In 1976, Herb Hudson opened a small Los Angeles restaurant that exclusively served chicken and waffles. At first, many people were surprised to see an entire menu dedicated to this uncommon pairing — but all it took was one visit to get them hooked.
Now, 40 years later, the unlikely, but delicious, combo at Roscoe’s House of Chicken and Waffles has become one of America’s most famous menu items, and has inspired many more combinations of inherently different ingredients that complement each other surprisingly well (peanut butter and bacon anyone?).
So, in the spirit of such adventurous eaters, we present you nine examples of creative flavor mash-ups that will titillate your taste buds.
Oysters and Watermelon
The location an oyster is harvested from has a huge impact on the way it tastes, imbuing the meat with varying levels of mineral, salty, and sweet flavors. Unfortunately, common accouterments like heavy cocktail sauces tend to mask these delicate variations. A light, acidic watermelon mignonette sauce or granita, however, will complement the oyster’s flavor rather than overpower it. To really make this combination pop, try using Kumamoto oysters, which are known for their natural sweetness and melon-like aftertaste.
Blackberries and Lamb
Pork and apples is a classic pairing — but if you’re feeling adventurous, blackberries and lamb create a distinctive flavor to rival any other fruit. The warm, earthy sweetness and subtle acidity of the blackberries complements the rich, delicately gamy flavor of the lamb like a jammy red wine, bringing out the complexity of the meat. Need more incentive to try this pairing? We think one look at the split lamb chop and blackberries at program restaurant Vaucluse in West Hollywood, Calif., will have you convinced. Just try not to spill any sauce on their bright-white couches!
Eggplant and Honey
Honey is a natural flavor enhancer, interacting with the sugar receptors on the tongue to bring out the sweetness in dishes that might otherwise taste acidic. When paired with eggplant, the honey counteracts the vegetable’s bitterness and makes its subtle flavors pop. This makes honey a nice alternative to more common pairings, such as olive oil or butter, which can be absorbed too quickly by the eggplant and do less to highlight its delicate natural flavors. Besides, we can’t think of many things that sound more comforting than the mixture of smooth honey and meltingly creamy cooked eggplant.
Foie Gras and Pears
Tart, robust fruits like apples and cherries are often paired with foie gras. However, the sweeter flavor and relatively low acidity of pears allow even the most delicate of foie gras’s flavors to shine through. The slightly gritty texture of the pear, caused by stone cells inside its meat, also adds some textural interest to the characteristically creamy foie gras. Want to test this melt-in-your-mouth combination for yourself? Program restaurant Bluehour, in Portland, Ore., has a matcha-laced twist on this pairing that will turn you into a true believer.
Mushrooms and Apricots
Although these ingredients may seem to be on completely opposite sides of the food spectrum, this is a match made in culinary heaven. Sweet, juicy apricots with their dreamy soft flesh serve as a perfect foil for the savory taste and meaty mouth feel of mushrooms, creating is a surprisingly decadent and complex flavor. Want to turn this pairing up to 11? Try mixing apricots and chanterelles. The fruit will do wonders to bring out this particular mushroom’s naturally sweet aroma and taste.
Jalapeño and Strawberry
Jalapeño deserves a special place on any list of unlikely flavors, and for good reason: beneath their spicy punch, jalapeños have an earthy sweetness you have to taste to believe! The tartness of the strawberry highlights the jalapeño’s natural sugars perfectly, and also helps counterbalance the spice, bringing out this distinctive, bell pepper-like flavor. Want the ultimate mixture of heat and sweet — with a built-in tongue cooler if things get a little too intense? Try the strawberry Carlos Estevez margarita, with optional jalapeño, at program restaurant El Hefe.
Dark Chocolate and Parmesan Cheese
These two are a perfect match right down to the molecules. Though seemingly quite different, the compounds in dark chocolate and Parmesan cheese are actually very similar — making their individual aromas scientifically perfect for each other. Although other chocolates also pair well with this nutty cheese, it is the slight bitterness of the dark variety that makes these two flavors particularly delicious together. We’re sure most anyone who has eaten a grilled chocolate and Parmesan sandwich would agree.
Pomegranate Molasses and Short Ribs
You may be noticing a certain sweet/savory theme in this list, but this particular pairing is anything but saccharine. Pomegranate molasses is an ingredient commonly used in Middle Eastern cooking, and although it derives from a berry known for its bursting sweetness, it has a musky, tangy flavor more akin to meat drippings than any fruit we know of. When paired with succulent and fall-of-the-bone short ribs — such as with the braised short ribs at program restaurant Golden Beetle in Seattle — you get a depth of flavor unmatched by many more common pairings.
Vanilla Ice Cream, Olive Oil, and Sea Salt
We know. Why mess with America’s favorite flavor, right? But believe it or not, salt actually emphasizes the sweetness of vanilla ice cream (a scientific principle you’ve probably seen in action with caramel). When this extra-sweet pairing is then combined with the grassy flavor of delicate, fruit-forward olive oil, you’ve got a complex treat that’s difficult to put down. And let’s face it: you’d be hard pressed to find something more delightfully rich and velvety than oil-drenched ice cream.
Explore other fun taste combinations at all of our program restaurants:
Special thanks to Meredith Gonsalves for her contribution to this piece.