A red hot new food trend called ‘minimealism’ is causing a stir in the food world. Chefs are discovering that the coolest food comes in small portions. In the late 90’s on the global food scene sushi became as popular as sandwiches, while mini burgers and sipping champagne through a straw is the Millennium’s ultra hip meal. Tiny lamb, beef, chicken or tuna burgers are now being served in some of the world’s most glamorous restaurants from New York to Sydney. I first came across the beginning of this trend when I went to Tasting Australia in Perth in 2001.
Several of the vibey parties we went to served mini portions of maxi favourites. This kind of food is also all the rage in South Africa, where past student Annabel Ovenstone, now a product developer for Marks and Spencer, explained that currently people like to eat and entertain casually, sharing many different textures, tastes and smells.
Mini food is now a response to lifestyle trends – it spans all eating occasions – simple food that’s low on fuss but high on flavour.
In New York, John De Lucies, executive chef of the Soho Grand Hotel, says his ‘Soho picnic platter’ is the most popular dish on the bar menu ‘its an ode to small food’. It features a trio of baby hot dogs in blankets, a supermodel sized burger on a brioche bun and a tangle of skinny fries. Other mini meals on the menu are tiny baked potatoes topped with crème fraiche and three caviars and mini ravioli stuffed with provolone, salami, and ricotta, served with a spicy dipping sauce.
Mini food encourages people to graze, ideal for people who want lots of different taste sensations, but not too much bulk – perfect for ladies but its surprising how all those mini bits add up.
At ‘First’, one of Sam de Marco’s hip restaurants in Manhattan, the most popular dish is 4 tiny burgers on fluffy little rolls topped with caramelised onions, served with cheese, pickles, tomatoes and crispy fries. Mini food is not just savoury – De Marco also serves a selection of tiny tarts and sandwich petit fours.
So this ‘little food’ trend is getting bigger and bigger. I was astonished to hear that mini food festivals now take place annually in Italy, France, US and Thailand. There’s even a mini food street in Karachi in Afghanistan. Closer to home in London, one of my favourite chefs, Peter Gordon serves a selection of fusion tapas and mezze meals on his menu at Provodore.
In South Africa, mini food is the new buzz word circulating in food circles, hot or cold soups in espresso cups, oysters in shot glasses, mini bruschetta, calamari in tiny bowls. Mini food is served on all the trendiest menus from cocktails to the swishest dinner parties.
Often they are miniature versions of our favourite comfort food and drinks, mini Bloody Marys, mini sausages with wasabi mash, tiny fish and chips served in cones of the Financial Times, (didn’t Lorna Wing do that 10 years ago?). Little crepes, mini Vietnamese spring rolls, tiny fish cakes, spicy meatballs, the list goes on…
Mini food is basically a bite- (or maybe two) sized meal, mostly eaten with the fingers. Mini foodies usually have smallish appetites and biggish budgets, because mini food restaurants don’t necessarily work on value for money! A few ideas to get you in on the ‘minimealism’.
These were all the rage at drinks parties in Oz when I went to Tasting Australia.
Makes 24- 28 600 ml (20 fl oz) mirin 400 ml (14 fl oz) sake 2 tablespoons Japanese rice vinegar 1½ tablespoons soy sauce 1½ tablespoons wasabi mustard powder 24-28 shot glasses 24-28 oysters Put the mirin and sake into a sauté pan, bring to the boil and allow to catch the flambé. When the flames die down, turn off the heat, pour into a pyrex measure and allow to cool. Add the vinegar, soy sauce and whisk in the wasabi powder. Cover and chill in the fridge overnight Just before serving, open the oysters and put one into each shot glass. Cover with chilled liquid (leave the sediment behind in the measure). Serve immediately.
Teeny Chicken Burgers with Sweet Chilli Sauce
2-3 chicken breasts, minced (free range and organic) – 12 ozs (350g) 1 teasp. honey 1 tablesp. soy sauce 1 clove garlic, crushed ⅓ teasp. peeled and grated ginger 1 tablesp. spring onion, chopped salt and freshly ground pepper 12 mini hamburger buns cherry tomatoes coriander leaves Accompaniment: Sweet chilli sauce – available from Asian shops and most supermarkets Mix the honey with the soy sauce, add the garlic, ginger and spring onion and minced chicken. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Fry off a little piece on a small frying pan. Taste and correct the seasoning if necessary. Form the mixture into tiny burgers about 1oz (25g) in weight. Cover and chill until needed. To serve: Warm the hamburger buns in the oven. Heat a little oil in a heavy frying pan, cook the burgers until fully cooked through but still juicy. Meanwhile split the hamburger buns, butter the bases. Put a few coriander leaves and a slice or two of cherry tomato on the bottom of half the buns. Spread a little sweet chilli sauce on the other halves. As soon as the chicken burgers are cooked, pop one on top of the chilli sauce and sandwich the two halves together. Serve extra sweet chilli sauce as an accompaniment. Delicious warm or cold.
