Culinary predictions for the new year include this Kitchen Shrink’s observations for what to expect on restaurant menus and supermarket shelves. As the economy hobbles into a slow- healing recovery, some scrumptious indulgences are coming out of hibernation, while sustainability, seasonality and farm- to table-ethea remain status quo.
Living high on the hog
Folks will surely pig out this year on everything from super lean, nutty and sweet flavored wild boar burgers to an assortment of extremely rich and fatty cuts. Executive Chef Camron Woods from Amaya La Jolla is embracing the return of the “proper pork,” a greasy, pink-fleshed animal, which had become factory farmed into an unnaturally lean “other white meat.” He serves cuts from the deep- flavored purebred Red Wattle using the oily pork belly for housemade bacon, whole-roasted racks for sliced chops, and shoulder and butt for pulled pork sliders.
While die-hard carnivores will surely squawk, “where’s the beef?” at the mere suggestion of a bovine substitution, according to Bernard Guillas, Executive Chef of La Jolla’s Marine Room, elk is going to excite (and convert) some palates in the coming months. “This very lean and healthy meat is well-balanced in flavor, not gamey and overpowering like venison.” Chef Guillas also predicts duck as the big come-back protein this year for its diversity of preparation from confit and Peking-style to smoked and roasted.
Wild-caught fish typically trumps farm-raised for its natural diet and healthier habitat, along with being drug-free, but its sustainability has been a great concern among stewards of the sea. Although farm raised has been given a bad rap in the past, a fresh approach includes raising fish in nets contained in the open ocean or bay swimming privileges (so they are not in close proximity), in addition to using organic or natural feed. So don’t be judgmental about farm-raised fish (like salmon and cobia), if raised responsibly and sustainably, and as always, buy from a reputable fishmonger.
Comfort foods will still be warming the cockles of our hearts, but with some surprising flavor-driven twists. Meatloaf protein sources will run the gamut from lamb and bison to chicken and turkey and interesting vegetarian combos such as eggplant and quinoa.You’ll see mac and cheese with sheep’s milk cheese (Petit Basque) and kefir yoghurt; Moroccan tagine stews of beef, lamb, chicken or vegetarian concoctions; and
other one-pot marvel meals from coq au vin to pork Osso Buco.
For the lactose-intolerant and soy-sensitive, non-dairy nut, seed and grain “milks” are having a field day. The originals, including almond and rice beverages are sharing the limelight with hazelnut, cashew, hemp, flaxseed, oat, multi-grain blends and coconut flavors.
Your main squeeze
Watch for popular citrus choices from small Lee Mandarins to behemoth Pomelos that dwarf grapefruits. Lemons will be the acid of choice in salad dressings, especially zests from Meyers and Buddha’s Hand.
Smokin’ in the boys’ room
Chefs will still be poaching and steaming, but instead of using water, they’ll be amping up flavors with wine, beer, coffee, tea, brewskis and smoky mesquite-infused liquids.
Kosher and pedestrian salts will be swapped for full-bodied smoked sea salts to impart a beautiful natural smoke aroma to preparations. A pinch will do you to season soups, stews, chicken or fish.
Variety is the Spice of Life
Sumac and za’atar, exciting Middle Eastern seasonings, will soon shake up the typically sedate American cuisine. The sumac tree indigenous to Africa forms gorgeous crimson drupes that are crushed into a spice to give a tart, lemony essence to both savory and sweet dishes, even baked goods.
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Za’atar Yoghurt Dip
2 teaspoons sumac
2 tablespoons pistachio nuts
2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves (stripped from stems)
1 tablespoon roasted sesame seeds
2 tablespoons oregano
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
12 ounces Greek-style yoghurt
Method: Grind sesame seeds and nuts in food processor or mortar and pestle. Add herbs and spices, and blend well.
On a platter, make a mound of Greek yoghurt, creating an indentation on top with a spoon. Sprinkle za’atar into the crevice, and drizzle virgin olive oil around the mound. Serve with grilled bread or pita chips.