A ragù can be a menu workhorse – it’s satisfying, it provides variety by complementing a wide range of starches, and it can be reinvented with different proteins, spices and vegetables to suit your ingredient supply and clientele. Purists favoring a meat-based ragù can serve a classic Bolognese sauce with tagliatelle, or a melt-in-your-mouth lamb ragù with fettucine or wide ribbons of pappardelle. Proteins ranging from turkey to sausage can work too. Guests looking for plant-forward options need not miss out either – a mushroom- or lentil-based ragù can be a hearty (and convincing) substitute for the meatier varieties.
At a time when it’s important lean into your pantry and stretch your inventory as far as it can go, what can you do to reinvent menu items on the fly? The secret’s in the sauce. A new marinade or dipping sauce can create a new and different experience. As you update your menu, what items could get a new lease on life with a different sauce? From falafel to French fries to focaccia, consider trying new sauces that can upscale a dish, give it some on-trend flavor, or offer a creative twist with minimal labor and added ingredients.
Comfort food is always on trend. But as much as guests crave the nostalgic comfort of a dish they know well, they also want something creative and interesting – a step beyond what they might think about preparing at home. Making small adjustments can offer that interest and extend your menu. Consider how global spices, seasonal produce or new marinades or sauces might complement the classic dishes you serve.
It’s one of the paradoxes of running a restaurant right now: Accommodate the preferences of your guests – but do so with a smaller staff, a slimmed-down menu and an unpredictable supply of ingredients. While that can be challenging for sure, there are simple ways to give guests the range of options they crave without stretching your inventory to its limit. Looking to your spices, sauces, dressings and condiments can help you create many variations on a dish and offer the customization guests are demanding – all without requiring a lot of staff training or consuming valuable real estate in your pantry. Try changing up the seasoning and dipping sauces on your appetizer menu to create a new special, using a popular soup to transform the flavor of a pasta dish, or looking to various combinations of condiments and global spices to add a range of international flavors to your burger menu. Even minor tweaks to a marinade can change the experience of an entrée. Turning to these options can be a labor saver, as well as a tool to save time on staff training. As you look across your inventory, what shelf-stable ingredients could you use to create multiple menu items that are new to your guests?
What chef doesn’t want a ready supply of simple, versatile sauces and marinades? Chimichurri sauce can liven up a variety of dishes and, in keeping with its Argentinian roots, is an especially good complement to beef. Serve it atop steak crostini for a colorful, satisfying addition to your selection of small plates or appetizers.
The Speciality Food Association expects fermented condiments – and particularly Gochujang – to be among the top food trends to take off in 2020. Gochujang, the Korean red chili paste made from fermented soybeans, rice and seasonings, gives a kick to marinades, dipping sauces, soups and stews. How can you use it and other fermented condiments on your menu in the coming year?
Wouldn’t it be great to know what your guests will want to eat and drink not just next month or next season, but for the next two years? A recent Technomic forecast can tell you. The company has a menu predictive tool that includes machine learning, social listening tools and historical menu trends designed to map out consumer taste predictions for the next two years. Five items rose to the top: Is there a place for any of them on your menu? Two fiery sauces, Nashville hot and gochujang, will likely become widespread on menus in the coming months and years, according to Technomic’s findings. Nashville hot is a cayenne-based sauce that is associated with fried chicken – though the coming months may bring new applications. Gochujang, the Korean sauce made from fermented soybeans, dried chilies and garlic, manages to be spicy, salty and sweet. There were three beverages flagged for their anticipated rise in popularity: Ginger beer, Shochu and Mezcal. Ginger beer, which is made by fermenting ginger, yeast and sugar, is often non-alcoholic but has versatility as a mixer with alcoholic beverages. Shochu, the Japanese alcoholic beverage that can be made from ingredients as varied as sweet potatoes and barley, has a stronger taste than sake. Mezcal, a tequila relative, has a smoky flavor that is rising in popularity in both sweet and savory applications (one Washington, D.C. restaurant carries 35 varieties of the beverage).