Monday, April 7, 2008

Decoding Menu Speak

Reading restaurant menus to seek out dishes that meet your cravings and your curves isn't always easy.
Red flag words for dishes high in fat and calories include cream, butter, fried, sautéed and cheese sauce. Green lights for choices lower in fat and calories include grilled, broiled, primavera, salsa and broth. So, first look at how the dish is prepared. Is it deep fat fried or char-broiled? Does it come with a butter sauce or a fresh fruit salsa? Is it a broth based soup or made with heavy cream? Ok, these are some of the obvious clues. Now you’re ready for some advanced menu sleuthing.

What if the word “fried” is no where to be seen? “Crispy” can be a code word for fried. And “Silky sauce” a sign that butter is lurking. Even “poached” isn’t always the light way to go? Some chefs actually poach seafood in butter or oil, not the usual water based-broths. That doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the occasional tempura battered fried shrimp or side of creamed spinach. It just means that when you see them on the menu, you know it’s time to take pause. You can choose to either limit portions, or limit the number of times you order these higher fat choices.
Even “grilled” or “broiled” aren’t always innocent because the chicken or fish can be slathered in oil or butter while it’s on the fire. Make sure to request that your item be broiled “dry” or “lightly brushed with oil.” The server is your conduit to the kitchen.

Fat by any other name….
Aioli--translation: mayonnaise with garlic
Au Gratin- topped with cheese, butter and breadcrumb mixture
Beurre--butter’s French name
Bisque-most often a cream based soup
Béarnaise--watch the “-aise,” which indicates egg based mayonnaise
Crispy-code word for fried!
Crusted or Encrusted--coated with nuts, bread crumbs or potato, pan fried until crispy
Frito Misto—fried pieces
Pan Fried-may as well be deep fat fried

Leaning toward leaner….

Au Jus--pan juices often reduced with no fat added
Braise--slow cooked to tenderize meats or fish, often little added fat
Broth-fragrant water based sauce with infused flavors ie. chicken & lemongrass broth
Coulis--all hail the coulis, often a no-fat-added puree of vegetables or fruit
Flame seared--grilled over open fire, fats can drain off
Primavera – Italian for “spring”; indicates vegetables are major ingredient
Provencale- South-of-France style sauce with tomato and other vegetables
Relish- savory mix of fruits and or vegetables
Salsa- the classic is with fresh tomatoes, onion, cilantro and chiles, but can be made with fruit and even black beans, too.

Ask Questions If It Says:

Grilled--watch out for butter or oil slathered on during grilling
Roasted--watch out for extra fat used in roasting, ie.butter basted on roasted chicken
Poached--not always in water, watch out for poached in oil or butter
Sautéed -- butter or oil are used, chefs can limit amount if asked
Steamed- watch out for butter or oil added after the steaming

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