Chefs at independent restaurants have the flexibility to experiment with flavors and introduce more adventurous menu ideas. Technomic tracks this activity in its Emerging Eats report, pinpointing 50 trends that are bubbling up on indie menus each quarter. These are some of the latest foods, drinks, flavors and ingredients to watch.
1. Duck fat fries
Duck fat fries were all the rage a few years ago. Now chefs are riffing on that idea and frying potatoes in chicken fat. Also known as schmaltz—a trending ingredient used with roasted vegetables, appetizer spreads and other applications, as per Technomic—rendered chicken fat is now showing up as a cooking medium to infuse fries with flavor and crisp the texture. These fries are not vegetarian-friendly, but they pair particularly well with fried or roast chicken.
On the menu: Chicken Fat Fries at Damn the Weather, Seattle
With fennel pollen and lemon
2. Fruit and vegetable milks
Plant-based milks derived from almonds, peanuts, oats and coconut are now widely available at coffee chains, retail venues and dining halls. Next up: fruit and vegetable milks sourced or flavored with sweet potatoes, bananas, corn and sunchokes. Some are blended with almond milk or dairy milk, so not all are vegan, but these fruit and vegetable variations are making waves in coffee drinks, cocktails and desserts.
On the menu: Sweet Potato au Lait at The Swill Inn, Chicago
Double shot of espresso with sweet potato almond milk
3. New rabes
Broccoli rabe is pretty well-known to American diners familiar with Italian cuisine. Rabe—aka raab and rapini—is actually the flowering stalk of broccoli and other vegetables in the brassica family, including turnips, arugula, kale, Brussels sprouts and collard greens. Now chefs are playing around with rabes from these other plants, often offsetting the bitter greens with the milder flavors of pasta, cheese and chicken breast.
On the menu: Ricotta Cavatelli at Che Fico, San Francisco
Pasta with lamb sausage, Riverdog Farm’s collard raab and Pecorino Romano
With its Latin flavors and acidic marinade, escovitch is sometimes compared to ceviche, but this fish prep starts with cooked seafood instead of raw. The fish is usually fried or poached first, then covered with a spicy marinade enhanced with chiles. The vinegar or citrus juices in the marinade pickle the fish and vegetables. Escovitch is actually the Caribbean version of escabeche, a pickled seafood dish that originated in the Mediterranean.
On the menu: Snapper Escovitch at Compere Lapin, New Orleans
Fried red snapper with Scotch bonnet chiles and carrot beurre blanc
Ubiquitous in sushi and other Japanese dishes, seaweed—considered a superfood for its nutritional benefits—has started trending as a snack, vegetable and salad ingredient. Besides the familiar nori, several other varieties are coming onto menus, including kelp, kombu, wakame and dulse. And these sustainable sea vegetables are finding their way to the bar as well as the kitchen, showing up in green-tinted seaweed cocktails.
On the menu: Siren’s Call at Apotheke in New York City
Gin, roasted seaweed, cucumber, squid ink, fresh-cut ginger and candy pearl with a black smoked lava salt rim
Cusabi is a blend of cucumber, lemon and mayonnaise or sour cream that can be served as a dip, sauce or salad dressing. Some versions add a pinch of wasabi or horseradish to heat up the mix, turning it into a natural pairing for sushi, sashimi or fried seafood.
On the menu: Cusabi Chicken Salad at The Ridge Inn Restaurant, Laurelville, Ohio
Diced chicken, pecans and dried cranberries tossed in creamy cusabi dressing with a hint of horseradish