Flavor Trends, Strategies and Solutions for Menu Development

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On Trends 2017 – part one Street-level research brings fresh ideas and menu strategies

Street-level research yields menu standouts.

’Nduja: a Hot Commodity

Our research routinely uncovers ingredients that make their appearance on multiple new menus simultaneously, and right now the most prevalent of these is ’nduja, the intensely flavored spreadable salami from the Calabrian region of Italy.

The big flavor of ’nduja vinaigrette finishes poached onion “cups” filled with gooseberries at Roberta’s in Brooklyn.

The big flavor of ’nduja vinaigrette finishes poached onion “cups” filled with gooseberries at Roberta’s in Brooklyn.

’Nduja has become a go-to flavor booster for chefs. The main attraction is its extreme versatility and ability to enhance the flavor of dishes throughout the menu parts. That said, it is our hunch that a significant part of the growth in these menu incidences is the result of chefs approximating their own versions of ’nduja in their kitchens.

And we see no problem with that. Authentic ’nduja is so powerfully spiced that it is usually used as a component in a dish rather than eaten on its own. It is also an extremely costly artisan product.

One U.S. company produces what it calls “’Nduja Americana,” made from smoked prosciutto and chiles that are puréed together, and its flavor and texture is somewhat similar to the real thing. This product is also quite expensive, which is why we speculate that some of the versions we tasted in our research, all of them delicious, were housemade using similar ingredients.

Shareable plates of ’nduja spread, served with toasted or grilled bread, were an easy find. The ’Nduja Spread at Roberta’s in Brooklyn, N.Y., is served simply garnished with just a drizzle of olive oil, while brewpub Forbidden Root in Chicago dresses its version with pickled mustard seed, chives and a few dabs of honey. The menu also features an “NBLT,” a bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich enlivened with herbed mayo and a generous slather of ’nduja.

Several restaurants served dishes dressed with ’nduja vinaigrette. At Brooklyn’s Sauvage, sunchokes are oven-roasted, tossed in the spicy dressing and garnished with shreds of mint. Roberta’s served an astounding plate of sweet onion that is cut and sectioned to form small cups. The sweet onion cups are then poached in white wine and chilled, dotted with halved gooseberries and filled with ’nduja vinaigrette.

At Italian newcomer Monteverde in Chicago, Chef Sarah Grueneberg blends the sausage into the risotto she uses for her ’Nduja Arancini, crispy fritters laced with tomato and served in a pool of creamy olive oil-poached tuna purée.

’Nduja may also be pan-fried to create crispy nuggets or granules. The Duck Egg Toast at all-day café Winsome in Los Angeles features a thick slice of sourdough topped with melted raclette, crispy bits of ’nduja and a sunny-side egg.

The big flavor of ’nduja enlivens toast with melted raclette at Winsome in Los Angeles.

The big flavor of ’nduja
enlivens toast with melted raclette at Winsome in Los Angeles.

MENU READY: Quite the Spread

The vast creative uses for ’nduja enable chefs to add flavorful sizzle across the menu.

Burgers: Add a spicy punch that doesn’t overwhelm to thick burger patties by modestly studding them with pinches of ’nduja.

Spreads & butters: Purée ’nduja with mayonnaise to create a flavorful sandwich spread, or with softened butter for an accompaniment to grilled breads, rolls and biscuits.

Pizzas & flatbreads: Spread a thin layer across a prepared crust as a flavor-enhancing base, or pinch small pieces for use as a topping.

Pasta dishes: Add a small amount to your red sauce while simmering for a piquant “fra diavolo” effect. Switch crispy bits of ’nduja for bacon in your carbonara.


A second installment of this report will appear in the September/October 2017 issue of Flavor & The Menu.


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About The Author

Gerry Ludwig

Gerry Ludwig is corporate consulting chef at Gordon Food Service, where he creates trends-based culinary solutions for operators, conducts seminars and workshops and hosts trend-tracking tours.