Deep inside an underground bunker somewhere near Pocatello, Idaho, the nation’s preeminent potato growers and their army of lobbyists recently gathered. The following is an unconfirmed transcript of the meeting that followed. Names have been modified to protect the innocent.
Derek J. Russet, Chairman of the Confederacy of Potato Advocates: Ladies and gentlemen. We gather today amidst news that threatens the very existence of our industry. Reports indicate one of our longtime allies in the fast food world has threatened to disown the humble spud as a side item.
Russet: Yes, it’s true, and I’m afraid it’s not the usual challenge from the Onion Ring Hegemony again. Thankfully Burger King continues to showcase the alliance of alliums in an objectionable light, but this new threat is much greater.
Timothy L. Fingerling, CFO: Sir, surely our market share can withstand a minor blip. Our research has long indicated customers sometimes go for so-called ‘healthier options,’ but once the New Year’s Resolution high subsides, they’ll return to their french fries and chips with renewed vigor.
Russet: I do not know, Fingerling. Reports are still vague, but apparently Arby’s has introduced Jalapeño Hushpuppies as part of their limited time only, pre-Lent menu. Hushpuppies…with fish! The nerve of these people. What would our English brethren and their fish and chips say? In any event, knowing how trendy Southern food is and how customers are always begging for something to set their mouth on fire, this is a threat we cannot overlook. Dare I say it, if these are successful, we could see multiple fast food companies ditching fries for balls of fried cornmeal in no time.
Amanda W. Yukon, Director of Nefarious Tuber Operations: Not so fast, sir. I have firsthand reports on the quality of these hushpuppies, straight from one of my freelance field operatives. In my hands is an intelligence estimate courtesy of Lawrence Sweet, who has just eaten at Arby’s.
Fingerling: By all means, Ms. Yukon. Major Sweet is one of most trusted and objective operatives. If it weren’t for his work on those Arby’s Cheddar Pretzel Nuggets during the spring, we would have never been able to sabotage them with laxative inducing cheese sauce. Please, read the report.
Yukon: He begins as follows: “I entered Arby’s with an open mind. My love of potatoes aside, I’ve traveled to the Gulf Coast in the past and have frequently eaten, and enjoyed, hushpuppies. There’s just something so perfect about them, so distinctly Southern in their crispy outside texture, moist interior, and tangy sweetness. Given how well Arby’s has done some other regional specialties like brisket, I expected these to be a worthy rendition.”
Silence permeates the room, broken only by a few nervous clicks of someone’s pen.
Yukon: He continues: “I was pleased to find the hushpuppies crisp and non-too greasy, but an almost blackened color was cause for concern. A cornbread batter can be unforgiving for a fry cook, and the blistered craters, while perhaps making a fine 1:100,000,000 scale model for an asteroid, revealed they might’ve spent too much time in the fryer. Not surprisingly a burnt flavor was impossible to overcome on first bite, although a mild and moist cornbread filling did dissipate the burnt exterior somewhat.
Still, there was something off about the flavor. The jalapeños were immediately noticeable, but instead of a spicy bite, the small chunks carried a bitter and vegetal flavor. They tasted old and canned, while the chunks of corn also had a dulled, diluted flavor which wouldn’t win a taste test with Del Monte.”
Russet: Interesting. So they’ve not only botched the execution, but used sub-par ingredients. But everyone knows even a limp French fry can be resuscitated with Heinz or Fry Sauce. I’m still unconvinced these aren’t a threat.
Yukon:/b> I think we’re safe on that front too, sir. Sweet reports there’s no natural pairing for hushpuppies. They should have enough balance in the buttermilk tang, the corn sweetness, and the heat of the seasoning to be eaten on their own. Even ketchup can’t save them, and Sweet thinks ketchup is good on everything. Besides, he claims they’re too small to leave customers happy. And obviously, they lack the appeal of a curly fry.
Fingerling: Dare I say we’ve dodged a bullet! Once again, fast food has outthought itself.
Russet: Indeed. Send our thanks to Sweet, Yukon. Arby’s Jalapeño Hushpuppies won’t satisfy those longing for a homemade taste of the Gulf Coast, and pose little long-term threat to the supremacy of the spud.
(Nutrition Facts – 5 hushpuppies – 290 calories, 110 calories from fat, 12 grams of fat, 2 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 790 milligrams of sodium, 42 grams of carbohydrates, 2 gram of fiber, 11 grams of sugar, and 3 grams of protein.)
Item: Arby’s Jalapeno Hushpuppies
Purchased Price: $1.79
Size: 5 pieces
Purchased at: Arby’s
Rating: 4 out of 10
Pros: Mainstream fast food embracing a taste of the south. Crunchy exterior and moist cornbread-like interior. Real whole kernel corn and jalapeños in batter. Moderate and building back-heat. The survival of the potato industry.
Cons: Tiny and hard as a rock. Burnt flavor overpowers the cornmeal. Bitter, vegetal-like quality to the jalapeños. Corn kernels taste dull and canned. Lacks obvious condiment pairing. Freelance work for world potato cabals.