What ingredient do you love but don't include on your menu because it doesn't sell well enough?
We asked 15 chefs around Tucson this question and let them answer as briefly or in as much detail as they wanted. Here are their responses.
"Natto. I eat it every morning. I love it traditional with rice and green onions. Also I like to make super natto — like my version of super nachos — with quail eggs, Japanese mayo, masago, green onion, oba, and natto over avocado, shishito peppers and rice."
"At Senae Thai Bistro, we have found Tucsonans to be quite open to new and exotic flavors and spices, but one challenge is the cost of some of the fresh seafood we would love to include on our menu. The market cost of fresh fish and whole fresh crabs makes adding a couple of dishes that are very popular in Thailand, difficult to include on a regular basis. These are Pla Krob Rad Pik, crispy whole fish, glazed with spicy sweet chili basil sauce, and Poo Pong Karee, whole crab, wok-tossed in yellow curry chili purée sauce. That said, from time to time, when we get a “deal” on fish and crab, we can include these as a dinner special."
"Nopales. I think a lot of people that didn't grow up eating them kind of get weirded out by it. They remind me of growing up with my pops. This question kind of takes me back. Now I have to come up with a with a new nopal dish and prove my answer wrong."
"Sweetbreads or offal (organ meat). We have a diverse demographic at Casino Del Sol and our guests are eager to try new dishes created by our culinary team. Although we sell our red and white menudo made with tripe (cow stomach) by the gallon, other organ meats can be a hard sell. Sweetbreads, my favorite, are sourced from veal and cut from the pancreas. They are brined, soaked in buttermilk, and fried until crispy. We tempt our guests every now and then by including them in a wine dinner or special tasting.
Besides, when we have leftovers I know a bunch of audacious chefs in the kitchen who are always happy to dig in."
"I have a couple badass sandwich ideas using foie gras, but due to the controversy around foie, I imagine they wouldn’t sell. For anyone reading, I have talked to farmers that raise geese for foie, and I have seen videos of them lining up to get fed willingly. It is not as bad as it’s portrayed to the public through documentaries and such."
"'Nduja, which is a spicy spreadable salumi from Calabria. It is awesome simply spread on some toast or used as a component of a dish — mussels sautéed with some ‘nduja is hard to beat! I really love it so much, and it pains me that it hasn’t taken off in town yet. We’ve tried it on everything with very little luck. Maybe one day that will change!"
"I can't think of a thing. Fifteen years ago, we tried serving quail and no one would touch it. Ditto rabbit.
I don't know whether it's Tucson growing up, or our guests becoming more venturesome (I don't get out much,) but we can serve a much broader spectrum of food than we ever have before. Sea urchin roe? Check. Offal? No problem. Game meats? Fishes or vegetables no one's heard of? People are happy to give it a try.
The only caveat is that we have one mysterious person who, every time we put rabbit on the menu, makes one or more angry phone calls telling us how disgusting we are and how outrageous it is. And I imagine that will continue to happen until we close or he's no longer capable of making a phone call."
"Being a simple barbecue joint, we cover most of the barbecue spectrum. I do love a natural casing hot dog though. The snap when biting into it, the taste of great seasoning and an abundance of toppings to finish it. Tucson is stuck in the Sonoran dog twilight zone. Our city of gastronomy is lacking a variety of dogs. We do offer burgers and now from Tucson’s burger master himself, I just don’t think a dog would hold up to the barbecue we serve. People visit us for one reason, great 'cue. I’ll just keep some stashed in the cooler for when I get that craving for a snap."
"I really love cooking with 'off' cut proteins, scraps of fish, ugly or rescued produce, roots, leaves, basically anything that someone would normally discard along the way of prepping or harvesting.
I want to express my creativity and conscious cooking philosophy by utilizing these 'off' cuts of meat, fish scraps, and rescued produce and challenge the way people engage with these ingredients. Not everything has to look perfect to be ordered and consumed. In fact, people might be missing out on something new, something more flavorful, by only selecting the cuts they are used to.
