From spring rolls to buckwheat crepes, edible wrappers impart whimsical, delectable details to menus.
This article first appeared in the 1 January 2009 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. Visit the R&I website to find out more about the magazine or to search its recipe database.
By Kate Leahy, Senior Associate Editor
He calls it "sending the love." When a regular or VIP guest shows up for dinner at Public or Double Crown in New York City, Brad Farmerie, the executive chef of both properties, sends a small nibble to the table. More often than not, the bite-sized offerings come encased in a wrapper. On a recent night, beer-battered, fried oysters wrapped in vibrant green shiso leaves were the edible welcome.
"There is a bit of a playful aspect to it," explains Farmerie. "[And] if it's wrapped, it's easy to eat in one bite."
Of course, wrapped foods are more than merely playful. By enfolding ingredients in everything from hearty buckwheat crêpes to delicate edible leaves, chefs find new ways of combining global flavors and experimenting with less-familiar ingredients.
Every culture has its own kind of thin, starchy wrap, says Kyong Yi, owner of Fontaine Caffe and Crêperie in Alexandria, Va.: Korean pancakes, Tunisian brik and Vietnamese rice papers are among the examples. Yi angles toward France's famous interpretation, crêpes, both in savory buckwheat-based versions and in sweet varieties made with all-purpose flour. Either way, they're cooked to order on cast-iron crêpe griddles. Yet her fillings flaunt global flair. Of her savory selections, two vegetarian options are the most popular. One, called "Zenist," features green lentils simmered with spinach and tomatoes in a coriander-and-coconut-curry sauce. The other, "Moroccan," combines spinach and feta with a mint-yogurt sauce.
The two crêpes' popularity surprised Yi, but these unlikely menu favorites have encouraged her to keep her menu open to worldly inspiration.
In Ka'anapali, a resort town on the island of Maui in Hawaii, Chef-owner Suzzette Metcalfe takes a similar global approach with the menu at Rusty Harpoon. Avocado rolls (see recipe below) wrapped in egg-roll skins are a favorite appetizer. For the filling, Metcalfe combines diced avocados with julienned sun-dried tomatoes, cilantro, cumin and lime juice. The rolls are sealed with an egg wash to prevent the filling from leaking out and then fried to order and served with macadamia-nut-and-Maui-onion sauce. She also is contemplating adding a braised-pork spring roll to the menu to use up leftover meat from a pork entrée. "You can pretty much put anything in a wrap," she says.
Because they can be assembled in advance, wrapped foods offer easy ways for chefs to assess and maintain portion control. They also hold up well at catered events.
When Farmerie catered an event at a winery in New Zealand, he made one of Public's signature appetizers: tea-smoked salmon spring rolls. To make the roll, he marinates the fish briefly in muscovado sugar and salt and then smokes it over a black-tea-and-rice mixture until medium-rare to medium. Once the fish had cooled, he assembles the wrap, dividing portions of the fish among sheets of rice paper and topping each with julienned green apples and fennel, minced chile, golden raisins, pistachios, chives and cilantro before wrapping it tightly. Salmon roe and preserved-lemon-infused yogurt garnish the sliced roll.
Other operators also acknowledge the convenience of wrapped foods that can be assembled in advance. "In most cases, a wrapped food is a lot quicker to get out of the kitchen," says Eric Holman, vice president of concept development for Taylors, S.C.-based Fatz Cafe.
Although they can be handy, edible wrappers have their caveats. Some wrapped items are labor-intensive to assemble, limiting their applications in larger foodservice venues. Tom Turnbull, executive chef of dining services at Xavier University in Cincinnati, found this to be the case with a won ton soup with turkey dumplings. Because the ginger- and garlic-infused dumplings are so time-consuming to prepare, he reserves the recipe for small catered events.
RECIPE: Avocado Rolls
Avocado, large dice - 6
Maui onions, diced, divided - 7 Â½ oz.
Sun-dried tomatoes, julienned - 1 Â½ oz.
Canola oil - 2 Tbsp.
Garlic, minced - 1 Tbsp.
Cilantro, chopped - 2 Tbsp.
Lime juice - 2 tsp.
Cumin - Â½ tsp.
Macadamia nuts, toasted - Â½ cups
Mayonnaise - 1/3 cup
Milk - 1/8 cups
Honey - 1 Tbsp.
Parsley, chopped - 1 Â½ tsp.
Lemon juice - 1 Â½ tsp.
Egg-roll skins - 12
Egg - 1
Water - 1 tsp.
Cornstarch - as needed
Frying oil - as needed
Sliced chives for garnish
- For the filling, in a large bowl mix together avocado, 6 oz. onion, sun-dried tomato, canola oil, garlic, cilantro, lime juice and cumin.
- For the macadamia-nut sauce, purée together macadamia nuts, remaining 1 Â½ oz. onion, mayonnaise, milk, honey, parsley and lemon juice. Refrigerate.
- For the egg wash, mix together egg and water. To assemble each roll, brush edges of egg-roll skin with egg wash. Place Â¼ cup of the avocado filling in the center of the egg-roll skin. Form a triangle by folding the top corner over the mixture; seal edges. Fold in remaining sides. Place rolls on a pan dusted with cornstarch. Refrigerate until needed.
- Deep-fry each roll until golden. To serve, halve each roll; garnish with macadamia-nut sauce and chives.
A Wrap Roundup
As a savory starter or a sweet finish, wrapped foods offer operators the chance to menu familiar flavors in a fun new format.
- Grand Lux Cafe, multiple locations: Double-stuffed potato spring rolls with mashed potatoes, cheese, bacon and green onions
- Tart, Los Angeles: Crawfish spring rolls with avocado-lime dipping sauce
- Energy Kitchen, multiple locations: Thai chicken wrap with carrots, cucumbers, crispy noodles and peanut sauce
- Sushi Roku, Los Angeles: Banana spring rolls with caramel sauce and vanilla ice cream
- Double Crown, New York City: Rice-pudding samosa with honey-apple chutney, carrot ice cream and fenugreek anglaise sauce