How to Use Fruit in Savory Dishes Like Chef Stephanie Izard

It's an easy way to add both acidity and sweetness to a dish.

<p>Food & Wine / Getty Images</p>

Food & Wine / Getty Images

There are more ways than one to add complexity and nuance to food — like using umami-forward ingredients such as kombu and incorporating citrus or vinegar to add a touch of brightness and acidity. But one of the most underrated techniques is using fruit in savory dishes.

At the 2024 Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, 2011 F&W Best New Chef Stephanie Izard shared exactly how to go about it, whipping up a dish of whole roasted snapper dressed with strawberry nuoc cham.

“When you’re using fruit in your food, it’s just about balancing it out. If you just fruit without adding in those savory notes, it’s going to be a little bit too sweet. But otherwise, it just adds this particular flavor,” says the chef of Girl & the Goat in Chicago and Los Angeles. “I never thought about how often I used fruit until I kind of stepped back and looked at my menu. I slipped through one of my cookbooks once and there are blueberries 12 times in savory dishes. When you think about it, it’s kind of like adding a pickle to something: You’re adding that sweet note and that acidity through fruits, depending upon what’s in the season.”

The red snapper, stuffed with lemon and crusted with spiced cereal, benefits from Izard’s take on the classic Vietnamese dipping sauce, which adds umami, heat, and a touch of sweetness to the fish — making for a much more complex flavor profile.

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“It’s kind of like the start of a strawberry jam. I’ve got some strawberries in there, some serrano chiles. I used to be kind of a spice wuss, where I didn’t like too much spice in anything. And I don’t know if it’s something about just getting older or that my palate’s changing, but now I just like a little bit more heat,” Izard says of the Strawberry Nuoc Cham, which can be used to dress grilled or roasted meat or seafood. “I use a lot of fresh Thai chilies, but they’re just a little harder to come by. And then I’m going to put in some lemon juice and sugar — and basically, we’re just making a really quick strawberry jam. It’s just cooking it down so the serranos and the strawberries get nice and tender — and it’s not quite cooked into a full jam — it’s nice and chunky.” 

Here's how to make it:

Strawberry Nuoc Cham

Yields: 2 1/2 cups
Total time: 15 minutes, plus cooling

1 pint ripe strawberries, hulled and quartered
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1 serrano chile, stemmed and very thinly sliced
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, divided
1/4 cup fish sauce
1/4 cup Champagne vinegar

Combine the strawberries, sugar, water, serrano chile, and 1 tablespoon of lemon juice in a small saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the strawberries are just softened and coated in a thin glaze, 3 to 5 minutes. Let cool completely, then stir in the fish sauce, vinegar, and the remaining 2 tablespoons lemon juice. The sauce can be refrigerated overnight. Bring to room temperature before serving.

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