Food: Mix and Match – US Food Trends

20 March 2008
Food: Mix and Match – US Food Trends

Traditional and modern mixed grills bring a rustic, savory sizzle to menus.

This article first appeared in the 1 March 2008 issue of Restaurants & Institutions (R&I).

R&I is the USA's leading source of food and business-trend information and exclusive research on operators and restaurant patrons. Editorial coverage spans the entire foodservice industry, including chains, independent restaurants, hotels and institutions. To find out more about R&I, visit its website here >>

By Kate Leahy, Senior Associate Editor

Chef-owner Waldy Malouf has served a sausage mixed grill since Day 1 at five-year-old Beacon in New York City.

It's a dish well-suited for the rustic menu, which is centered around the restaurant's grill, rotisserie and wood-burning oven. Served as a hearty main course or presented for sharing at the table, Malouf's mixed grill is not for the faint of heart. Poached slab bacon and sweetbreads join merguez sausage, blood sausage and chicken-jalapeño sausage, which are accompanied by a small piece of calf's liver and half of a lamb kidney.

"The type of people who order a mixed grill, they aren't squeamish about things," Malouf acknowledges. "They get excited about blood sausage. Most people who are squeamish won't order a sausage mixed grill."

That doesn't mean that the appeal of a mixed grill is limited to the adventurous diner. Rustic preparations continue to gain favor among restaurant-goers. Meanwhile, more chefs are seeking straightforward ways to showcase premium ingredients and authentic technique.

Whether the dish is classic, as is Malouf's, or contemporary, as is Executive Chef Jeremy Lieb's modern beef dish served at Trois in Atlanta, the juxtaposition of grilled meat with simple accompaniments delivers bold flavors. To diners, the preparations also might suggest an engaged kitchen staff.

Eric Miller, executive chef of and partner at Cavo Cafe Lounge in Astoria, N.Y., believes that a well-balanced mixed grill signals to guests a high level of attention. "It proves that there are real people in the kitchen," he says.

Old English Meets New American

A traditional mixed grill, comprising meats such as bacon, kidneys, lamb chops, livers, sausage and steak and often served with broiled tomato and potatoes, generally is thought to be British in origin. "It would usually have a lamb chop and what we would call butcher's meats, a little piece of this and a little piece of that depending on what was available that day," Malouf says, explaining that the dish evolved from the need to use perishable cuts such as liver and kidneys that were left after butchering a whole animal.

Today, chefs who serve rustic mixed grills are more likely to use sausage than offal. Craig DiFonzo, chef de cuisine at A Mano in Chicago, serves a sausage mixed grill with a chicken and prosciutto sausage, a lamb sausage, and a classic Italian pork sausage made with fennel and crushed red chile pepper. The sausages are grilled to order, seared over hot coals and then cooked over indirect heat to prevent bursting.

Making the sausages in-house, says DiFonzo, allows him to use trimmings generated from fabricating entrée portions of meat. Additionally, it offers menu flexibility. "If you offered the same sausages, [customers] would get bored after a while," he says.

Not all mixed grills need sausage. Olive Garden switched from a chicken-and-sausage combination for its mixed-grill entrée to chicken with steak to appeal to a wider audience. "It's very close to the spiedino misto [traditional mixed grill] of Tuscany," says Marie Grimm, director of culinary development for the Orlando-based chain.

At Cavo Cafe Lounge, Miller serves souvlakia, a Greek marinated-and-skewered meat preparation, for large parties. He skewers chicken and pork separately, studding the skewers with slices of yellow onion and bell peppers and capping each end with a cube of feta. The skewers marinate overnight in olive oil, lemon juice, minced garlic and shallots, and oregano.

"It's good in a banquet because it's filling, it's inexpensive and it's really flavorful," Miller says. His most popular mixed-grill menu item, however, is a summertime seafood salad.

Braised octopus and par-cooked lobster are grilled alongside scallops, calamari and shrimp and then cooled. They are tossed together with a citrus-shallot vinaigrette and served at room temperature with Israeli couscous.

Seafood also is a favorite at Rose Pistola, a San Francisco restaurant serving the regional Italian food of Liguria. The $60 Mixed Grill for Two includes a grilled whole fish, typically branzino or dorade, topped with grilled local calamari, shrimp and day-boat scallops.

"Everything goes on the grill," explains Executive Chef Valentino Luchin. The fish and shellfish are seasoned with rosemary, thyme and marjoram and then brushed with olive oil and grilled over charcoal.

Beyond the Grill

Although many chefs like mixing different proteins and cooking methods, not all find that a rustic mixed-grill preparation suits their establishment. Lieb has thought about adding a refined sausage mixed grill to his menu at Trois. For now he's fine-tuning the dish Modern Beef, in which he showcases five beef selections: grilled rib-eye, wagyu strip steak, braised oxtail, braised beef cheeks and braised short ribs, each paired with a different potato preparation.

"I think the grill flavor is incredible," Lieb says. "But sometimes with a really strong grill flavor from extreme high heat and a lot of smoke, you can lose the taste of the meat."

Chef Paul Rosenbluh of Firefly Bistro in South Pasadena, Calif., also advocates mixing different proteins in one dish, as evident in Firefly's Lambalaya. A twist on classic New Orleans jambalaya, the dish includes braised leg of lamb, chorizo, onion, bell peppers, celery, garlic, crawfish and rice combined into a rich stew with a deep-fried lamb chop on top to garnish. RECIPE: Firefly Bistro's Lambalaya

But don't look for Rosenbluh to menu a mixed-grill item anytime soon. It wouldn't fit with his menu mix of composed dishes. "[A mixed grill] is a fully formed dish, but not from the standpoint of a meat, a starch and a vegetable," he explains.

Global Mixed Grills

The popularity of grilling and serving a mix of proteins is rarely lost in translation. Here are a few well travelled examples:

Argentina: Parrillada is a mix of varied cuts of beef, offal, and other proteins, seasoned simply (oftentimes only with salt) and grilled over charcoal.
Examples: Baires Grill in Miami Beach, Fla., serves Argentinian barbecue for two with garlic-marinated and grilled beef tenderloin, short ribs, flank steak, sweetbreads and blood sausage served on a tabletop grill with chimi churri sauce ($29.95).

Japan: Robata-yaki means "grilled over a charcoal-fuelled robata grill," and is a form of kushiyaki, which translates to "grilled skewers".
Example: Robata Bar in Santa Monica, Calif., offers 21 combinations of meat, seafood, and vegetables, skewered and grilled over a robata grill, with combinations including shiitake mushrooms stuffed with minced chicken ($3.75), jumbo shrimp wrapped in bacon ($9) and chicken cartilage ($2.50).

Korea: Kalbi, also known as galbi, traditionally is made with pork ribs and beef short ribs cut across the bone, marinated with soy sauce, garlic and sugar, then grilled tableside.
Example: Brother's Korean Restaurant in San Francisco presents raw pork or beef ribs to be grilled tableside over a charcoal grill, portioned with kitchen shears and served with 13 varieties of kimchee ($15 to $20).

Italy: Spiedino comes from the Italian term spiedo, or spit, which was used traditionally to roast whole animals. Spiedino signifies skewered meat, grilled or roasted in a wood oven.
Example: Del Post in New York City serves Spiedino Di Regaglia, skewered and grilled poultry giblets, foie gras, calf's liver and sweetbreads ($19).

RECIPE: Firefly Bistro's Lambalaya starts with braised leg of lamb >>

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