nordic heritage, having been settled primarily by Swedes back around 1840 who undoubtedly found the weather relatively mild. Besides contributing to the regional accent, Swedes influenced the cuisine of the region, which is why a favored dish in this landlocked state is lutefisk. Lutefisk is basically dried whitefish soaked in water until it becomes jelly-like and is then treated with lye — yes, lye, which is, you know poisonous.

While the outcome of the game has yet to be decided, the New Orleans Saints have the edge when it comes to food. New Orleans is known for an entire culinary pantheon, which includes jambalaya, a spicy rice and sausage dish; gumbo, a rich, stew-like soup; spicy boiled crawfish; all manner of prepared oysters; blackened anything; and etouffe, which can use shrimp, crawfish tails or even chicken as a base. But if you want to take the easy way out, make up a big batch of red beans and rice, cover it with hot sauce and put it out before kickoff.

When pairing the New York Jets with a food item, the temptation is to think about hot dogs with sauerkraut and mustard, a dish made famous on Brooklyn’s Coney Island. But because the Jets are favored by residents of the outer boroughs and Long Island — while the swells in Manhattan prefer the Giants almost to a one — I am going to say that Italian food is the way to go. Cook up a lasagne or bake a ziti, or make a big batch of meatballs. You can’t go wrong with pizza, which is ridiculously easy to make as long as you have the proper gear in your kitchen. Or try something even easier: sausage and peppers, which can be made by combining those two ingredients in a crock pot with some olive oil and maybe a little chopped onion. Serve on chewy Italian rolls.

Perhaps you’re wondering what kind of food they eat in Indianapolis. Well, they have lots of steakhouses, as befitting a large Midwestern city, so it would not be inappropriate to fire up the grill and sizzle a slew of T-bones on there. But another indigenous gem of the city is the breaded pork tenderloin sandwich — a slice of pork loin breaded and fried, served atop a soft buttered roll with lettuce, tomato and mayo, a simple affair if ever there were one and easy enough to prepare. I recommend making them into bite-sized sliders and serving them by the tray.

The breaded pork tenderloin sandwich, made famous in Indianapolis. (courtesy photo)