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If you’ve recently been placed on a gluten-free diet, the holidays are a particularly challenging time, especially for those who enjoy holiday parties and dining out with friends and family. While you probably never used to give it much thought, it now seems like wheat and other gluten-enriched ingredients are in just about everything that looks tempting. To make matters worse, sometimes you can’t trust that gluten isn’t lurking in some dish you’d never have suspected it in.
There are plenty of ways to get around the gluten dilemma at home, where you have more control. But because wheat (and gluten) is such an integral part of most recipes served at parties and prepared in restaurants, steering clear of gluten on the road occasionally takes some skilled navigation.
When it comes to choosing safe dishes, here are some pointers.
Dine Where People Know the Food
When eating out, the better independent restaurants, with more sophisticated dinners and knowledgeable servers, know much more about what’s in the foods they serve than do the chains. The food is made on site, and they darn well know how it’s processed and made. If they aren’t sure, they can go right to the source and find out. Even better, they can ask the chef to modify the preparation for you.
It’s almost certain that anything listed as roasted or char-grilled on a menu will not be floured. Therefore, there’s no gluten, and it’s safe. Typically, the only additional ingredients are oil and seasonings. Steaming and broiling are likewise all good.
On the other hand, sautéed items are often floured or breaded, and stir-fried foods (being closely associated with Asian-inspired foods) can have soy sauce as an ingredient. Soy sauce usually has a wheat/gluten component, so I’d be sure to ask whether or not there is any soy sauce in the preparation.
Braised items are iffy if they have thickened the sauce with a wheat-based starch. But if they’ve used arrowroot or cornstarch, or if it’s a pure, natural reduction (lucky you), you’re golden.
Speaking of Sauces
Most thickened sauces use starch as a thickener, and sorry to say, most of the time that’s wheat flour in some form or another. If a restaurant doesn’t make its own stocks or broths, it’s quite possible that its commercial bases have gluten in them as well.
Steak sauces are not generally gluten-free, and that goes for (sorry) zip sauces, with the secret component of soy sauce. My recommendation is a pat of butter to meld into the steak’s own juices. That and some freshly milled black pepper and sea salt, and you’re all set.
Well, here’s where you might think you could get yourself into a lot of trouble, but at least in this category, the gluten isn’t lurking behind some ingredient you’d never suspect.
It’s in the flour.
Now you might think that eliminating flour from a restaurant pastry chef’s repertoire is like tying one whisk behind his or her back, but that’s really not the case.
In fact, just about any dessert on a menu can be made with or without gluten, and many of them are NEVER made with flour in the 1st place, including the Holy Grail of desserts, crème brulee, which is basically cream, eggs, sugar and vanilla.
Other delicious dessert offerings, such as fresh berries/fruits, sorbets, many ice creams, puddings (including rice pudding), mousses made from chocolate, cream and eggs, wine-poached pears, and straight-up chocolate are generally on the safe list as well as what many restaurants call flourless cakes, which are basically eggs, sugar, chocolate and nut flours.
While I’m fortunate not to need to restrict my own diet, I’d certainly be happy to enjoy an appetizer of Seared Scallops in Garlic Butter, a meal of Oven-Roasted Free Range Chicken with Sautéed Vegetables and Rice Pilaf, and a dessert of Crème Brulee with an Assortment of Fresh Berries.
For more information about gluten Intolerance, celiac disease, and a list of some of Nino’s growing inventory of gluten-free products, Click Here.