August 3, 2018
Take Texture to the Next Level
from Chef Mary Locke
Taste, Aroma, Appearance, Temperature, Texture… savvy chefs know that it takes all these qualities to create a truly memorable experience for guests.
We’ve all experienced the simple pleasures of texture in food: dragging crisp toast through the luxurious richness of a sunny-side egg; the interesting interplays of cucumber and radishes with tender lettuce in a good fresh salad; the soft, creamy center inside the crispy shell of a Lindor truffle. The key is to translate these elemental sensations into signature recipes.
Create a Crust on Proteins – Putting a hard sear on a steak is a time-honored way of creating flavor through the browning Maillard reaction, but it also creates a distinctive texture on the outside of the meat. There are many other ways to build this exterior texture. Crushed nuts are a natural on fish. A spice mixture such as za’atar or Everything Bagel mix, both of which contain sesame seeds, can be applied to lamb or chicken to add some texture. Brushing ribs with a sticky barbecue sauce and then grilling them creates a glaze. Even a sprinkle of crunchy Maldon salt will do the trick.
Elevate the Garnishes – Parsley is fine and all, but garnishes can be used for more than just adding plate coverage and a splash of color. At Simon & the Whale, a hot new restaurant in Manhattan, red snapper crudo is served with puffed rice, shiso leaf, and coconut milk, an inspired combination of flavors, colors and textures that also pulls this popular dish in an Asian direction.
Rely on the Fryer – You can’t beat the great flavor and texture of perfectly cooked fish and chips, but the fryer can be your friend for other foods as well. Fry up chicken or fish skins (and repurpose those valuable trimmings) to use like a crouton on salads. Borrow the Japanese idea of tonkatsu, a comforting fried pork cutlet. And about those “chips”: many chefs are experiments with twice- and even thrice-fried French fries to create layered nuances of tender interior and ultra-crispy exteriors.
Batter Up – Speaking of fried, you should be experimenting with different batters and breadings, from homey cornmeal and sophisticated panko to flavorful beer better (so much the better to call out a local craft brew on the menu) and lacy tempura. Add Parmesan cheese to egg washes or breadcrumbs in a two-step breading process, or switch in something like Ritz cracker crumbs. Don’t forget the appeal—and the ability to tell a story on the menu—of crumbs made from pretzels, potato chips, cornflakes, and other products.
Put an Egg on It– Ever had the French bistro-style frisee salad with lardons of bacon? In addition to the contrasting flavors and textures of pleasantly bitter lettuce and smoky pork, the salad traditional gets a poached egg on top, which runs into the salad to create a warming second dressing when the customer cuts into it. So there’s a reason chefs are putting a poached, soft-cooked or sunny egg on everything, in addition to simply adding protein and value. Try adding an egg to Asian noodle soups, grain bowls, open-faced sandwiches, and of course other types of salads.
Explore the Raw and the Cooked– A riff on presenting food two ways, this is especially fun with vegetables. Garnish multi-colored roasted carrots with a brunoise of the same veggie, lightly sautéed, or with chopped carrot tops. Stir finely chopped raw celery into a vegetable stew just long enough to soften it slightly. Present a chopped salad with both raw and chilled, cooked vegetables, such as broccoli, colorful peppers or peas and sugar snaps.
• Spicy Cold Kimchi Noodles are topped with a hot, sunny egg for a protein boost and a contrast in temperature and texture
• Velvety Thai Coconut Pumpkin Soup is garnished with crunchy pumpkin seeds and sour cream, but any cream soup benefits from the addition of an element like croutons, crisp crumbled bacon or even popcorn
• Note how tender Cilantro Lime Hamachi picks up crunch from diced raw veggies
• Chicken Salad with Mangos & Cashews is a study in the interplay of flavor, color and texture