Out of the Ordinary
Houlihan’s offers four different spiralized items on its menu, putting to good use a technique that Slavin says is “not very challenging, especially once you get the hang of it.” The restaurant chain introduced a pan-roasted chicken with a spiralized sweet potato “linguine” in January. The sweet potato “noodles” are long, thin and elegant, and “if you close your eyes, it behaves just like linguine,” says Slavin. Another Houlihan’s dish, butternut squash and sausage lasagna, is paired with a spiralized zucchini salad and served with parsley, basil and artichokes. Thanks to its high water content, the zucchini can remain uncooked. “It has a pleasant bite to it—a raw crunch,” he says.
Prior to March, spiralized vegetables were appearing at Houlihan’s only as composed plates, accompanied by a protein element. Slavin crossed that bridge in April when the restaurant chain launched a stand-alone appetizer of spiralized beet chips served with housemade tzatziki. “Beets can sometimes be tough—even among veggie-centric folks, but with this dish, even self-proclaimed beet haters are giving it rave reviews,” he says. “It has a good, earthy flavor, just the right amount of crispiness, and is really addictive, especially when paired with the tzatziki sauce.”
Coming Full Circle
Spiralized produce made its debut decades ago, Sutton says. “I worked in high-end restaurants, and we were spiralizing in the 1990s,” she recalls. Slavin has similar memories. “Back then, we were spiralizing all the time, but we didn’t give the technique a name. It was a big trend in fine dining in the ’80s and ’90s, and it’s interesting to see it come full circle and be popular again.” Driving the proliferation today is both the veg-centric movement and retail influence.
Typically, trends like these begin in high-end restaurants and then trickle down to casual, fast casual and retail, which is precisely what’s happened with spiralized and shaved vegetables, Sutton says. The aisles of American grocery stores today feature ready-to-eat sides, including zucchini or beet noodle salads, as well as meals like carrot noodle pad Thai. Consumers have jumped on the trend, propelled by retail exposure and blogger influence, spiralizing and shaving at home with great enthusiasm.
These factors bode well for chefs looking to signaturize their produce offerings, Sutton says. “Diners are more likely to be drawn to this way of serving produce; they’re more interested in it, and more tempted to try it.” The process of spiralizing or shaving the vegetables can be time-consuming, she cautions. “Depending on your application, you can prepare some of these vegetables ahead of time. Brussels sprouts can be shaved a day ahead, and carrots and butternut squash, too. But cucumber and zucchini are best spiralized just before serving to maximize their tastiness. Fresh is best for spiralizing, because vegetables that aren’t fresh won’t have the crunch you’re looking for.”
Slavin and his team have found optimal results using a French mandoline, spiralizing vegetables each morning and sometimes again at night. “You always want the freshest look and taste, so it’s better to get smaller quantities of vegetables and spiralize more frequently,” he says. Slavin has found such strong brand equity in spiralized vegetables that he plans to feature a spiralized vegetable category on Houlihan’s menu as a permanent fixture. “Ultimately, we’ll have six items in that section—four constant ones, and two that will change as popularity for the concept grows.”
Time for a shave
Shaved produce has a more understated star quality right now than spiralized, but a lot of concepts are adopting the technique with great result. Panera menus a seasonal Shaved Root Vegetable Salad, with carrots, parsnips, rutabaga and radishes, topped with cashews and Caesar dressing. At Citizen Supper Club in Minneapolis, John Occhiato, executive chef, menus a Shaved Cauliflower Salad that stars shaved raw cauliflower, roasted cauliflower, egg yolk, arugula, crispy fried capers, olives, manchego and anchovy bread crumbs.
Techniques that showcase culinary talent resonate with diners. Shaving and spiralizing demonstrate that deftness while bringing a whole new dimension to produce on the plate.