Screw You, “Ingredient Three Ways”


I have serious issues with dishes that offer the same ingredient “three ways.”

Maybe you like it.  Perhaps you think it’s a snazzy way to highlight the good things about an ingredient by using three different preparations.  I’m sure that some of you regard it as a fantastic way to turn one course into three unique tastes.  That’s one way of looking at it.

Another way to look at it would be that preparing an ingredient three ways is a gimmicky and increasingly overdone preparation that sounds better in theory. Really, is this necessary?  I’m not one to try and stifle culinary creativity.  I appreciate it when a chef tries to dazzle the customer with a wide variety of ideas and tricks that challenge and expand upon the flavor of an ingredient.  But any time I see that tuna or duck or shrimp is being offered “three ways” on the menu, I just have to roll my eyes.  It’s a bit much, isn’t it?

I feel quite strongly about this and I know that I have logic on my side, so I present to you a five-point argument explaining why this scourge of the menu must be eradicated:

  1. Invariably, one of the preparations is not as good as the other two.  I have a very particular way of eating my food…I like to reserve the best thing for last.  Best to leave on a high note.  Would you like to take a wild guess as to which of the three items ends up being the last one on my plate?  Precisely.
  2. Gee, what do you think compelled the chef to dream this whole thing up?  Was it a moment of inspiration while traveling the world?  Perhaps a late-night conversation over drinks with his counterparts at other restaurants?  Hell no!  You’re getting lamb three ways because the chef got a good deal on lamb from his distributor.  And that’s if you’re lucky.  It may be left over from Saturday night’s special.
  3. The fact that you have to arrange the three items on one plate always results in a ridiculous presentation.  You can bet your last buck that they’ll have to dig out the cone, the shot glass or the martini glass for this one!
  4. I’m a nice guy, so I always let the waiter rattle off the evening’s specials.  I hardly ever order it, but I figure it’ll make them feel like they did their best to provide me with a great dining experience.  However, as soon as they start running down the list, I immediately regret it…it takes forever and everything runs together.  I end up learning nothing.  Now imagine having to sit through three minor variations on one ingredient, with the waiter going into excruciating detail on what makes each of the three preparations different.  Your time would be better spent finding a nice pinot noir from the wine list.
  5. I absolutely love the whole tapas/small plates thing.  It’s fantastic.  So getting three flavors is right up my alley, right?  NO!  The point of the tapas is that you get variety.  I don’t care how unique each of the three ways is.  You’re still getting the same primary ingredient three times.  That ain’t variety.

So, there you have it.  That kind of lock-solid reasoning has chefs coming up with three separate apologies for perpetrating this crime against the diner.

What say you?  Want to weigh in with your three way horror story?  Have you actually experienced a chef insane enough to squeeze out a fourth way? Do you actually enjoy this trifecta of a monstrosity?

(Photo: snapperwolf)

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  • Very Very Good Girl April 22, 2009  

    I was kinda hoping for a 3-point argument, that said I couldn’t agree more about your 1st item. Put some faith in the creativity if it’s a good combo & just present that as you do end up wanting more of it & less of the others.

    That said one of my favorite meal-memories was an entree called pork trifecta over a succotash of sorts with hominy, fried green tomatoes and limas. But it was different forms – pulled, belly and tenderloin – of pork so it worked for me & has been in my top meals since.

    tvff – do tell what the glowing yellow liquid is. Straight butter? Infused oil?

  • BS April 22, 2009  

    I agree with VVGG – I think an exception might need to be made for pig, the magical animal – you could probably serve me a pork 6-way and I’d still be happy.

  • Michael April 22, 2009  

    You know what really grinds my gears? Blog posts about things that really grind people’s gears. jk this was a pretty good one!

    I agree, a tapas kind of thing is better with variety, unless you’re really really really in the mood for lamb and nothing else.

  • Blake April 22, 2009  

    Yeah, unless it’s parts of a whole animal being presented as a study, the three ways, microbite trend is definitely tired.

    But in fairness, compared to past kiwi fiascos, it’s not the worst trend to hit the food industry.

  • Lisa April 22, 2009  

    I completely agree with you, tvff. I think your 2nd reason is probably the most compelling for this trend. I love small tastes, but give me variety!

  • JoeHoya April 22, 2009  

    I’ve definitely had some clunkers, but I have to disagree with a blanket anti-trios statement. There are some ingredients (rarer, more expensive, or just plain indulgent items) that would either be too expensive or too decadent if they were served in full entree or even appetizer portions.

    White truffles come to mind as a great example of something I would be happy to try as a trio, so as to experience an ingredient I’m rarely even offered in a variety of ways.

  • tvff April 22, 2009  

    @BS et al: Agreed on the exemption for “pig” three ways, but I would argue that if you’re doing “pig” and your ways incorporate distinct cuts, you’re getting the necessary variety.

    @JoeHoya: Agree on the overall luxury/indulgent thing, but I would probably argue that ingredients like that (truffle, caviar, saffron) lend themselves to being accents or enhancements for other ingredients, so those dishes would be substantively different enough and that the luxury item would be a flavor note that was echoed throughout, rather than a base ingredient that is acted upon in three different preparations.

    Am I splitting hairs?

  • KellerMaverick April 22, 2009  

    @JoeHoya — I think crawfish deserves an exemption here…I love the combination of fried and boiled crawfish and the etouffee. Second thought — I could skip the boiled.

  • Vanessa April 22, 2009  

    LOL! This is a Top-Chefritage I can’t really deal with!! Wonderful post title, too… *grin*

  • TVFF April 23, 2009  

    @ Very: The middle image is, according to the caption on Flickr, “scampi in sea-water and lemon scented olive oil”

    @ Keller: “Second thought — I could skip the boiled.” Thus proving point number one!

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