We love food. Like movies, TV, travel, and music, it’s fun to obsess over and geek out on. Sure, being full is great, but what really makes food exciting are the sensory aspects, the unique twists, and the joy of witnessing a creative vision. The perfect bite is transformative — whisking you away to far off lands and activating sense memories.
Still, like movies, TV, travel, and music, the world of food often falls victim to the proliferation of trends and lowest common denominator thinking. Ideas ripen and take hold of the public consciousness (remember the cronut?), then start to fade away as new concepts rise to the fore. Point being: menus aren’t static, change is inevitable. Embrace it.
Here are 10 dishes we wouldn’t mind seeing more of in 2017:
I. Vegetarian Dishes That Fake Out Your Tastebuds
I love how people say, “Oh, I don’t want my vegetables to pretend to be meat! If you’re serving vegetables just serve vegetables!” — except no one eats any freaking vegetables. 96.7% of the population eats meat, so maybe fooling them with a close-looking substitute every once in awhile isn’t such a horrible thing? The best example of this is the now infamous Impossible Burger, which gained viral fame because it actually bleeds.
We sent Mark Shrayber to taste it and he fell deeply and fully in love, other responses around the food world have been similarly enthusiastic. But I don’t just mean dishes that imitate the look of meat-based foods, I mean dishes that imitate the flavors. I want that deep, savory umami taste without always needing meat. That means veg dishes that have been stewed down and contain some of the umami power ingredients: mushrooms, stewed tomatoes, sautéed onions, etc. Indian food is good at this. So is is Vietnamese food.
Basically, I want more rich-tasting foods that don’t have meat in them. Fool me once and I’ll keep coming back. -Steve
II. Chicken Skin
This is one I’m already starting to see on menus and on Top Chef: Dishes that include chicken skin as an ingredient. I love it! It’s not that chicken skin has to be the star, I include this to mean dishes that utilize it on its own, in any way.
I think my generation, who grew up believing many now-debunked ideas about fat being bad, were raised largely in a boneless-skinless world. We’re just now starting to feel the backlash, where crispy chicken skin is this decadent novelty, and I’m all for it. And actually, it’s not decadent at all. As an animal lover who has dabbled in vegatarianism, one of the ways I justify my continued meat eating (which is demonstrably terrible for the environment even if you don’t give a shit about animals, and chickens are especially unsympathetic to me) is that if I’m going to eat animals, the least I can do is do it less, and try to use meat more as a flavoring agent or ingredient than as the main focus. It also means using the whole thing and not letting parts go to waste. Chicken skin isn’t offal, to be sure, but it’s nice to see it pulled off and celebrated as its own thing, rather than wasted — literally or metaphorically. It seems more useful that way.
For instance, the other day I made chicken cacciatore, and rather than just leave the chicken (thighs, always thighs, baby) in one piece like I might have in the past, I pulled off the skins, cooked them up crisp, and then sprinkled them on top at the end as a garnish. This accomplished a few things: first, it allowed my seasoning to penetrate the whole chicken thigh rather than being blocked by the skin. Second, it gave the dish a textural contrast. You could taste (and chew) the crunchy skin separate from the rest, instead of just getting a whole chicken thigh with one basic texture (and flabby skin).
Anyway, chicken skin. It’s delicious. -Vince
Last year was the year of lesser-known cuts — flank steak, etc. I think this year will be the year of almost-untouched bits. Tongue fits the bill nicely. There are so many reasons this works, many of which Vince pointed out when talking about chicken skins. Here’s another reason: it’s tender and fatty, two qualities that led to the pork belly craze. Moreover, tongue takes flavor well, so it’s easy to envision your local BBQ joint doing a tongue sandwich and your favorite taco shop doing a lengua taco (if the place is worth a damn, they probably already have one).
Do I think tongue will get huge? No. Just the idea of it is off-putting to some people (not me, I’d eat roasted cow anus if it tasted good). But I do see it being used by smart chefs like Steph Izard at The Girl & The Goat and I think that trend will grow. -Steve
I second the tongue and add sweetbreads. After some reading, it appears that sweetbreads (the thymus gland) generally come from young animals like lamb and veal, when the thymus is more pronounced, and as far as I can tell each animal only has two (someone fact check me here, I couldn’t find this info). Which would tend to crap on all the points I made about eating less animal parts.
That being said, it is considered offal and a lot of people are scared of it. Don’t be! Sweetbreads aren’t gamey or weird tasting at all, they’re kind of like these creamy, delicate chicken nuggets. I tend to only see them on menus at fancy French places and I order them every time. More! –Vince
V. Vietnamese Clay Pot Cooking
People always rave about how well savory and sweet go together when it comes to desserts, but what about the combo with regards to entrees? Vietnamese clay pot food carries a deep caramel flavor and an umami richness that few foods manage to combine. There’s a hit of spice, bright herbs, and those rich, sweet-tinged flavors that the clay pot does such a great job of retaining. I wonder what dishes like this would look like with a little fusion? Most cultures have clay pot cooking of some variety so hybridization seems like a natural fit here. Clay pot fish with a tortilla on the side to make tacos? I’d murder that. (Also, don’t @ me about food fusion being appropriative. The history of food is all about merging traditions.)
Anyway, the clay pot fish pictured above is from a place right next to my apartment, and I’ve literally eaten their clay pot fish four times this week. So…let’s do more of this. —Steve
VI. Twists On Comfort Foods
See the dish above? It’s French toast with a duck leg and Chinese five spice maple syrup. Seems kinda weird right? But it’s essentially chicken and waffles. Sweet and savory is right there, so is the bird (duck in this case). The five spice is a nice surprise.
