Getting Your Menu Right
Choosing complimentary dishes to round out a menu is a challenge for many home cooks. But by following a few simple guidelines you can easily learn to think for yourself and create interesting and delicious menus, beyond the obvious chicken and mashed potatoes (not that there's anything wrong with that combination).
Find a starting point – Peruse your favourite cookbooks and food sources to find one dish or ingredient as your jumping off point. It doesn’t need to be a main course. It can be a side dish that peaks your interest or a jar of homemade pesto received from a friend. Figuring out what’s in season, whether it’s a meat, fish, fruit or vegetable will start you off on the right track.
Look at the big picture – Consider everything your guests will take in from the moment they walk in the door. A signature cocktail with lemon connects well to lemon chicken later. If you serve a very light meal then get a little richer with desert, canapes or a cheese tray later on.
Balance weight – Consider dishes that will create a balance of light and heavy; spicy and acidic. You don’t need more than one starch and if you’re making something like a rich, braised melt in your mouth pork shoulder, balance it with the light crunch of a cabbage coleslaw. As a rule of thumb choose one dish on the rich side and keep the others light. And when in doubt make a simple green salad. You’ll never go wrong with that.
Balance texture – Part of the reason fish tacos are so delicious is the variety of textures that come from different cooking methods. The taco shells are warmed and soft. The fish is deep fried, shredded lettuce creates freshness and sauces are creamy. Not depending on your oven or stovetop for every dish will also make your life easier.
Learn unlikely flavour combinations – You already know that rosemary goes well with lamb and that basil compliments tomato. But how about tomato and strawberry? It is surprisingly fantastic as a salad or soup. Same goes for dried oregano sprinkled on a green salad. Try marrying olive and orange, chocolate and chilli, oysters and watermelon and eggs together with beets. These ingredients can be fused in one dish or across a whole menu.
Any favourite food pairings to share? I would love to hear!