Sauces may be perennial menu workhorses but that doesn’t mean that they’re not just as influenced by trends as any other category. From bold, spicy flavors and global influences to new cooking techniques and local sourcing, sauces are always being reinvented—and they always contribute value and signature appeal to all types of menu items.
Here are a few to consider:
Quick Pan Sauces
One of the simplest à la minute sauces to execute, a pan sauce is also versatile and delicious. After you brown a steak, chicken breast, fish, or even a vegetable like asparagus in a sauté pan, there will be a bit of crunchy, caramelized rendered fat or cooking fat left in the pan. The French call this the fond (foundation), which when loosened with a deglazing splash of wine and/or stock, juice, or another liquid, creates a light and flavorful pan sauce that can be made in the time that it takes for the protein to rest. The sauce can be further flavored with aromatics like chopped shallot or garlic, anchovy, a bit of tomato, minced parsley or another fresh herb, citrus peel, and more to create a delicious finish.
Global Influences: Chermoula
Also spelled charmoula, this Moroccan marinade and sauce for fish, chicken, and other ingredients is typically made with garlic, cumin, coriander, oil, lemon juice, and salt, which can be left chunky or blended together to create a smooth paste. Regional variations—from such traditions as Tunisian and Algerian cuisine—may also include pickled lemons, onion, ground chili peppers, black pepper, saffron, and other herbs. In addition to its use as a marinade or a cooking sauce, chermoula can be used as a relish, dressing, or dip.
Anyone looking for a “secret ingredient” to add flavor to food need look no further than fish sauce, an Asian condiment that’s like an instant shot of umami. Ubiquitous in Southeast Asia, fish sauce is the liquid extracted from fish fermented with salt, and like anchovies, its flavor can be unidentifiable but important to a variety of foods, including:
- Spaghetti sauce
- Chicken wings
- Dips and dressings (such as miso mayonnaise)
- Salsa verde
- Sautéed vegetables, including greens and broccoli
- Noodle soups
- Deviled eggs and other egg dishes
- Quick pickles
- Bloody Mary mix
Global Influences: Romesco
One of the most important sauces in Spanish cooking, Romesco is a smooth, gently spicy-sweet mixture of smoky roasted piquillo peppers, almonds and/or hazelnuts, garlic, and olive oil. Ground stale bread may be used as a thickener or to provide texture; other common ingredients include roasted tomatoes, red wine vinegar, onions, mint, or fennel leaves. Traditionally used as a dip for roasted vegetables, Romesco is also delicious on fish, lamb, and chicken, where its rosy-red color adds drama as well as exciting flavor on the plate.
Salsas have become so ubiquitous that they can seem same-old, same-old, but there are ways to make this popular Latin-style dip/sauce more distinctive: Char the ingredients. Blistering the skins of the component ingredients—such as peppers, chilis, onions, and tomatoes—brings out the sweetness in the vegetables and adds a rich, smoky flavor. This can be done on a grill or under a broiler (putting them on a foil-lined baking sheet is probably the easiest and least messy method), or by holding the vegetables with tongs directly over a gas flame or with a blowtorch. Once they’re sufficiently blackened, just dump the vegetables and their exuded juices into a blender or food processor and add additional ingredients such as cilantro, salt, vinegar, and so on.
Global Influences: Curry
Curry, the flavorful dish of spiced vegetables and meat that is traditionally associated with Indian and Thai menus, is becoming more popular in the United States as chefs become more interested in these bold flavors. According to the latest research from Datassential MenuTrends, in fact, 19% of all U.S. restaurant menus feature curry, an increase of 1% over the last four years. Curry now appears on 33.8% of “ethnic” menus and on 7.7% of non-ethnic menus. The company points to examples such as Cheesecake Factory’s Thai Coconut-Lime Chicken (tender pieces of chicken, snow peas, shiitake mushrooms, onions, and garlic in a Thai coconut-curry sauce with cashews and mango, served with white rice) as evidence for how Southeast Asian curry is mainstreaming.
Mayonnaise has become one of those sauces that can be customized with all kinds of additional ingredients, making it incredibly versatile for sandwiches, salads, and other cold foods. Along with aioli, its garlic-flavored sibling, mayonnaise can be spiked with a variety of other flavorings, including:
- Sundried tomato
- Olive tapenade
- Sesame oil
- Blue cheese
- Chili sauce
- Maple syrup
- Smoked paprika
Calling out the addition in a menu description makes the item in question more distinctive and appealing.
Global Influences: Gochujang
As popular in Korea as ketchup is in the United States, this thick, crimson paste made from chili peppers, glutinous rice (also known as sticky rice), fermented soybeans, and salt is making the transition over to mainstream menu applications as Americans become more fascinated by Korean flavors and ingredients—can you say kimchi? Rather than being used as a finishing sauce, gochujang’s sweet-spicy-salty flavor can be used to add depth to stews, soups, and marinades and basting sauces for meat dishes, or as a condiment for rice dishes, meats, burgers, tacos, and more.
Source: Datassential MenuTrends, April 2017
The information provided is based on a general industry overview, and is not specific to your business operation. Each business is unique and decisions related to your business should be made after consultation with appropriate experts.