What's on the menu for 2023? 80s food is back...

It’s time to get retro when it comes to the food on our plates this year, says KATE RYAN - who says 1980s favourites like prawn cocktails, vol-au-vents and chicken kiev are in vogue
What's on the menu for 2023? 80s food is back...

Chicken Kiev will be making their way back.

EVERY year, food writers and commentators throw their hat into the ring, predicting what the new big food trends will be for the year ahead. Sometimes I agree, sometimes I don’t.

A few, like John and Sally McKenna’s prediction that no-choice tasting menus are out, will no doubt fuel heated debates amongst the foodie community all year.

Sustainability will be at the core of food conversations and choices. Nothing new there, you might say, but nuance will make its way into the debate: what does sustainability really mean, what does it look like, how to spot signs of greenwashing, etc.

Be prepared to see a lot of talk this year about Regenerative Agriculture, too, and how the principle of sustainable food extends beyond the farm gate, including something called Regenivore Eating.

The regenivore movement goes beyond sustainability; choices we make around food (from production, to consumption, to would-be food waste) aim to put back more than is taken in producing what we eat.

This is all great, but I’m determined to bring a bit of levity to the conversation. 

This year I’m looking for fun in my food, and I’m finding inspo coming straight out of the 1980s. It’s my Golden Era, and, personally, I am loving the revival!

No doubt fuelled by the Stranger Things TV hit, Gen Z’s penchant for stonewashed jeans and everyone rediscovering just how brilliant Kate Bush is (again, thanks Stranger Things), there was a definite trend towards 80s cult food classics leading up to the festive period. But I predict that these five retro 1980s foods are here to stay - for 2023 anyway…

Prawn Cocktail. 
Prawn Cocktail. 

Prawn Cocktail

In truth, did it ever really go away? For the die-hard prawn cocktail fans amongst us, that’s a strong no!

Were you even out for a slap-up dinner in the ’80s if it wasn’t Prawn Cocktail followed by Steak Diane?

The thing about prawn cocktail is its perfect pairing of textures, flavours and colours. It makes my mouth water just thinking of it.

For the modern-day prawn cocktail connoisseur, a few ingredient swaps make it even better than the original:

Ditch Iceberg lettuce for crisp and flavoursome Romaine or Little Gem.

Whip up a piquant Mary Rose using great Irish-made condiments: hard to go wrong with a mix of Builín Blasta Smoked Onion Mayo with Mama Bear Foods Tomato Ketchup, and hits of Cork-based fermenters, Terra Ignis, umami-boosted Wooster Sauce, fiery Fermented Chilli Sauce, and a splash of wild vinegar.

Half moon slices of cool cucumber, thin slithers of scallions on top and a gentle sprinkling of smoked paprika complete this perfect retro dish for modern tastes.

Vol-au-vents puff pastry cases filled with salted squid and octopus.
Vol-au-vents puff pastry cases filled with salted squid and octopus.

Vol-au-vents

I have many a happy memory as a kid of family parties and get-togethers where, if I hadn’t had at least four vol-au-vents from the buffet spread, it counted as a disappointment.

The prawn cocktail filled ones always vanished first (see above), followed by creamy chicken and mushroom, and some unloved vegetarian concoction based around tinned sweetcorn.

The giant vol-au-vents filled with chicken, mayo and stuffing beloved of quick lunchtime meals everywhere are part of the language of food in Ireland; usually a little too soft, a little too stodgy, and too likely to stick to the roof of your mouth to be entirely enjoyable.

But, at a recent restaurant collab in The Blue Haven in Kinsale, I dined on an exquisite dish of Union Hall sole and scallop served in a golden brown, crisp vol-au-vent with bisque foam and caviar. This vol-au-vent was extra, with a capital E. It was outrageously good and laid down the challenge for all vol-au-vents.

Not only the perfect party food or lunch time snack, but good enough to grace fine dining menus, too.

Black Forest Gateaux.
Black Forest Gateaux.

Black Forest Gateaux

Chocolate, cherries saturated with booze and fluffy mountains of whipped cream. Apparently, baker Josef Keller first served this cake in 1915 in Germany, and it has been beloved ever since. It certainly reached its zenith in the UK, where I grew up, in the ’80s – the place was wall to wall BFG and made my childhood a very happy one indeed!

A few years ago, I made a friend a Black Forest Gateau and now, every year, he asks me if I’m making it again. I did, once, but didn’t tell him, and I’m not sure he’s ever forgiven me to be honest! 

It’s a ridiculously over the top indulgence; a more-is-more kind of cake, and its beautifully classic flavours have leant to a plethora of BFG-inspired dishes.

From the classic gateau with a minimum of two layers, to round and loaf-shaped chocolate cakes topped with cherries, chocolate, and cream; to brownies, trifles, truffles and sundaes, even a Black Forest Martini.

If you like your desserts sweet and boozy, BFG is the only way to go.

Chicken Kiev

Crunchy coating, succulent chicken, and a majestic lake of garlic and herb butter; a Chicken Kiev is pure joy and a not-infrequent saviour of midweek meals as Chez Ryan.

Over the years, variations on the original have emerged - for what reason, who knows?  With melty cheese and bacon, broccoli and blue cheese, baked beans (heaven forfend), even a beef ragu for a sort of Chicken Kiev / Lasagne mash-up ultimately doomed for failure.

Enough! Simple is best, but best means good quality chicken breast and more garlic and herb filling than you think is polite. 

Bake in the oven at 180C and baste – at least twice – with some of the melting butter filling for an extra golden crunchy crumb.

Devilled Eggs.
Devilled Eggs.

Devilled Eggs

If the only thing I buy this year is one of those ceramic serving plates specifically for Devilled Eggs, I’ll be a happy person. Along with vol-au-vents, devilled eggs are one of the classic retro canapes that taste so good you can easily forgive their oddball looks.

For those unfamiliar, devilled eggs are hard boiled eggs, cut in half, the yolk scooped out and blended with mayonnaise, hot mustard, paprika, hot sauce and olive oil, then spooned or piped back into the hollow of the egg white and garnished with either chives, cress or paprika.

The prettiest of all devilled eggs are those brined in beetroot pickle juice for a couple of hours, but the nicest version I’ve had were brined in sweet tea, the yolks devilled with a little miso for extra umami and topped off with house-cured sweet bacon and microherbs.

Perfect little flavour bombs!

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