My menu is influenced and inspired by what is available during the season. My intention is to be a supportive partner for local farmers and purveyors to use their over abundant and underutilized goods such as cover crops and rotational crops, and transform those ingredients into unique and unexpected creations that are eye-opening and palate-pleasing.
If I can make these crops and cuts the star of the plate and tell our guests how truly important it is to do our part to minimize food waste, hopefully we can see a change in how we buy food and order from menus. We as chefs have to rewire consumers’ minds to look for what is available and truly sustainable. We have a voice and an opportunity to make an impact on this social issue of wasting food. Hopefully at Miraval Arizona, our 'Conscious Cooking' effort is a step in the right direction to inspire others, help minimize food waste and be mindful of how we eat, not only for our health, but for the health of the environment. "
"To be honest, we've built a hell of a reputation for challenging Tucson's palate and comfort zones using just about every type of ingredient we can get our hands on with great success all six years we've been open! Not everyone can say that, so we feel extra proud and honored that Tucson has trusted us and been so open to all of our ideas. Oh wait, chicken feet! Yeah, no one bought our chicken foot special, so crunchy and delicious, but so far hasn't found a permanent home with us just yet."
"The only items I can think of is our anchovy sandwich and anchovy pasta. Even though we buy the best anchovies you can get, people are afraid to try them. I kept my anchovy omelette (the Marseillaise) on the menu, and the pain bagna, just because I can’t give up my Southern French roots, even if they aren’t top sellers. Maybe you can come by and give them a try, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised."
"One of my favorite cuts from the pig has to be pork neck. It is really marbled and I usually sous vide it so it takes on the texture of pork belly. Well-raised pigs develop a very funky pork taste and aroma that is awesome. Some guests don't share my enthusiasm for it, however, generally because of the overwhelming barn-y quality that it possesses. Other cuts that are similarly unfavorable are beef hearts and lamb tongue. Taking the heart and making it into a tartare or braising the tongue are some of my favorite methods in preparing them. I usually have to get creative and call these cuts of meat by their name in another language just to have them try it."
"I think Tucson is pretty open-minded when it comes to food and trying new things or old favorites. The one thing we haven’t been able to make work on our menu is beets. Most of us, in our lifetime, have had pickled beets from a can or soggy, under or over-cooked beets somewhere. Sometimes it’s hard to come back from that mindset. My own dad was forced canned pickled beets at a dinner table 50 years ago and now the idea of them makes him gag. However, I don’t want to give up on them! Hopefully we will find a way to make them a good fit on our menu soon!"
"While we find our diners pretty adventurous, there are some things that we love but don't sell well enough to put on the menu. Though it's been awhile since I've given it a shot, skate wings, for instance, just don't seem to resonate with our guests, likewise bone marrow, at least not enough to keep them on hand split and fresh. Sadly, our experience trying to sell great cheeses has been a bit checkered. When we first opened DOWNTOWN Kitchen + Cocktails we put a cheese board on the menu with homemade jams, wine syrups, nuts, and three great cheeses. We'd sell them like crazy on the Happy Hour menu and I'd bring in hundreds of dollars of fantastic cheeses a month. After about nine months, I did a bit of analysis and realized that we were losing money on every order we sold. As soon as I raised the price to cover our costs, sales plummeted. We had to take the cheeses off the menu entirely as we couldn't sell enough to keep the product beautiful and fresh.
On the other hand, our guests fully support the exotic dishes we put on the menu every summer in our DOWNTOWN Around the Globe series. On balance, our customers are smart, understand value, and trust us to try things. It's a trust built over the years. Every once in awhile we strike out, but for the most part its been a win-win"
"I would love to be able to offer wild game. Venison, wild boar, rabbit. I especially love wild game in the winter because it is hearty and filling, unfortunately this year we haven’t really had much winter."
Jackie Tran is a Tucson-based food writer, photographer, culinary educator, and owner-chef of the food truck Tran's Fats. Although he is best known locally for his work for Tucson Foodie, his work has also appeared in publications such as Bon...