The sandwich spread is the unsung hero of the lunchtime menu. Often forgotten, or relegated to an afterthought, slapped on with little thought to its amazing potential.
A memorable spread can do much more than just holding a sandwich together or adding moisture to sometimes-dry ingredients like chicken or turkey.
“It gives you one more point of differentiation that your competitors may not have,” says Christopher Koetke, dean of the School of Culinary Arts at Kendall College, Chicago, IL. “Spreads are sometimes overlooked, and way too often, they are boring.”
Don't make the mistake of thinking you'll cover all bases with salad dressing rather than a spread, cautions Daniel M. Pliska, CEC. While the dressing may give you some flavor, it can't hold the wrap together as well as a spread.
“A salad dressing base can just fall apart,” says Pliska, executive chef and assistant general manager at the University Club, the University of Missouri-Columbia, who recommends adding up to 50 percent cream cheese in a mixture with blue cheese dressing to hold together the Southwestern Cobb Wrap (see recipe ).
Using simple methods and not a lot of effort, spreads can become the trick up your sleeve that really transforms poultry sandwiches into pure menu magic.
Two Main Methods
There are two main ways to upgrade everyday spreads into something special. The first method involves adding flavors to plain spreads (think pesto cream cheese or sweet chili mayonnaise). The second method is to venture into the next level of sandwich spreads, such as tapenades, guacamole, purees and chutneys.
Adding zippy ingredients to a trusty base (mayonnaise, cream cheese, plain yogurt) can result in hundreds — even thousands — of truly tasty combinations, savory or sweet, spicy or subtle. (See sidebar, next page, for a few combos that operators have found to work beautifully.)
Add It Up: 14 Chef-Tested Spread Equations
DILL or TARRAGON or BASIL or CHIVES + CREAM CHEESE
CURRY POWDER + PLAIN GREEK YOGURT
STRAWBERRIES + FETA CHEESE
PEACH PRESERVES + BARBECUE SAUCE
MAYO + HONEY + GRAIN MUSTARD + GOAT CHEESE
MANDARIN ORANGES + DILL + SOUR CREAM
JALAPENO + SHREDDED JACK CHEESE + CREAM CHEESE
CHIPOTLE CHILES IN ADOBO + MAYO
MAPLE SYRUP + CREAM CHEESE
ROASTED GARLIC + MAYO
PESTO + CREAM CHESE or MAYO
SOY SAUCE + CURRY POWDER + WHIPPED COCONUT MILK
ROASTED CAPERS + MAYO
BBQ SAUCE + GREEK YOGURT
“That can be just enough, especially if your customers want something familiar, like mayonnaise, but with a flavor accent like chipotle or roasted garlic for something a little different,” Koetke says.
Donnell Jones-Craven uses this approach to transform a turkey wrap into his most valuable lunchtime player at Emory University Hospital-Midtown, Atlanta, GA. Jones-Craven, food and beverage manager, says the wrap outperforms all other poultry sandwiches for sale in the hospital's cafeteria — which serves mostly employees, but also gets significant traffic from visitors.
“We make about 35 Spring Turkey Wraps (see recipe ) at lunch time, more than other wraps, because we know they will sell out,” Jones-Craven says, adding that on any given day, sandwiches and wraps will account for nearly 9 percent of his sales.
The turkey wrap stands out because of a spread Jones-Craven created, he says. Using a whip or spatula to blend low-fat cream cheese with a bright, intensely fresh-tasting mix of dill, garlic, Worcestershire sauce, salt and white pepper, Jones-Craven uses the spread to elevate the wrap without a lot of effort or ingredients.
The Next Level
One of Koetke's current favorite spreads for poultry sandwiches is guacamole. “It's sticky, it has the prerequisite mouthfeel and fat content for a spread, and you can do it with lots of different flavors,” he says.
Tapenade, traditionally a paste of pureed or finely chopped olives, capers and olive oil, comes from the Provencal region of France (the word “tapenade” originated from the French word for capers, tapeno). This spread can add a bold flavor, says Koetke, who adds garlic and anchovies for even more intensity.
Purees are another way to reach that ‘next level’ of sandwich spread nirvana. Koetke suggests a piquillo pepper puree (roasted red bell peppers can be substituted for Piquillo peppers) to add a delightful kick to the preparation.
And just as many people enjoy the heat, they are also into ‘the sweet.’
“A lot of people are gaga over the ‘sweet thing,’” Koetke says, describing maple syrup added to cream cheese for a delicious sweet spread. Chutneys are a fairly unexpected addition to a poultry sandwich, and are another way to elevate the item, he says.
Koetke also adds dried fruit to spreads, and points to the flavors of a Waldorf Salad as a classic inspiration.
Anthony Marino, catering chef, the Power Center, Duquesne University, Pittsburgh, PA, created a club sandwich that updates the fruit and poultry marriage in an award-winning way (with a great spread, of course).
The Cali Paradise Club Sandwich with Strawberry-Feta Salad won Aramark's annual California Strawberry Commission Higher Education contest two years ago. The win was thanks, in part, to the unique spread Marino slathers on the sandwich: a mixture of ricotta, vanilla yogurt and sugar. The spread creates the perfect foil for the sandwich's layers of sliced strawberries, lettuce, and honey-peppered turkey bacon.
The Cali Paradise Club (see recipe ) went on to be offered at 300 Aramark campuses and is currently at all 13 outlets on the Duquesne campus. Marino was rewarded with a trip to study at the Culinary Institute of America's West Coast campus at Greystone in the Napa Valley.
More Flavor, Less Fat
Last but not least, the punched-up flavor profile of a great spread can have a hidden healthier-eating benefit, as well. Working to meet stricter nutritional guidelines for students at the K-12 level, Robert Schram finds an ally in chipotle-mayonnaise for chicken sandwiches and wraps. “With the added flavor, you don't need a lot of mayonnaise, so it's automatically less fat,” he says.
Schram, director of campus catering, Clovis Unified School District, Clovis, CA, is currently developing some fat-free toppings for the popular chicken wraps that many students reach for at lunchtime.
Georgia Peach BBQ Glazed Crispy Chicken 
Dijon Curry Chicken Pita with Grapes 
Charred Beer Onion Chicken Sandwich with Red Pepper Sauce and Smoked Cheddar Cheese 
Bombay Turkey Naan with Mango Chutney 
Cali Paradise Club Sandwich with Strawberries and Strawberry Feta Salad 
Spring Turkey Wrap 
Crispy Orange Chicken Wrap 
Turkey & Curried-Rice Stuffed Pitas 
Deli Grape Walnut Chicken Baguette 
The University Club (University of Missouri-Columbia) Southwestern Cobb Wrap