It’s that time of year again. No, not time to look at your credit card balance and wonder how it got so out of hand over the holiday season – the time of year where you wonder what the next twelve months will hold in the Alberta food scene when it comes to food trends.
Both fads and trends seem to be coming and going faster than ever these days, but here are eight trends that I’m betting will peak some time throughout 2018 in the province.
Maple syrup has been a staple of professional and home Canadian kitchens for decades, and now its more mineral-y and pronounced sweet cousin, birch syrup (pictured above), is fighting for shelf space. Due to its intensity and price (birch syrup requires almost double the amount of sap as maple to create an edible product), simply dousing it overtop a stack of pancakes or waffles won’t result in anything overly pleasurable. Instead, chefs are using it modestly, complementing plates of seared game meats or seafood and adding to simple desserts like vanilla ice cream, pound cake and more.
Now that eating local ingredients and sipping on local craft beer and spirits has become a baseline in Alberta, what’s the next step? Localized wares, of course. These days, restaurants aren’t satisfied with mass-produced aprons, bowls, plates, and even designer textiles, however striking. You will see more servers this year donning aprons by local designers, more menu art done by local visual artists, and more custom bowls to spoon out of than previous years. Customization, when it comes to restaurants, is officially the new “grow your own”.
Cured meats as garnish
It’s not uncommon to find chewy strips of candied salmon or thin slices of cured beef and pork on charcuterie boards across the province, but chefs are finding more finesse these days when it comes to what is, essentially, jerky. A light grating of cured beef overtop a simple beef tartare adds depth – much like shaving bottarga (cured tuna roe) onto a plate of freshly-made pasta ups the ante. If you’re going to try this technique at home, just think of using it the same way you’d use parmesan to finish a dish.
Even though this berry is native to Northern parts of Canada, the haskap hasn’t really been available at a commercial level until recently. This interesting little berry that looks like an elongated blueberry, but tastes more juicy and robust, can be turned into wonderfully satisfying juice or syrup, and when dried is a great complement to game meats. You probably won’t drive past a “pick your own” haskap farm this summer, but expect seeing them, dried, juiced or otherwise, popping up in all sorts of interesting ways in Edmonton and Calgary.
Don’t let this fungus scare you off in the kitchen because the mold that’s used in a variety of Asian processes to create soy sauce, fermented bean pastes, and sake, is being embraced by chefs across Alberta who are combining it with butter and basting cuts of steak and pork. Bakers fold some of the pungent ingredient into their bread dough for a unique flavour after baking.
Micro-distilled Canadian Whiskey
As the microdistillery scene continues to grow at a rapid rate across the country, there is more interesting, boutique liquor on store shelves than ever before. Since some of the earlier wave distilleries have already hit the three year mark in 2017, we can expect some small-batch whiskey arriving to liquor stores and bars near you in the coming months. Three cheers for brown liquor!
The vegans are coming! Alright, so it might take Alberta some time to become as vegetable-focused as our neighbour to the west (Vancouver), but that doesn’t mean that protein and dairy alternatives aren’t becoming more commonplace here by the month. Order a vegan pulled pork pizza made with jackfruit at Edmonton’s Die Pie or try the cashew cheese-filled tortellini at Donna Mac in Calgary to turn into a meatless believer.
With its pronounced flavour, a little bit of tarragon can go a long way. Though quite common in French cooking, the average person can shy away from using it in everyday cooking because of its distinct bittersweet, almost licorice, flavour. Fear no more as chefs have been able to find the balance with it, using the accessible herb to accent cream dressings for roasted vegetables, vinaigrettes for salads, and fresh herb salads, to help brighten up any fat or cream-heavy creation.