I had this dish last week at Mix Mix Bar Kitchen and it was absolutely decadent. Flavor wise, I don’t know if I ate anything better all year, but the sense memory for late nights at Roscoe’s was definitely in evidence. It’s nice to see chefs who pay attention to trends (“People like comfort foods… maybe I should make some?”) without letting trends define them. To me, this is a chef being bold and inventive in a way that looks, tastes, and feels really accessible. -Steve
VII. Hand Pulled Noodles
The spicy cumin lamb noodles at Xi’an Famous Foods, had a banner year in 2016. Not that Xi’an Famous Foods wasn’t getting love before, but this year the place (and the spicy lamb in particular) hit the stratosphere. I can attest to how good the hand-pulled noodles there are. I was in NYC for three days this fall and ended up eating there four times. That ratio — considering the options at my disposal — seems a little crazy.
With all that said, hand pulled noodles are incredibly glutinous, springy, strands of joy and I want more of them everywhere. They aren’t too complicated and they’re cheap, so barriers to entry are incredibly low. Also, they hold flavor well — making them a wonderful vehicle for whatever new weird combo chefs want to try out. Let’s do this world! -Steve
I mean rice in all forms. Firstly, rice cultivation is a bio-diverse agribusiness that supports florae and fauna in abundance. Small time farmers have been able to grow more rice with less water and chemicals recently by shifting back to organic fertilizers like manure. Secondly, rice is truly underrated as a side, much less main course in the west. It’s super versatile — you can curry it, steam it, fry it, boil it, and bake it. That’s why 2017 needs to be the year we all fall back in love with rice. -Zach
Here are a few rice dishes I’d like to see, in specific:
This rice porridge is a staple across south and eastern Asian cuisines. Rice is cooked usually overnight creating the porridge. Before serving various accompaniments are added from raw white fish to poached chicken or stir fried greens. It’s a goddam delicious way to start the day and super filling and nutritious. You’ll forget oatmeal and live for a good bowl of congee every morning.
This dish spans from Persian to South Asian cuisine as a cornerstone of any good meal. The saffron rice is steamed with root veg and curried meats to create one of the best dishes you’ll eat. It’s spicy, savory, and filling.
This is Central Asia’s answer to Rice-A-Roni. It’s generally cumin and garlic based rice dish made with root veg, dried fruit, and succulent chunks of tender lamb. You’ll find it on nearly every corner in the ‘Stans, and it should be on every corner in ‘Murica too.
D) Wild Rice
Speaking of Rice-A-Roni, we should be demanding high-end versions of that working class staple ASAP. Wild rice is poised for a comeback thanks to the work of Native American chefs like Sean Sherman. Add in some bison meat, plains herbs, and bone broth and let that wild rice bloom in the pot. It’s a savory dish that’ll is sure to please with authentic American flavors.
E) Breakfast Fried Rice
Any self-respecting breakfast joint’s game is weak without a killer fried rice on the menu. It can be a spicy nasi goreng from Indonesia, or just a standard Chinese style fried rice as long as it has a runny egg on top. Fried rice for breakfast is the perfect way to start the day with a carb load that’s gluten free and full of green veg. Hell, you can even throw some pork belly in there to stay within the confines of bacon and eggs!
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IX. Wild Game
Let’s not kid ourselves, the industrial farming techniques that produce most of America’s meat are a f*cking nightmare. One way to cure our ludicrous, wasteful ways is to start sourcing animal proteins through alternative means. Listen, I’m not saying that hunting deer or boar is going to replace the beef and pork industry — what I am saying is that you can make a choice not to eat meat from those industries. Remember, you vote with every dollar you spend.
Bison, venison, elk, kangaroo, alligator, and more are often a much leaner and richer animal protein than your average plastic-wrapped steak or pork chop. Here’s a bonus: Programs to farm and raise game often do more for conservation than trophy hunting initiatives. A good example is the crocodile farming and conservation programs in Australia, in which croc eggs are rescued from nests that are sure to be destroyed by flooding and sold to farms (creating an ancillary profit, motivating ranchers not to cull crocs). This program allows the wild populations to flourish, sustain the species, and provide a clean and nutrient rich animal protein to the food market. It also negates the poaching market as croc skins and meat are readily available at low prices.
You’ll find similar food systems in Germany for wild boar and venison, in which game is farm-forest raised in controlled environments — assuring quality of life for the animal, and quality of product for you.
Overall, game should start popping up more and more on menus as the conservation efforts prove vital in saving some species. Basically, if we like to eat something, we’re not going to exterminate it (see: American Bison and Australian Crocodiles, both species on the brink of extinction that were brought back with amazing success). – Zach
X. Celery Root
I travel between NYC, LA, and Portland a lot — three cities that are on the frontier of U.S. food culture — so I feel like I see food trends pretty quickly after they pop up. So while roast cauliflower, fried cauliflower, and pureed cauliflower might not have invaded your city yet, I’m a little burnt out.
My pick for a substitute: celery root. The root below the celery stalk whips and mashes smoothly, and tastes root-vegetable-ish but with more tang. In my book, celery root puree with some horseradish is going to beat mashed potatoes every time — it’s just a more balanced, lighter compliment for meat and it doesn’t get gummy. It’s also dead cheap, which should please chefs immensely. -Steve