Now that winter is around the corner, I’d like to go into an often overlooked genre of food. I like to call it “Depression Food.” I also like to call it, “Shit From the Can.” It’s exactly (well, almost) what it sounds like. Some may also call it, “Things Dennis Eats When He’s Drunk.” Or, much more accurately, “Reasons Why Dennis Will Be Alone Forever.”
You see, there are many times in a person’s life where they hit culinary bottom. These times have occurred on many occasions within my lifetime, from childhood to present day. When I call it “Shit From the Can,” I mean, shit literally straight from the can. And by shit, I mean food. No bowl, no microwave, no stove. Just pop that top and eat. Most of the time, this stuff is best eaten with tears streaming down your face, preferably while butt-ass wasted. Come on, we’ve all been there. We have deep, dark, secrets. This is my confessional.
These are arranged from least shameful to most shameful, because really, shouldn’t all lists be sorted in order of shame?
1. Sweet canned corn. I’ve been eating corn from the can my entire life, pretty much. It’s sweet, chewy, and delicious. You have to make sure you get the kind of canned corn that has salt in it — no sodium-free bullshit. The salt gives the canned corn much better flavor. Then, when you’re finished, you’ve got to drink the sweet and salty canned corn liquid, because frankly, that’s the best part. You already gave up your dignity once you dipped into that sucker anyway. Might as well go balls to the wall. Plus, you can laugh your ass off the next day when you’re reminded visually about what you ate the day before.
(Think about that last sentence for a minute.)
2. Any Chef Boyardee. I used to prefer Chef Boyardee Ravioli, but these days, my preference is Chef Boyardee Spaghetti & Meatballs. Why, you ask? These noodles are like the complete opposite of delicious ramen noodles. Ramen noodles have bite to them. Chef Boyardee noodles, however, have the texture of food that’s been mostly digested. If you’re too lazy to even chew, you could actually just swallow each spoonful whole. And the gray, ambiguously meaty meatballs are a welcome change in texture. They are firm, cool to the touch, with a slight graininess that is seasoned with the flavor of who-gives-a-shit. The key is the sauce. It’s thick, coating the noodles with a sugary, starchy ketchup flavor that elevates each bite. “Elevates” may not actually be the right word.
I do not recommend Chef Boyardee from the can that has previously been refrigerated. Some of its more nuanced flavors are lost in the chill. So basically, I enjoy my Chef Boyardee like I enjoy my whiskey — at room temperature, while brokenhearted.
3. Bush’s Baked Beans. Bush’s Baked Beans are actually best cold, not at room temperature. When they’re cold, they have the texture of Japanese natto without all the stringy shit. “But Dennis,” you ask, “What is natto?” I’m glad you asked. Natto is fermented soybeans that get stringy when you eat them. By stringy, I mean that its coating evolves into these insane snot strings that tug on each bean as you lift it towards your face. It’s pretty cool stuff. And by “pretty cool stuff” I mean “fucking disgusting” in an amazing way. Whatever, I’ll eat it. Learn more at the Wikipedia link here. Seriously, check it out. Gnarly.
Anyway — Bush’s Baked Beans taste like cold bean candy. They are absolutely, unrepentantly, loaded with sugar. I mean, these things are jet fuel, both for your blood sugar levels and your ass. The can always comes with one or two shamefully small pieces of bacon, which, at this point, don’t taste like bacon any longer. The bacon chunks are truly a mystery. The reason why baked beans taste better cold is because the sauce tightens up like crazy, and that’s where all the sugar is. Heated, the sauce becomes thinner, and therefore, you get less of it with every sad spoonful. Flavor-wise, they’re like starchy bean nuggets that have been sleeping in bland barbecue sauce for centuries. Heaven.
4. Vienna Sausage. I actually haven’t eaten these things since I was a kid. My dad used to snack on them, therefore I did too. When I saw them on the shelf, a warm sense of nostalgia washed over me like a golden shower. Vienna Sausages are basically hot dogs that taste like they’ve been stretched out with a little bit of sawdust. If you don’t have much money (no shame in that) and you can’t afford a pack of actual hot dogs, these are a pretty good substitute. They don’t taste great in a bun; I prefer these fished out of the can with dirty fingers or a used toothpick, maybe with a little ketchup or mustard on the side to add a little class.
They are a vestige of my childhood, much like the appendix is a vestige of an organ. They have a grainy texture that indicates that there are tiny bits of cartilage and gristle in them. It’s not like they’re making these cuties with prime dry-aged ribeye. I recommend them at room temperature, as I’ve never once eaten them heated up. They’re just not that kind of meat product.
5. Canned Oily Fish. This is where the list gets a little more interesting. Canned oily fish, such as sardines, herring, and mackerel, are delicious. Food jerkoffs will condescendingly tell you that the superior versions of canned fish come canned in oil, “to preserve flavor.” Fuck that shit. Fish in tomato sauce is awesome. I love, love, love canned herring in tomato sauce, eaten on buttered rye flatbread like Wasa Crispbread (which are the rice cakes of crackers). The thing is, mackerel has a pretty strong fish-anus smell that will drive even the most desperate of women away. Ha, just kidding, I haven’t seen a woman in so long I’d throw stones at it. But I have seen a can of canned mackerel. Lots and lots of canned mackerel. And the cool thing about canned fish like mackerel and sardines is that you can actually eat the bones, since they’ve gotten so soft by sitting in the can.
Do people eat heated canned sardines? I imagine the smell would actually destroy the very fabric of space and time itself. So I recommend canned oily fish either cold or at room temperature.
6. Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom Soup. This is the true pièce de résistance for me, and probably my favorite canned item on the list. Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom soup is a true umami bomb of flavor. It’s super salty and it has big pieces of gray flabby mushrooms in it, you know, for proof that it’s actually mushroom soup. It’s so salty, in fact, that if you get the reduced sodium variety, you won’t actually notice the difference. That is frankly, amazing.
Canned mushroom soup is best icy cold from the fridge. As you scoop it out, it jiggles like the finest crème brûlée you’ve ever had, if your crème brûlée was the same shade as dirty socks, and speckled with kibbled mushroom bits. Put it in your mouth like Bill Cosby crams chocolate Jello pudding in his piehole, and behold as the custard-like soup concentrate blossoms into a salty and savory bomb that never lets up. It is truly a masterpiece.
7. Bonus: Goya Eelbroods of Surimi in Olive Oil. To be honest, I just saw these on the shelf as I went out to buy the other items. The can had me at “Eelbroods.” I didn’t know what the fuck they were until I looked them up on the Internet. The answer is both disappointing and fascinating in a really strange way. Turns out they are imitation eel babies made out of surimi, which is the kind of fish people use to make fake crab. I totally just wrote that. And to make things even more special, these extruded fake eel babies have a gray stripe drawn on the back along with tiny gray eyes to simulate eel babiness. Holy shit. I haven’t eaten them yet. You will get a full report later. Their existence is an example that the world is truly a marvelous place.
The one question that you might have is — what about Spam? How come you didn’t write about Spam? The answer is — I love Spam. It’s one of the greatest food creations ever. If you’ve never heard the suction noise that Spam makes as it makes its way out of the can, then you’ve never truly lived. The thing is, I always fry my Spam because it tastes so much better with a fried caramelized crust on it, alongside a pair of runny eggs. I don’t scoop Spam out of the can in tears, like the other food on this list.
So in conclusion: I’m fucking disgusting. Bye.