While the eyes of the commercial kitchen world have long rested on the humble potato as the side dish of choice, Chefs now are digging deeper than this humble root vegetable to provide inspiration on a plate.
And rather than totally set aside fries and mash, in favour of new tweaks for sweet potatoes, cauli and beans, the spud is also getting a makeover.
Potato fan TV Chef Colin Fassnidge, mixes through cavolo nero or kale, and a considerable amount of cream, to pimp up his Mum’s colcannon which was a staple on his Dublin dinner table.
Meanwhile, with his Irish heritage and English training, Chef Sean Connolly’s famous thrice-cooked “skin on” duck fat chips make an appearance at his restaurants in Sydney, Auckland and Byron Bay. “Some things you just don’t mess with,” says the Chef who is also about to launch a restaurant in Dubai.
Loaded fries are also “a thing” at the moment, so look to some dude food combos like pulled pork and chipotle mayo or top fries with melted cheese, jalapenos and spicy sriracha for a hit. And talking of loaded, those Canadians love poutine too, eh. It’s a Quebecois dish, made with fries and cheese curds topped with a light brown gravy which has been making its way onto a couple of menus around town. While it’s gooey and great to share, think of ramping it up with pulled pork, duck, or black beans topped with sour cream and jalapenos. Or transition the dish to a more Asian take by adding house-made pickles, Sriracha, kewpie mayo and bonito flakes.
While jalapeno poppers and smoked pumpkin hash may not be taking over from chips and salad in the near future, a fresh new approach is needed to start pushing sides as an essential part of the meal, not just an afterthought.
On the sweeter side of things, use the much underutilised kumara or sweet potato as a colourful pairing, instead of pumpkin. It caramelises beautifully for a sweet potato salad mixed with red onions, pecans, cranberries and crumbled fetta.
Cauliflower has also had a resurgence in the kitchen, because of its ability to take on different flavours and to be cooked in different ways as a side. A whole cauli, for example, roasted on olive oil to the point of charred, and smothered in a Romesco sauce of roasted red capsicum and almond. Or spread roasted florets with a warm garlicky hummus mixed with mayo for an upbeat Middle Eastern taste or otherwise boring brassica. Or try using rosemary on oven-roasted cauliflower instead of the traditional quartered potato for a different twist on roasties.
Broccolini and beans can also be bland, but look to invigorate that steamed or blanched side plate by adding a sprinkle of dried chilli flakes, some slivered almonds, and a little lemon juice topped off with some zest and a little drizzle of olive oil. Alternatively give smoked paprika, garlic and slivered almonds a go on either veg.
Chefs should also consider repurposing traditional sauces to give diners extra bang for their buck. Take marie rose sauce for example. While it is normally the partner to a prawn cocktail, try stirring it through steamed chat potatoes for a retro take on the standard potato salad and top it with chopped chives.
A basic bechamel or white sauce can carry through a host of flavours. Apart from the cheesey favourite mornay sauce, with a spike of Worcerstershire sauce, blanketing any number of vegetables give it a tweak with seed mustard and tarragon or parsley for your steamed spuds.
There is no end to reimagining the side dish whose status is increasingly challenging that big plate of protein next to it.