Hybrid ingredients and protein enhancers can expand your menu in creative ways. by Rob Benes –
Pretty much everyone in the food world is on the lookout for new foods and flavors and on a quest to find new adventures in dining. It’s natural to want to explore the outer limits of the familiar and dabble in the unknown. And for the past few years, hybrid foods, such as cronuts, ramen noodle burgers and cragels, have been exciting palates.
But rather than combining foods for a hybrid recipe, there are hybrid ingredients—fruits and vegetables—and fat-reducing protein enhancers to unveil improved recipes, new flavors and an abundance of creative pairings.
The best way to approach new ingredients is to think simple. You want the vegetable or fruit to shine in its natural color and flavor. You may or may not want protein enhancers to be noticed. Cost depends on the item and its seasonality, but most fruits and vegetables tend to be mid-range and not overly priced. They can be ordered through purveyors, or local farmers might be growing them. Traditional fruits and vegetables are easier to work with, because there’s a preconceived sense of how they taste.
“Your mind can get around the hybrids,” says John Eisenhart, executive chef at Pazzo Ristorante,
Portland, Ore., “but they need to be tasted so that an educated guess can be made as to what to do with them.”
Some hybrid items can have a high water content, which makes them fragile and likely to fall apart under high temperatures or long cooking times. This will result in loss of flavor and texture, as well as appearance. “Determining the water content will give you further direction on what approach should be taken,” Eisenhart says.
Protein enhancers—mushrooms and textured soy protein (TSP)—are primarily mixed with ground meats to raise protein levels, reduce fat and allow for another layer of flavor with the use of amino acids. TSP comes in flour, dried flakes and chunks. Replacing a portion of the ground meats in recipes (25%-50%) with hydrated TSP retains all the meat’s flavor without adding fat, cholesterol or sodium, according to The Soyfoods Council, Ankeny, Iowa.
Mushrooms and TSP also can stretch the budget—and ground meats—without sacrificing flavor or texture.
Names of hybrid fruits, such as mandarinquat and lemato, sound like something from The Wizard of Oz. Eisenhart steams peeled lematos and combines with roasted garlic and soaked bread to make a salsa rosa for seafood dishes. The fruit, a cross between a lemon and a tomato with hints of lemon grass, rose and geranium, works well with fish because it’s sweet and offsets the iodine flavor of some seafood and shellfish. “People think it’s tomato sauce until they taste it and discover a pleasing flavor,” Eisenhart says.
The mandarinquat, which Eisenhart uses in ceviches, is a hybrid of mandarin orange and kumquat. Like a kumquat, it can be eaten whole, peel and all, although mandarinquats are larger, with crunchier skin, and tend to have many small seeds. Raw, they can be eaten as a snack, sliced in salads or paired with cheese. Cooked, they go in sauces, purees and preserves.
“I like to leave these ingredients fairly unadulterated, so guest can actually appreciate them,” Eisenhart says.
Brandon Felder, executive chef at Le Foret, New Orleans, makes an heirloom tomato salad that includes lemato, compressed watermelon, cucumber/watermelon sorbet and lump crabmeat with a watermelon vinaigrette. When he makes a tomato salad, he uses a lemon olive oil to preseason the tomatoes, but when using the lemato, he can skip that step. “The extra and complex flavor profile allows you to not do much other than present the food,” he says.
“Chefs are looking for more opportunities with plant-based items and cuisine, especially when they can deliver an appetizer or entree that includes a protein,” says Andrew Hunter, research and development chef, author and R&D mentor on Lifetime’s “Supermarket Superstar.”
Hunter has been working with Coastline Family Farms, Salinas, Calif., developing the soon- to-be-released Burgundy Nutraleaf Lettuce. Rutgers University, New Brunswick, N.J., created the lettuce through natural breeding processes (not GMO), using regular red lettuces as parent stock. It’s a nutrient-dense food with high levels of antioxidants, particularly the polyphenols family.
The lettuce is juiced with blueberries for a superantioxidant rush, or with pink lady apples to provide a sweet and tart contrast for smoothies or shots. To help with drinkability and more sweetness, blueberry juice, apple juice or a high pH water is added. “The juicing of the lettuce provides the green herbaceous notes that kale, chard or collard greens give without the bitter- ness,” Hunter says.
Over the years, there have been a number of sushi roll preparations that switch out nori with different kinds of sushi sheets. The lettuce is easy to work with in rolls while adding great color and boosting nutritional value. “It’s a nice way to utilize the lettuce in an unexpected way, because everyone expects to see lettuce in salads,” Hunter says. “Plus, it’s a great substitute for those people who do not like the nori flavor.”
