Feb. 11, 2016

4 Ways to Heat Up Winter With the Tropics

by Liz Logan

A tropical twist can add much-needed brightness to winter menus. Just watch for that fine line between fresh and authentic and unoriginal and cheesy. Here are four ideas to pay homage to the Pacific islands that will get menus noticed.

SAVOR FLAVOR

Incorporating a taste of the Philippines as a winter special begins with layering flavors, particularly the sweet, salty, and sour favored in Filipino cuisine, says Miguel Trinidad, executive chef and owner of Filipino gastropubs Jeepney and Maharlika in New York.

“There’s a lot of ginger, coconut, tomatoes, and onions,” Trinidad says. “The aromatics are usually cooked first, so they release all their oils and flavors. Then, you can incorporate that into anything you want—much like a Latin American sofrito.”

A simple winter warmer like tinola—a Filipino chicken soup made with ginger and coconut water—is a good place to start, Trinidad says. At Jeepney, he serves the soup in a pot pie ($14).

BEND THE TREND

Go beyond the expected; serve the meal with a bit of cultural awareness.

At Super Six and Marination in Seattle, co-owner Kamala Saxton combines Hawaiian comfort foods and Korean flavors. Her loco moto, served at Super Six, is a bed of white rice topped with a hamburger patty and two fried eggs, then covered in gravy ($11).

Saxton’s tip for educating customers about the origins of dishes? Make sure Hawaiian names are spelled correctly on menus. She also incorporates Ulu, an iconic cultural symbol of abundance, into her restaurants’ design and brand. Ultimately, research is crucial to honoring the culture behind the cuisine, she says.

CUSTOMIZED COCKTAILS

What’s old can be made new again with the right ingredients.

Unique tiki cocktails are a huge draw, Trinidad says, and they’re easy for chefs to adapt. The key is to use fruits indigenous to the region being showcased. For example, he suggests using star fruit and jackfruit—both native to the Philippines—in popular drinks like a zombie, a pina colada, or even a Manhattan. At Jeepney, the shareable pina colada is served in a pineapple ($25).

A GOOD FRY

Beyond tiki cocktails, reimaging other traditional menu offerings can be a boon for your bottom line.

Barton G. in Los Angeles recently introduced a Polynesian fish fry incorporating sweet flavors from the region. The already-popular dish features crispy whole local snapper, coconut jasmine rice, spicy vegetable pineapple slaw, and a miso-kona lime remoulade ($39).

At Maharlika, Trindad offers a Ginataang Isda, a pan-roasted whole market fish, with seasonal greens and snap peas in coconut milk and crab essence (market price).

Are you fighting the cold with a taste of the tropics? Share your ideas on Facebook.

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