Tired of turkey? Combating chicken fatigue? The truth is, it's probably not the poor bird — it's the preparation.
As Bill Mitchell, senior director of brand management for Sodexo Corporate Services explains, “Poultry provides a very versatile canvas, which can help you do so much — from different cooking methods that add perceived variety, to different toppings and finishes, to multiple ethnic treatments that take it in new and interesting directions.”
To that end, Mitchell notes some simple preparation methods that can improve customer perceptions:
Pan-searing with spice rubs to seal in juiciness and add flavor. Heighten the appeal of chicken sandwiches, for instance, by seasoning and searing chicken breasts with curry, tandoori spices, Jamaican jerk rub or Cajun-style coatings.
Braising and slow cooking, then shredding the meat to provide a juicy medium to absorb flavors. As a break from chunks or strips of chicken on top of salads, Mitchell has introduced tender, shredded chicken with Moroccan spices in a chicken tagine salad, and pulled tandoori-style chicken presented with cumin spiced lentils, onion chutney, grilled eggplant and mixed greens.
Glazing for adding a sweet touch and intensified flavor. Instead of offering plain turkey burgers, try a version with a maple glaze added as the burger grills.
Of course, altering the style or type of poultry from what's typically menued can pique new interest, too.
Onsite operators often relegate duck, for instance, to catering and special events, but newly-available pulled duck meat, fully prepped and ready to use from oven-roasted duck legs, offers a quick and easy way to incorporate this value-adding ingredient into regular cafe menus — in anything from sandwiches and salads to pizzas and entrees.
At Tufts University in Medford, MA, Nutrition and Marketing Specialist Julie Lampie, RD, MBA, likes to offer a break from the more expected boneless chicken breast applications by using turkey steaks or cutlets, marinated and charbroiled for a somewhat different look and taste (check out her recipe for simple but brightly-flavored Rosemary Lemon Turkey Steaks on p. 46). Pre-seasoned turkey tips and boneless turkey breast at the carving station also provide a change of pace for students.
“You and your customers might get tired of particular presentations after a while,” she says, “but it's hard to get tired of poultry itself — it's just so mild and easily adaptable.” Lampie expects to generate some new interest later this year when she introduces a do-it-yourself Asian lettuce wrap station using either ground turkey or chicken with fish sauce, soy sauce, water chestnuts, scallions and other vegetables for add-ins.
Can't go the expensive beef route for a bacon-wrapped filet mignon at an upcoming catered event? Wrap turkey medallions in turkey bacon for a lower-fat but still high-appeal “turkey filet mignon” version.
Although white meat chicken and turkey seem to have captured the “healthy” perception, there's much to recommend about dark meat poultry, too. Thighs and legs can yield some of the most succulent and juicy meat for braised dishes, stir fries, pastas and sandwiches. Smoked or roasted and shredded dark meat also makes a viable poultry substitute for classic dishes made with beef or pork, such as Philly cheese steaks, ropa vieja, carnitas, and barbeque pulled meat sandwiches.
An Added Punch
Because of its mild flavor, poultry pairs especially well with lively condiments like relishes and salsas.
John Leone, who worked as Bon Appetit executive chef at Master's College in Newhall, CA, before his recent switch to Dream Works Studios, gets a lot of mileage out of a Pixie tangerine relish he created to accent a citrus-marinated chicken dish (see recipe on p. 48).
“Citrus is a great way to pucker up your chicken if you've gotten stuck in a rut,” he says. “It awakens your senses, and you get the pull of the sweet and the sour, along with salty taste of the savory chicken.”
It's also a perfect way to splash in fresh color, which can tremendously improve the pale look and limited appeal of a solitary slab of white meat poultry on a plate. For easy eye-catchers to add instant allure, consider a basic poultry preparation punched up with:
One poultry tradition onsite operators will probably never be able to deny their customers is chicken with crunchy coatings and toppings. Even ubiquitous breaded chicken strips can be updated, though, with an oatmeal-and-flour coating, sesame-studded panko crumbs, or new dipping sauces such as a Thai peanut, Italian pesto, or cilantro-spiced hummus.
And when you're looking for something more interesting than croutons or crispy noodles to add crunch to a poultry salad, try tantalizing your customers with seasoned and toasted naan strips instead.
Cock-a-doodle-do! Isn't it time to wake up the menu with some new takes on poultry?