What is in this article?:
- Restaurants fry vegetables, seafood to please diners' palates
- Fried oysters gain popularity
Items such as Brussels sprouts, oysters, pickles, squid and octopus may be gaining wider appeal after hitting the fryer.
Los Angeles restaurant Crossroads serves fried hearts of palm, a vegan take on fried calamari.
Some once unpopular foods are making it onto trend lists these days. Brussels sprouts and oysters have become the darlings of food hipsters, and formerly polarizing items, like pickles, squid and octopus, are gaining wider appeal.
That might be because consumers are heeding nutritionists’ calls to eat more vegetables and seafood, but it also might be because chefs are making them more palatable by deep-frying them.
“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 at the Dallas location of four-unit Max’s Wine Dive. The Houston-based chain offers chicken-fried Brussels sprouts on its menu. “It’s a good way to get people to realize that they do like Brussels sprouts. They just don’t like overcooked boiled stuff.”
Kirstyn Brewer, chef of Victor Tango in Dallas, has found that oysters also move better if you fry them.
“I think people like the idea of eating oysters; it makes people feel like they’re being adventurous,” she said. “But it’s a lot easier eating them fried than eating them raw.”
Just as vegetable-based fried items are becoming more popular on U.S. menus, many iconic fried items are disappearing, according to Datassential. The menu research firm found that such items as breaded mushrooms, 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.
Among the chains pushing fried-pickle limited-time offers in the past year are Lone Star Steakhouse, based in Plano, Texas; Eat ’n Park, a family-dining chain based in the Pittsburgh area; and Cheeburger Cheeburger of Fort Myers, Fla. Fried pickles also are a permanent side dish at Umami Burger, a chain based in Los Angeles, where fried pickles were once a non-starter.
“Who doesn’t love a pickle? Who doesn’t love something fried? Who doesn’t love the two together?” asked Jim Doak, vice president of menu innovation and corporate executive chef of Houston-based Ignite Restaurant Group, parent of the Joe’s Crab Shack casual-dining brand, among others. Joe’s recently reintroduced its fried pickle after a hiatus of several months as Doak worked to change the 136-unit chain’s frying platform.
“It’s a less processed blend of herbs, spices and flours; it doesn’t have a lot of other junk in it,” Doak said, adding that the clean breading mix allowed the flavors of whatever item is being fried to shine through.
The revamped fried pickles are dusted in a seasoned flour blend, fried to order and served with two sauces — ranch dressing and a Sriracha rémoulade — as part of Joe’s new Southern Sampler, which also features shrimp toast and crab fritters for $10.99.
Red Lobster added a crispy fried green beans appetizer in November. The deep-fried beans are served with Sriracha aïoli for dipping.
“We wanted to introduce another non-seafood appetizer to our menu to provide more options for non-seafood eaters,” said a spokeswoman for the 705-unit casual-dining chain, which is owned by Darden Restaurants Inc. “For the sauce, we use ingredients that not only heat up your taste buds, but have flavor as well. Consumers’ palates are looking for flavor and heat now more than ever.”