Today: Nick Balla and Courtney Burns, chefs at San Francisco's Bar Tartine and authors of the new cookbook Bar Tartine: Techniques & Recipes, are sharing their favorite things to put on toast. Because sometimes Jif just won't cut it.
When you have fresh Tartine Bread all the time, it's hard not to start slathering things on it. Bread is the perfect vehicle for layering flavors, and we eat toast just about every day with different toppings to suit our cravings. It's the perfect way to make a meal in minutes and have lots of different flavors and textures in one sitting.
We like flavorful bread -- any type can work. In particular, we like whole-grain and heavily fermented breads; they stand up to strongly flavored garnishes and have more interesting textures than those made with only wheat flour. Our favorite way to toast it is to lightly brush the bread with cultured buttered and then put it in a cast iron pan with a weight. Then we cook it over high heat until the surface is crispy and slightly burnt, but the middle is still soft and moist.
For breakfast toasts we like to have a mix of savory, fatty, and a little sweet to keep us sated until the next meal. We love to pair avocados with tangy goat cheese and brown mustard made with dill flower vinegar; we add some scrambled eggs to make it a classic breakfast toast.
At the restaurant, we always have a sprouted nut butter smorrebrod on the brunch menu -- it might be walnut, hazelnut, cashew, peanut, or sesame. Sometimes we slather on sweet farmer's cheese for extra creaminess or a fruit jam or paste -- and we always garnish with roughly chopped nuts for an added crunch.
When thinking of vegetable toasts, we try to make sure that we use hearty vegetables that can stand up to dense bread, a bit of sauce, and a spread. A favorite combination at the restaurant is kale with sunflower tahini, yogurt, and a medley of seeds sprinkled on top. Other combinations we love are sprouted chickea dip with oil-poached peppers, charred romenesco broccoli, and grilled onion and whipped avocado with japanese sweet potato, dill, and feta.
When it comes to spreads, we like to layer flavor and texture. Adding lots of herbs and spices creates a complex depth of flavor; we like dill, parsley, chives, tarragon, onion powder, garlic powder, paprika, and sesame seeds. The options are endless.
With a cheese-based dip, it's good to have something acidic to cut through the richness. We often like to mix in citrus zest. As with all of our smorrebrod and sandwiches, spreads and sauces are integral. They help bind ingredients together so that textures and flavors are both distinct and unified.
Good quality meat or lardo needs little additional help. We like to create simple toasts where the bread acts as a platform to showcase the meat, then add a couple additional accents to further enhance the flavor. Lardo with thinly sliced raw red onions and a sprinkling of paprika and sea salt is a classic Hungarian dish, and it's one of our favorites.
There are so many more options than smoked salmon when it comes to toast. We like to use small fish for strong flavor, or cured fish for concentrated flavor -- both types hold up well to robust bread and allow us to layer other flavors and condiments without overpowering the fish. Think briny salmon roe with cultured butter, or something like pickled herring, sardines, mackerel, or seared Albacore tuna with tonnato sauce.
Here's one of our favorite recipes to use as a topping for toast:
Serves 6 to 8
1 pound fresh or frozen herring fillets
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon kosher salt
2 cups rice wine vinegar
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
4 garlic cloves, smashed
1 tablespoon black peppercorns, ground
1 tablespoon brown mustard seeds, ground
2 bay leaves
1 sweet white onion, sliced paper thin
1 cup sour cream
Sliced dark bread, such as pumpernickel or Danish-style rye
Fresh dill leaves for garnish
Freshly ground black pepper
Bread and pickled herring photos by Chad Robertson; all others by James Ransom