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Going small is big

Small plates and snacks are major attention-getters on menus these days. More and more customers prefer to share several distinctively flavored smaller items with their companions rather than confine themselves to a single large entrée.

Red Lobster, Orlando, Florida-based

Almonds aren’t just for garnishes anymore. They add flavor, bite and wholesome appeal to the small plates and snacks that are red-hot on menus today. That is the message leading restaurant and noncommercial chefs heard at the Almond Board of California’s culinary retreat at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in Napa Valley.

In small plates, almonds “allow you to serve smaller bites with bigger flavors and a textural note,” says one of the participants in the retreat, Joel Reynders, executive chef, Red Lobster. “Two bites satisfy you, so you don’t need a whole plate for that to come across.”

The retreat included hands-on kitchen exercises with various forms of almonds, including almond flour, almond meal, almond milk and almond cream. Reynders used two of those to create a small plate called Almond Crusted Shrimp with Almond Coconut Crema, a twist on shrimp with coconut curry.

“I wanted to deliver the same flavors that you would get with a curry, but with the almond crema,” says Reynders.

Reynders fried the shrimp in a crunchy crust of almond meal that was lighter than a bread crumb coating because almonds don’t absorb as much fat. He made the coconut sauce with almond cream, a smooth, creamy application similar to ricotta made by soaking, cooking and pureeing blanched almonds. A small amount of coconut milk completed the flavoring.

“The almonds added a nice sweetness and because of their texture you didn’t need to build in as much fat you would with other sauces,” says Reynders.

Red Lobster Menu Sampler

  • Spicy Buffalo Chicken Bites: tender strips of chicken breast, hand-battered and tossed in a spicy buffalo sauce. Topped with blue cheese crumbles $6.25
  • Wood-Grilled Shrimp Bruschetta: chilled, wood-grilled shrimp tossed with fresh tomatoes, basil, red onions and balsamic vinaigrette, over garlic sourdough toast $8.50
  • Parrot Isle Jumbo Coconut Shrimp: hand-dipped in our signature batter, then tossed in coconut and fried golden brown. Served with piña colada sauce  $8.99  

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