There’s a long culinary history of experimental “you put WHAT in my WHAT?” that has sometimes made food ingredients considered strange bedfellows (or dishfellows) into soulmates.
Dating myself here: does anyone remember the series of 1970s television commercials for Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups that built 30-second stories around chocolate bars and jars of peanut butter unexpectedly being smashed together, at first being perceived as disaster, and then tasted and pronounced genius? That’s the kind of innovation that was the muse for this post. In particular, I got to thinking about fruits and vegetables, and how putting them with other unexpected foods – sometimes even intentionally hiding them – has informed quite a bit of what we eat in the modern era.
Back in the Middle Ages, European cooks didn’t seem too hung up on the division between sweet foods and savory foods. In fact, they often mashed together all kinds of spices, fruits, nuts and sugar into various dishes – including meats. Somewhere in the ensuing four centuries, we got a little more finicky about the role and order of fruits and veggies in our mealtime progression. Save for the occasional Easter ham with pineapple rings stuck on it, Americans haven’t quite as often embraced the comingling of sweet plant parts with salty animal parts.
Maybe it was partially due to California Cuisine chefs in the 1980s and fusion chefs in the 1990s who treated fresh produce in different ways on the plate. Maybe it was our nation’s growing acceptance and celebration of foods formerly niched as “ethnic.” And maybe it was also food scientists at giant multinational manufacturers who figured out what our brains inherently knew: sweet loves hanging out with salty. However it happened, it sure seems that the barriers between traditional savory entrées and sweet desserts have become blurred again over the past couple of decades. I’m originally from the blue collar Midwest where meat and potatoes is a dining reality as much as a catchphrase – but when mass-market casual restaurant chains like Chili’s have wholeheartedly embraced mango with chicken, even diehard “produce separatists” have to be thawing out to the possibilities.
Witness this: produce giant Del Monte recently branched out from its core competency to begin packaging chicken, turkey and bacon with salad bowls and fresh fruit and protein snack packs.
Fruit salsa is de rigueur on grilled fish. One of Smitten Kitchen’s runaway recipes is roast chicken with grapes. Produce-centric chef Yotam Ottolenghi celebrates the (re)union of meats and fruits in his best-selling cookbooks. Lions and lambs are lying down together!
As my agency team gears up for a culinary event in which Los Angeles restaurateurs demonstrate their creative prowess with blueberries, I’m excited to see what savory chefs Josie Le Balch and Daniel Mattern can do by melding fruit with the entrée course.
Have you looked twice lately at your refrigerator’s produce drawer and thought about the possibilities of pairing fruit with meat or something else savory? Sound off in the comments below, while I’m busy chomping some peach/chipotle topping on my pork chop.
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