How to Turn Odds and Ends Into an Immaculate Meal, According to Chefs
The answer is toast.
Avocado toast has a reputation of being basic, but you know what? Avocado toast is satisfying and delicious, and the beloved toast is not coming off menus anytime soon. Or really, ever, unless there’s another avocado shortage. And if that day comes, rest assured there are many other toasts to fall back on that involve ingredients already in your refrigerator and lying around in the produce basket.
A newer trend on restaurant menus involves whipping up seasonally-inspired toast creations that can easily be created back on the homestead—essentially allowing chefs to utilize leftovers and random odds and ends to turn out pieces of culinary artwork. From peaches and country ham to oddball matches like pears and beets, and even Southern cheese spreads with eggs atop, these swoon-worthy bites will entertain the entire family when you don’t feel like making a trip to the grocery store before suppertime.
Here, several chefs share insight on their favorite way to toast, along with tips and tricks on turning any leftovers into magic when seeking inspiration at home.
Go Smørrebrød Style
Chef Patrick Cowden recently opened Farmhouse Cafe in Wendell, North Carolina, featuring a glass casing of smørrebrød. "If you’re familiar with a tartine, the smørrebrød is a Danish take on this concept,” says Cowden—and quite frankly, a perfect way to do toast. It goes like this: Pick a thick Danish-style rye bread, a spreadable fat (like butter or mayonnaise that acts as a food glue and laminate, keeping the bread from becoming soggy) and pile various protein and/or vegetables atop. “Smorrebrods can be as simply as ham, Swiss and arugula, but typically, since it is Scandinavian, you might also see a lot of smoked fish,” he says. Really, anything goes. Cowden recommends playing around with flavor profiles, as he does with his Boulted Bread grits loaf bread topped with pickled okra remoulade, andouille sausage hash, tender collards slaw, lemon poached Carteret County Shrimp, and a drizzle of red eye gravy syrup. “Basically a riff on shrimp and grits,” he notes, of his favorite meal.
Never Let Your Favorite Ingredients Go to Waste
“I’m all about reducing my food waste at home and in the professional kitchen at work,” says chef William Dissen of Haymaker. A beautiful, bright toast at his restaurant is slathered with lemon ricotta and topped with charred peaches, crispy Benton’s Country Ham and basil. “At home you could griddle or toast any bread you have in the pantry until it’s nice and golden on one side, and in place of the homemade ricotta, you could take some cream cheese and whip it until it’s nice and smooth with a little lemon juice and salt, and then top it off with thinly sliced peaches or plums or pitted cherries,” Dissen says. In place of Benton’s Country Ham, in case you don’t live in the South and keep it religiously stocked, cooked bacon will suffice. “Any way you try it you’re going to have a great end product when you start with great ingredients — great food starts fresh.”
Suppertime Leftovers = Inspiration
Family meals often involve heaps of leftovers. And clearly, we’ve learned the best trick ever: leftovers of all sorts make for unique toast inventions. Chef Jacob Sessoms, heading up the kitchen at Wicked Weed Brewing’s newest dining concept, Cultura, suggests scanning the fridge before buying specifics. Toast, tartine, or bruschetta makes for the perfect vehicle for leftovers. “If you have a protein, an herb/green/vegetable and a sauce you are ready to go,” he says. Toast and butter a baguette, melt your cheese of choice on top, and warm up and slice leftover steak. “Toss the steak with herbs or greens and build on top of the toast,” he notes. Finish with salt and pepper, a good olive oil, lemon juice and maybe a drizzle of a creamy dressing like Green Goddess.
Remember, Opposites Attract
“This is 100% the kind of thing I would come up with in my home kitchen,” says chef Christian Hunter, of his beet and pear toast at Sorghum & Salt. Creative thinking led Hunter to the idea of turning restaurant leftovers and seasonal fruit into a delicious, edible creation. Think housemade sourdough bread perfectly buttered and grilled, a layer of fresh, spreadable cheese (like fromage frais), poached beets, pears, a drizzle of honey, and salt and pepper. “It's simple, delicious, and eliminates waste, which is one of my favorite things,” Hunter adds. Don’t be afraid to play around with interesting combinations that may seem like an oddball pairing. After all, watermelon, tomatoes and feta cheese are quite the satisfying situation. It all boils down to the balancing act of sweet, salty and acidic.
Tomato Toast is Always a Good Idea
At Fin & Fino, chef Scott Hollingsworth buys roughly 150 to 200 pounds of tomatoes from local farmers per week during peak tomato harvest. Case in point, tomato toast is always a good idea, especially when craving a quick and easy snack. “Our tomato toast is all about freshness, quality, and complementary textures of the few ingredients,” Hollingsworth says, as is good bread. He uses sourdough at Fin & Fino, noting the “crunch and toastiness of the bread is crucial against the sweet softness of the tomato.” On his simple tomato toast, ricotta acts as a bridge between the toast and tomato, but most importantly, offers a slight saltiness and tang. Regardless of what else is added, when it comes to a great tomato toast, the tomato should be star, so seek heirloom slicing tomatoes if possible. Because “overripe is way, way better than under ripe,” according to Hollingsworth, toast is a great way to utilize not-so-glamorous looking tomatoes in the kitchen that are extra juicy. Top off with sea salt and an aged sherry vinegar and be prepared to be wowed. “This toast has actually been a standard at home for my wife and I for a while, so we're glad it's been received well at the restaurant.”
RELATED: PSA: Tomato Is the New Avocado Toast
Turn to Whatever Spreads Are In the Fridge
Spreads and dips are an easy solution to turn a basic piece of toast into a culinary delight. Plus, if any tubs in the fridge are almost empty, it’s a great way to use every last drop. Chef Michael Sichel of Hotel Bennet turns to Southern spreads for inspiration. A few of his favorites include fresh ricotta cheese with tomato Concasse (or chopped/crushed tomatoes), extra virgin olive oil and sliced boiled egg; foie gras mousse and pimento cheese (which will be available on the menu at Gabrielle bar in October); and a smoked pepper ham spread. Add whatever herbs and vegetables are lying around for extra crunch and vibrancy. These types of toasts are also a great idea for entertaining spreads and can be cut up into smaller, two-bite pieces.