Chefs bring the heat with even more spicy dishes

Piquant flavors grow in popularity


Some like it hot and some don’t, but diners who like to eat spicy food are in luck, as piquant dishes are heating up more restaurant menus.

According to the latest research from Datassential MenuTrends, the term “spicy” is found on 70 percent of restaurant menus and has grown 4 percent over the last four years.

While Buffalo chicken wings, ethnic dishes (Chinese, Indian, Korean) and impressive selections of hot sauces for dousing any dish are among the ways diners can get their spicy food fix, chefs are also bringing the heat to bar snacks, starters and even cocktails.

The Bloody Dragon, a new spicy cocktail available at the newest location of Asian Box in the Marina District of San Francisco

At South Water Kitchen in downtown Chicago, chef Roger Waysok enjoys working jalapenos into otherwise classic dishes. He uses the moderately spicy pepper to add a touch of heat to classic bar snacks, such as his jalapeño-salted pretzels (jalapeños dried in salt) served with beer cheese, and his spiced nuts, made with pecans toasted with a housemade barbecue spice (paprika, cayenne, brown sugar, chili powder, mustard powder, onion powder, garlic powder, ginger, cinnamon, cumin, salt, pepper) and egg whites.

“The inspiration for [the jalapeño-salted pretzels] was born out of wanting to add a little bit of spice to the pretzels by giving a simple bar snack a dose of unexpected flavor, while still complementing the cheese sauce on the side,” Waysok said. “Jalapeños are loaded with flavor and just the right amount of spice, so they balance the flavors of the dish very well.”

Also in Chicago and into balance in spicy dishes is executive chef Devon Quinn of Eden, a New American restaurant with Mediterranean influences. Quinn grows a lot of his ingredients onsite, including a variety of chile peppers he uses to make harissa for his chile roasted carrots. The starter is made by pan-roasting carrots until they blister, then glazing them with butter and harissa. The carrots are served with bay labneh and finished with cashews, fried capers and rehydrated black cherries.

“We use chile peppers in several things in our kitchen to add an element of heat and flavor,” Quinn said. “In my opinion, it is always important to balance this with a cooling component. In the case of the chiles from the carrots, the bay labneh does this.”

The aptly named Torpedoes, chicken or brisket-stuffed jalapeños wrapped in bacon and then fried, at Ten50 BBQ in Richardson, Texas. Photo: Ten50 BBQ

In contrast, William Weisiger, head pitmaster at Ten50 BBQ in Richardson, Texas, is all about the heat. Inspired by a love for Tex-Mex cuisine, barbecue, “Texas heat” and all things wrapped in bacon, he is serving chicken or brisket “torpedoes.”

“I like spicy food because of the kick,” Weisiger said. “Long live ‘Texas heat.’”

The starter is made by splitting and then stuffing a large jalapeño with a mixture of cream cheese, chopped jalapeño, cilantro, his own spice blend and either brisket or chicken. He wraps that in bacon and then smokes it. It’s among the most popular items at Ten50.

At Waydown, the rooftop bar at the recently opened Ace Hotel Chicago, chef Pat Sheerin serves spicy Berkshire bacon Rangoons. The dish is made with Beeler’s farm-raised Berkshire bacon that is rendered and folded into cream cheese with scallions, ginger and white soy before being wrapped in thin pastry, deep fried and served with a spicy Chinese-style mustard with fresh turmeric and bananas.

Other restaurants serving spicy Chinese-style wrapped apps include Tànsuǒ, a new contemporary Chinese restaurant in Nashville, Tenn., which has on its menu Fire Cracker Wontons, made with braised short rib, chile paste, sweet soy sauce and Hong Kong XO sauce.

Tavern62 By David Burke in New York City offers Angry Lobster dumplings made with Burke’s signature spicy lobster preparation, lemon confit and fresh basil. They’re served in a spicy tomato sauce.

Palo Alto, Calif.-based Asian Box, a fast-casual Vietnamese street food chain, is now offering a signature cocktail at its newest location in San Francisco’s Marina District.

Diners can kickstart their dinner (and their spicy taste receptors) with the Angry Lobster Dumplings at Tavern62 By David Burke in New York City. Photo: Emily Law.

The Bloody Dragon is made with vodka, spiced tomato juice, Sriracha, proprietary Asian Street Dust — a blend of sugar, salt and spices — and lemon.

Executive chef Grace Nguyen said she created the cocktail to compliment her spicy Ox Box, which is made with beef, jasmine rice, sauce-tossed vegetables, caramel egg, Sriracha, Asian Street Dust, lemon and a choice of “toppers,” including jalapeños, herbs, chopped peanuts and scallion.

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