No longer just a county fair staple, fried foods are taking top billing in gourmet restaurants. NRN reports that more upscale restaurants are seeing Brussels sprouts and oysters become the darlings of food hipsters, and formerly polarizing items, like pickles, squid and octopus, are gaining wider appeal.
“It’s a good way to get people who don’t like Brussels sprouts to try them, because deep frying things almost always make things taste better,” said Patrick Russell, executive chef at the Dallas location of four-unit Max’s Wine Dive.
According to Datassential, as unusual fried items are becoming more popular on U.S. menus, many iconic fried items are disappearing. “The menu research firm found that such items as cheese sticks, poppers, fried shrimp and fried chicken strips were found on fewer menus at the end of 2013 than they were in 2009. Meanwhile, fried green tomatoes are on 17 percent more menus than they were four years ago, chickpea-based falafel is on 27 percent more menus, and fried pickles are on 182 percent more menus than they were four years ago,” reports NRN.
These more unique fried menu items are bringing diners back night after night. At Crop Bistro and Bar, Chef Schimoler can’t take his Cherry Bomb off the menu. “People are addicted. It’s been on since I opened seven years ago,” he says. The creation is made from a hollowed out Roma tomato stuffed with chorizo and Monterey Jack wrapped in a wonton skin and, of course, it’s deep-fried.
Before adding a new, unusual fried item to your menu, remember to consider portion size and flavor. A small bite can make a big impact. For example, when the Cheesecake Factory added fried zucchini to their small plates menu, they paid close attention to getting the perfect flavor by having a light buttermilk batter. That way, they would have “a fresh vegetable flavor, warmed through, but [it] would taste like zucchini.”
No matter what you choose to fry, “crispy equals craveable.” But don’t overlook the sauces that accompany your fried creations. Places like Joe’s Crab Shack and Red Lobster are finding success with spicier concoctions like Sriracha rémoulade and Sriracha aïoli for dipping. Consider adding to your existing dressings to create Horseradish Blue Cheese Dipping Sauce or Fire Roasted Dipping Sauce served with your fried veggies.
All in all, fried plates give you the opportunity to create signature items and increase appeal of menu items that ordinarily might not be so tasty for diners. Consumers are looking for both a unique and a familiar food, so taking one of their favorite vegetables or even desserts and frying it just might be the trick. Not only could this drive traffic, it could also boost sales with consumers eager to try a new unusual fried food as a small plate. Go ahead and fry something new – you could have a hit menu item on your hands!