Teeny Yorkshire Puds with Rare Roast Beef and Horseradish Sauce and Rocket Leaves
Makes 28 approx. 4oz (110g) plain flour 2 eggs, preferably free-range ½ pint (300ml) milk ½ oz (15g) butter, melted Sunflower oil for greasing tins Horseradish Sauce 6 -8 ozs (170-225g) Rare Roast Beef or chargrill a thick sirloin steak to medium rare, rest and thinly slice just as needed Rocket or flat parsley leaves 1 tray of 1¾ inch (4.5cm) bun tins Sieve the flour into a bowl, make a well in the centre of the flour, drop in the eggs. Using a small whisk or wooden spoon, stir continuously, gradually drawing in flour from the sides, adding the milk in a steady stream at the same time. When all the flour has been incorporated whisk in the remainder of the milk and cool melted butter. Allow to stand for 1 hour. Preheat the oven to 230C/450F/regulo8. Heat the patty tins in the oven, grease with sunflower oil and fill a - 2 full with batter. Bake in the preheated oven for 15 minutes or until crisp, golden and bubbly. Remove from the tins and cool on a wire rack. To Serve: Fill each with a tiny blob of Horseradish Sauce. Top with a thin sliver of rare roast beef. Garnish with a sprig of flat parsley or a rocket leaf. Serve soon - best freshly cooked.
Mini Lamb and Mint Yorkshire Puds
Apple and Mint Jelly or Mint Chutney Substitute lamb fillet for beef in the above recipe. Put a little blob of Apple and Mint Jelly or Mint Chutney into each mini Yorkshire pud. Top with a tiny slice of warm lamb fillet and a tiny mint sprig. Serve warm.
The classic Italian flat bread, great as a nibble before dinner. Often good served with a selection of olives or roasted vegetables as a starter
1 quantity olive dough (see recipe below) Olive oil and sea salt, Roll out your dough, you can either roll it in to one large disc or four smaller discs. The discs need to be about 1cm (½ inch) thick. Put on to an oiled baking sheet and make indentations all over the surface with your fingers. Brush liberally with olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt. Allow the Focaccia to rise again. Put in to oven and bake for 5 minutes and then reduce temperature to 200C/400F/regulo 6 and bake for a further 15 - 20 minutes.
Make the dough in the usual way. Allow to rise, knock back. Roll out to thickness of (1cm) ½ inch, allow to rest for 3-4 minutes. Stamp into 2.5cm (1 inch) rounds with a cutter. Alternatively just roll and flatten into tiny rounds. Brush with olive oil, sprinkle with sea salt and stud with a sprig of rosemary.
Bake in a pre-heated oven 180C/360F/regulo 4, for 10 minutes approx. or until golden brown in colour.
Serve warm or cold.
Focaccia with Rosemary
Another favourite is to sprinkle 2 teaspoons of finely chopped rosemary over the oil and then sprinkle with sea salt and proceed and bake as above.
Focaccia with Sage
Knead 2 teaspoons of finely chopped sage into the piece of dough, then roll out to1cm ½ inch thickness and brush with olive oil. Make indentations all over the surface with your fingertips, sprinkle with sea salt, then proceed as above.
Focaccia with Black Olives
Substitute 1-2 tablespoons of black olives for the sage and proceed as above. Remember to take the stones out of the olives! 1 teaspoon of chopped marjoram or thyme leaves is a delicious addition here also.
Olive Oil Dough
This basic dough is ideal for pizza and focaccia. If you can try to use Italian extra virgin olive oil for a really authentic flavour.
(Makes 8 x 25cm 10inch pizzas)
20g (¾oz) fresh yeast
250ml (8floz) water
50ml (2floz) olive oil
30g (1oz) butter
1 teaspoon salt
15g (½ oz) sugar
450g (1lb) strong white flour
Preheat the oven to 230C/450F/regulo 8
Sponge the yeast in 150ml (5fl oz) of tepid water, leave in a warm place for about five minutes.
In a large wide mixing bowl sieve the flour, salt and sugar. Rub in the butter, make a well in the centre.
Pour in the sponged yeast, olive oil and most of the remaining lukewarm water. Mix to a loose dough adding the remaining liquid or a little extra flour if needed.
Turn the dough onto a lightly floured work surface, cover and leave to relax for 5 minutes approximately.
Then knead for about 10 minutes or until smooth, springy and elastic, if kneading in a food mixer with a dough hook, 5 minutes is usually long enough.
Put the dough in a large delph bowl. Cover the top tightly with cling film.
When the dough has more than doubled in size, 1½ – 2 hours, knock back and knead again for about 2 to 3 minutes. Leave to relax again for 10 minutes.
On a well-floured work surface roll each ball in to about 25cm (10inch) disc and use as required