I was asked this question about a month ago and wanted to take some time to address it. There are national staples such as pork and applesauce, soup and salad, cheeseburgers and fries, buffalo wings and blue cheese dressing. But what about other ambiguous meals. What do you put with roasted chicken? steak tips? pizza? Variety is important, but so is practicality. When deciding on a menu, there are a few different practices that you can adopt that will bring variety to your weekly menus. In an effort to bring continuity to information posts, I summon the spirit of Rob Gordon in order to list 5 ways to pick a side dish.
Top 5 methods to picking a side dish for dinner
5. Look in your pantry and freezer: There’s a good chance that somewhere buried behind the potato chips and six month old frozen meals that you have a bag of frozen vegetables, some rice, couscous, or some other accompaniment. While this may not satisfy your creative need, it does remove old food stuffs from your kitchen and makes room for new food stuffs.
4. Stroll through the produce section: This is a tough one as you may not completely trust that your culinary skills can make a side dish from a product you’ve bought. But, stroll through the produce section and see what looks good, what’s fresh. Talk with the produce guys and find out which produce is local. Local produce is fresher as it doesn’t have to fly on a plane or ride in a container to get to you. Fresh = flavor. Then when you get home, look up ways to make a side dish with it. If your pantry is well stocked, you should be able to make 75% of the recipes.
3. Look at the pictures: If you are using a recipe from a magazine, cookbook, or online blog, there should be a picture of the final product. What did they use? What ingredients surround the main entree? If the recipe was created by a reputable cook, wouldn’t it make sense that they probably know what side dish would go well with it?
2. Trust your taste buds: What do you like to eat? Sometimes picking a side dish is as simple as asking yourself this question. This entire blog is about the experience of food, making an adventure out of eating. Trying stuff you like and cooking it in a new way is another experience. Like french fries? Try making homemade ketchup or a different dipping sauce. Like corn on the cob? Grill it or make a garlic-herb butter to melt over. Like fried food? Try making a baked version of the dish.
1. Use restaurant menus: My all time number one favorite way of picking a side dish is to look at restaurants that I like to eat at (or wish I could afford) and see what they pair with their meals. Most restaurants have their menus online. Feel free to explore restaurants in Dallas, Miami, Boston, or Las Vegas. Also, don’t be taken aback by the description of the entree. Dry aged Ribeye served with a chanterelle sauce served over a fluffy bed of polenta is just steak and mushroom sauce with polenta. Grey sole with farm beet, upland cress and a citrus vinagrette is fish with a salad of roasted beets, watercress (lettuce) and a lemon vinagrette (salad dressing). If you can break down the components of the entree into individual ingredients, you can see what well trained executive chefs come up with. If you don’t know what an ingredient is, look it up. If you see something you like, give it a try. If you see something you’ve never tried before, now is the time!