November 30, 2015

Exploring the Fine Line Between Sweet and Savory Dishes

Post by Chef Corbin

If you’ve been to fine dining restaurants recently, you may have been treated to a new trend in cooking; savory oatmeal, sweetened meat dishes, and other plays on the expectations we have between sweet and savory ingredients. More and more, we’re seeing a blurring of the lines in food between the traditional categories of sweet and savory.

If you’re not a classically trained chef, you might not know exactly how to bring these ideas home and apply them to your own cooking repertoire. It’s incredibly easy to do once you get a feel for it by trying a few low risk dishes first.

It’s not that crazy to get started. Consider two related dishes: Grits, the often sweet (or sweetened with syrup or fruit) ubiquitous side dish of the southern United States. Its cousin, from Italy, is the nearly always savory polenta. Where grits often have butter and molasses, polenta is served with tomato sauce, hearty meat sauces, mushrooms, and cheeses.

Polenta can be made, cooled, and cut into pieces, mixed with fruit, and baked with mascarpone cheese to make a twist on a cobbler.

Quinoa, which is often used in savory salads, works equally well in sweet applications. You can make “breakfast” or dessert Quinoa by cooking the grain in sweetened milk, thinned cream or coconut milk until thick. Top with your favorite fruit compote, fresh fruit, Nutella, chocolate, or Dulce de leche for a treat.

Savory oatmeal is one of the newest food trends making its way to menus. It has come far since the original burst on to the scene- snail porridge from the Fat Duck in England, and it’s much more accessible for every day cooking. Curry blends well with oatmeal, and you can easily make a side dish for meats with curry, coconut milk, fish sauce and chilis, to give your oatmeal a southeast asian twist.

What about crossing the line from the opposite direction? We know that sweet applications of traditionally savory foods has been a staple of some cuisines for years (think about sweet barbecue sauce on top of smoked ribs, for example) but how can you push the idea of adding sweetness to traditionally savory recipes?

Consider Moroccan tagine. A tagine is a stew made with meats, vegetables, and dried fruits. The fruit adds a depth to the flavor of the meat, which is sometimes highly spiced. Combinations often used include apricots, prunes, and cinnamon.

A snack you can easily make at home to explore this combination is candied bacon. Make a rub from spices, salt, pepper, and brown sugar (some of the spices could even be “gingerbread” spices (cloves, cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, nutmeg.) Rub slices of bacon on both sides with the rub and bake on a rack in the oven at 325 for 35 minutes, turning once.

Don’t be afraid to mix sweet and savory. Exploring the unexpected in food is one of the best ways to push your cooking skills forward. Keep experimenting with taste combinations that are outside your comfort zone.