This year, Memorial Day may represent a return to normalcy. With the country opening back up, people are antsy after more than a year of quarantine and are ready to get out and do something – anything.
A packed dining room is now a possibility, and the warmer weather has brought outdoor spaces back into play. The real question is, how are you going to make a splash over the long holiday weekend? You need a hook. Something to stand out from the crowd and convince guests to wait in line on your patio. One way, perhaps, is to take a cue from the patriotic feeling Memorial Day weekend brings and look to the various regional cuisines around the nation for inspiration to round out that menu.
You might need to order a little extra mayonnaise for this one. Deviled eggs, potato salad, pimento cheese, white BBQ sauce — mayo is the backbone for all these quintessential Southern dishes. While many of these dishes are deeply rooted in tradition, there’s no reason not to get creative with them. A little chopped bacon or diced jalapeño can add both bursts of flavor and color to those eggs or potato salad. Similarly, some chopped pecans and pickles can easily elevate that pimento cheese.
Other additions to your Southern spread might be creamy shrimp and grits, pulled pork (with a little tangy North Carolina vinegar to brighten it up) or you could just fire up a propane burner for a bushel or two of crawfish.
Nifty New England
Shift the burgers over on the grill to make room for a few oysters. Instead of crawfish in that boiler, toss in some lobsters, mussels, clams, and shrimp. And don’t forget the corn and red potatoes. If you’re feeling a little fancy, pull out the Pernod and some spinach to make those roasted oysters Rockefeller or chop up bacon, peppers, and onions for some old school clams casino.
If you were limited to two dishes for a Memorial Day weekend, what might they be? How about some huge, slow roasted ribs and freshly shucked corn? Good thing the paper towel shortage is over. But, seriously, big cuts of meat, massive Polish sausages, warm potato salad with bacon — all these things are sure to not just draw a crowd, but the aroma wafting from the patio or converted parking lot where you’re whipping these up might just reel in some foot traffic.
Turn your eyes a bit south for a little more spice from Texas. Maybe that’s in the form of chili you’ve had simmering overnight or well-seasoned cuts of flank steak seared on the grill, sliced then served in a soft taco wrap. You could also serve a tamale special, dough and meats with chili and spices, wrapped in a corn husk and steamed slowly until tender.
There can be a fine line in Western cuisine, but you can’t deny that a whole salmon, wrapped in kelp and grilled directly on charcoal embers is exciting to the senses and has tons of wow factor. Similar techniques can be used for grilling corn on the cob. Grilling in the husk is visually pleasing and creates an intensification of the flavors while activating the natural sugars. You could even use that grilled corn in a salad with charred asparagus or whatever bright and fresh spring vegetables that you might have on hand. The key here is to counter grilled burgers with light, clean flavors — although a couple slices of fresh, creamy avocado might just be the perfect addition.
Don’t forget to add some vegetarian options too. Beyond burgers are in good supply, and there’s always the old standby, a whole, massive portobello mushroom to put on the burger bun. Don’t worry too much about making Memorial Day a normal dining experience. Make it fun. Everyone has been locked up for far too long. You’ll be happy to see them, and they’ll be happy to see you.