He makes an inside-out sushi roll with rice on the outside—known as uramaki—with the lettuce inside. He first cuts the lettuce to the desired size and lays it down on a rolling mat. Next, sticky rice is spread on top of the lettuce. He adds pickled vegetables and avocado, rolls it, rerolls in sesame seeds and cuts into bite-size pieces.
At Yale University, New Haven, Conn., Yale Dining’s flavor strategy is called Farm the Flavors. “It’s the chef’s responsibility to maximize and enhance the flavor of produce through culinary technique, appropriate seasoning and appetizing food combinations,” explains Ron DeSantis, CMC, director of culinary excellence. “Chefs working with new breeds of produce need to ensure that the integrity of the produce is not compromised.”
For example, one of the quality characteristics of broccoflower, a cross between broccoli and cauliflower, is its appearance. “If it was pureed into a soup, the impact of the integrity and unique appearance is lost,” DeSantis says. “The preparation method of new vegetable breeds must complement the vegetable.”
Palate history and remembering classic combinations of flavors also is important when using new items. Eisenhart uses rabbage, a hybrid of radish and cabbage, to make kimchee. He follows a basic kimchee recipe calling for Napa cabbage and daikon radish, but uses rabbage, instead.
textured soy protein
TSP is generally added to ground beef and pork recipes, because it complements those flavors best and is not noticed. “People want to eat healthier without sacrificing flavor and texture,” says Dave Jensen, CCC, executive chef, Hy-Vee, Urbandale, Iowa. “TSP is one item that can enhance proteins while reducing fat content and still allowing flavor to be retained.”
He uses TSP in meatloaf in a ratio of two parts meat to one part flakes, increasing the use of liquid (broth, amino acids or soy) to rehydrate the flakes. TSP flour also can be used as a binding agent to reduce the amount of breadcrumbs or eggs.
DeSantis uses textured soy crumbles for vegan pasta dishes, vegan quesadillas and chicken piccata recipes.
The University of Massachusetts (UMass), Amherst, partnered with the Mushroom Council, San Jose, Calif., earlier this year to create Mushroom Mania Week to promote the health benefits of mushrooms and showcase a variety of options for using them. Recipes were developed to reduce or eliminate saturated fat from standard menu items. A prime example was a beef empanada. Instead of using ground beef, a sauteed portabello mushroom filling was substituted to eliminate saturated fat, enhance flavor and transform a traditional street food from a meat-based recipe to a vegetarian favorite.
“Mushrooms are some of the most flavorful foods, and are extremely healthy,” says Anthony Jung, CEC, chef at Hampshire Dining Commons, UMass Dining. “They are low in calories and high in vitamin B and umami.”
Jung also prepares wild mushroom risotto, Jamaican mushroom lettuce cups and grilled mushroom panini with Swiss cheese.
Over the past three years, Yale Dining and the Mushroom Council collaboratively developed new solutions for increasing flavor profiles and enhancement of familiar foods. They worked with one of the country’s largest mushroom producers to develop a ready-to-use mushroom duxelles that is stable in flavor and consistency. This allows Yale Dining chefs to focus on season- ing and proper cooking procedures for beef and turkey burgers and meatloaf.
“The umami delivered by the duxelles enhances the flavor of the meats, and 33% less meat is needed when preparing the burger or meatloaf when using the duxelles,” DeSantis says. “When eating the duxelles-enhanced burger, people experience a moist burger with familiar texture and a delicious beef flavor. It just happens to have mushroom duxelles as an ingredient.”
Using the same ratio of meat and duxelles, Yale Dining also prepares turkey burger Florentine; sweet potato, quinoa and mushroom burger with tomato chutney; slow-roasted flank steak; and chili.
“One thing we are not attempting to do is take anything away, or make it cheaper. The goal is food quality,” DeSantis says. “The duxelles result in a flavorful and juicy finished food.”
Hampshire Dining Commons, an all-you-care-to-eat dining operation, has been using a ratio of 30% button shiitake mush- rooms to beef in beef-blend sliders. The mushrooms, coarsely chopped with a touch of salt and pepper, with some added chopped parsley, are used as the binding agent.
“Our customers like the rich and meaty flavors of mushrooms,” says Ken Toong, executive director of auxiliary enterprises, UMass Amherst. “We tried a 50% ratio, but the patties turn brown too quickly unless you serve them immediately.”
Let’s Stretch: Hybrid ingredients and protein enhancers can expand your menu in creative ways by Rob Benes is Reprinted from The National Culinary Review, July/August 2014, Vol. 38, #7 ©2014 The American Culinary Federation, Inc. All rights reserved.