Chefs like to pick each other’s brains, whether through osmosis or simply by surfing each other’s menus on the Web. So, in this high-speed world of information we live in, it’s no surprise when a certain ingredient or culinary preparation becomes in vogue. I always wonder, though, who might be the first person to use a particular ingredient, at least in a contemporary manner. Of course, most ingredients have a long history in some culture, somewhere. Yet certain foodstuffs come in and out of fashion more than others. Here’s a look at eight of the trendiest foodstuffs to be put on menus this year.
1) Mangalitsa? Say What?
When diners order a steak in this day and age, they generally are told from what breed the beef was cut. Black Angus carries a lot of clout. Wagyu (think Kobe beef) is the crème de la crème of the bovine world. But, until recently, pork was pork, meaning not much attention was paid to particular breeds. Enter Berkshire (Kurobuta). This specialty breed has been popular in the new millennium, due to its incredible richness, and it’s often showcased at fine-dining restaurants. Berkshire pork is still pervasive on American menus, yet there appears to be a new hog in town– and its name is Mangalitsa. This breed of pork literally melts in your mouth, due to the well-marbled (lard-type) nature of these longhaired hogs. The Herbfarm restaurant near Seattle specializes in Mangalitsa pork–they even raise their own hogs.
2) Pork Belly! That’s What I’m Talkin’ About
Americans love their pork belly, especially when it comes in the form of smoked bacon. Yet there is so much more one can do with pork belly, in a contemporary manner, besides just serving it with eggs. Admittedly, modern pork belly preparations were extremely hip last year, but the popularity doesn’t appear to be waning, as evidenced by the profusion of pork belly items on current menus nationwide. From coast to coast, chefs are ordering this fatty underbelly (often from specialty breed hogs) and turning out some remarkable dishes. Chef Greg Higgins, of Higgins restaurant in Portland, Ore., serves a “Whole Pig ” plate, which features braised pork belly, housemade sausage, and slow-cooked ribs, to name a few.
3) Dust Me With Fennel Pollen
Fennel bulb is so passé. Same with those hard little fennel seeds that seemed to be everywhere a few years back. Fennel pollen– small, orange grains culled from dried fennel flowers– is now all the rage, man. This intensely aromatic pollen (think licorice) is starting to pop up on hip menus everywhere, especially in the contemporary French dining scene. Chef Daniel Boulud, of the venerable Café Boulud in New York City, floats a beautifully seared fillet of snapper in a fragrant fennel pollen broth. Sounds yummy.
4) They’re Back
I thought Meyer lemons had their heyday in the latter part of the last century. It’s true; the popularity of this thin-skinned lemon did fade in recent times, until a few chefs opted to resurrect it this year. These small lemons, which are much sweeter than garden-variety lemons, hail from the subtropical region of China. In the early 20th century, an American scientist by the name of Frank Meyer was commissioned by the U.S. government to retrieve some tree specimens from China, which ended up thriving in California.
Recently, Meyer lemons have reemerged in both sweet and savory dishes. Chez Panisse, Alice Waters’ famous California eatery, amalgamates Meyer lemons with Dungeness crab and pea pasta. Need I say more?
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