Special Report

America’s Most Iconic Dishes

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6. Gumbo

The official “state cuisine” of Louisiana, gumbo is a rich and hearty stew. Just about every chef and home cook has a recipe for it, but it generally starts with a dark roux, to which vegetables including the “holy trinity” (onions, bell pepper, and celery) are added, followed by meats and/or seafood and stock. Some choose to add tomatoes, and some thicken theirs up with either okra or filé powder, which is derived from sassafras. It’s a comforting umami-bomb, usually served over white rice.

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7. Cioppino

Even though its name might sound Italian, the fish stew called cioppino was actually invented in San Francisco by Italian fishermen in the late 1800s. It’s since become one of the hallmarks of the city’s cuisine, and a perfect vehicle for the bountiful seafood that’s pulled from surrounding waters. The main component is whatever the catch of the day is, usually a combination of fish, shrimp, clams, Dungeness crab, scallops, squid, and/or mussels. They’re simmered in a broth of tomato, white wine, and seafood stock, and it’s all served in a big bowl with a hunk of the city’s signature sourdough.

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8. Biscuits and gravy

A hearty breakfast dish and a staple at casual restaurants across the South, biscuits and gravy are a match made in heaven. It’s simply a soft biscuit topped with a ladle or two of creamy gravy. The gravy is usually made with drippings from the frying of pork sausage and thickened with milk (many versions also include chunks of sausage), and is usually seasoned with plenty of black pepper. If you find yourself at a homespun Southern restaurant and you see this on the menu, order it.

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9. Eggs Benedict

Whether invented at Delmonico’s or the Waldorf (both NYC institutions claim to have originated the dish in the late 1800s), eggs Benedict remains quite possibly the perfect brunch dish. It’s made by topping two halves of a toasted English muffin (originally a round of rusk) with Canadian bacon, poached eggs, and hollandaise sauce, and it’s elegant and indulgent at the same time. Variations are limitless (eggs Florentine swaps the Canadian bacon for sautéed spinach; other versions replace it with smoked salmon or lobster).

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10. Chili con carne

The official dish of the state of Texas, chili con carne is a hearty stew that, at its simplest, is slow-cooked chunks of beef in a thick sauce made with dried chiles or chili powder. That’s the most traditional way of making it in Texas (where it’s lovingly referred to as a “bowl of red”), but most of the chilis you’ll find outside of the Lone Star State also include beans, tomatoes, garlic, onions, and cumin, and are made with ground beef. It’s easy to make and so customizable that many home cooks have their own recipes; some enter them in annual chili cook offs to compete for the crown.

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