Homestyle Comfort for Fall
By Mary Gordon
Since autumn is the time to come indoors and enjoy comfort food by a roaring fire, every fall menu can use a few dishes that warm the spirit as well as tempt the palate.
There are different theories as to why certain foods seem to provide comfort along with nourishment. Some of these explanations are based on the scientifically validated effects of fat, carbohydrates and sugar on mood and satiety. Which may be just a fancy way of saying that familiar, filling and tasty food is just plain therapeutic.
Everyone has their own favourite comfort foods, whether it’s gooey grilled cheese sandwiches, chicken pot pie or baked macaroni and cheese topped with toasted bread crumbs. For many of us, it’s the foods we grew up with that we turn to when the weather gets cool. That means hot, hearty meals with homestyle appeal. But homestyle no longer means made at home: since so many people have neither the time nor the expertise to make savoury, slow-cooked meals at home, they’re looking for these recipes on foodservice menus.
Old-school comfort food – from roast chicken to beef stew – is making a big comeback, says Dominique Dien, Executive Chef for Sysco Vancouver. He’s currently showcasing dishes such as old-fashioned venison stew, cooked with turnips, carrots, onions and leeks.
The trend is one that’s seen in both casual dining and higher-end establishments.
“All the old classic food is coming back in bistros and restaurants across North America,” Dien says. Old favourites such as shepherd’s pie, beef bourguignon, fish stew and pilaf are returning to menus for fall and winter.
Some chefs are even seeking out old crockpots as authentic serving pieces for stews, he says. Others are recreating traditional Sunday dinner, with old-fashioned roasted chicken. Dien recommends stuffing a whole chicken with garlic cloves, fresh basil and thyme, and roasting for about an hour and a half. “Deglaze with a bit of white wine and you create a fantastic dish,” he says.
Recipes that may have been collecting dust for a decade or two are now turning up as entrées. Old-style sauerkraut is turning up on winter menus, Dien says. This German-style dish begins with marinated white cabbage, which is then slow-cooked. “They’re using sauerkraut just like they do in Germany or in the north of France, as a main course with sausages and pork,” Dien says.
Sauerkraut is not the only European comfort food that has been enjoying a renaissance. Cheese fondues – which were common in North America a generation ago, and then disappeared – have become popular again in the last couple of years. “This is real comfort food: it’s something that’s been served in Europe for hundreds
of years,” Dien says.
Side dishes are also embracing the comfort food trend, with mashed potatoes leading the pack. This old favourite is a now a new favourite on the West coast. “Everybody is rediscovering mashed potatoes, with roasted garlic and a little pesto to change the profile.”Everything old is new again for vegetables, too, with the return of traditional dishes that have been off many menus for years: grilled carrots, turnips and oven-baked tomato Provencal are making a comeback.
No matter how hearty the entrée, it’s just not comfort food without dessert. The perfect end to a comfort meal might be tarte tatine, Dien says. This old-fashioned apple tart has a simplicity and familiarity that goes well with these types of meals. Other classic desserts that are now being rediscovered include crème brûlée, crème caramel and chocolate mousse, Dien says.
“It’s a very nice trend,” he says of the reappearance of comfort foods that were so familiar 20 years ago. “It disappeared over the years because everybody tries new trends, but it’s coming back in a big way.” Embracing the trend provides the perfect opportunity to add hearty, homestyle comfort to your fall menu.
Comfort food is making a comeback