When successful restaurant brands like Sweetgreen, a modern fast-casual salad concept, serve a carrot-chile vinaigrette as a signature dressing, it signals something is shifting in how consumers are enjoying heat.
“It’s all about how you create complexity,” says Andrew Hunter, founder of Chef Andrew Hunter, a culinary development agency based in Los Angeles.
“Think about different attributes in your ingredients and how you can complement them.” In fact, complexity, nuance and flavor depth are all driving excitement around menu items that boast some kind of heat component. Here are four opportunities to deliver high heat.
- Togarashi—is a seven-ingredient Japanese spice blend including two types of peppers, roasted orange peel, black and white sesame seeds, hemp seed, ginger and seaweed. It’s got high heat, but made really interesting through layers of complex flavors. Menu potential is significant. At Gigi in Miami, the Smoked Ribs features a togarashi honey. At Ink in Los Angeles, radishes get a garnish of togarashi and miso butter.
- Battered peppers—Rounding out the mouthfeel of a fiery pepper with a savory, crispy batter is a beautiful thing. In fact, the road to craveability often sees that very combination. Crispy jalapeños garnishing a salad or bowl build add a high-impact finish. A burger studded with a few pickled and battered Serranos, maybe stuffed with cream cheese, add an unexpected, but welcome hit of flavorful heat.
- Sambal—Hailing from Southeast Asia, this hot sauce brings seriously bright-hot heat with a magical combination of chile pepper, rice wine vinegar and citrus. But it also has just a touch of funk—a long finish with nuanced, deep flavor thanks to fish sauce and shrimp paste. Knowing that the modern use of heat embraces this kind of multi-faceted personality, it’s no surprise that sambal is adding its flourish of heat to menus across the country.
- Green Harissa—Harissa, with its fiery red profile, has made big moves on menus today, but we’re now seeing green harissa coming onto the field. Boasting jalapeño, cilantro, parsley, cumin, lemon juice and oil—with regional tweaks here and there—it’s got a mellower heat than its red cousin. Used as a sandwich spread or dolloped atop a bowl build, green harissa lifts flavor beautifully.