Chef's Blog

November 21, 2018

Bird is the Word

from Chef Brian Dragos

Everyone loves chicken, as long as it’s juicy, tender and flavorful. That’s no small feat, of course, but chefs are certainly working harder at menuing craveable and delicious chicken specialties.

And they should be. Americans consume more chicken than any other protein, according to the USDA, and are forecast to eat a record 94.5 pounds per capita in 2019. What’s more, National Chicken Council data indicates that sales of chicken are growing faster in foodservice than at retail.

There are lots of ways to capture some of those sales:

As the Rotisserie Turns As long as it’s been around, rotisserie chicken still keeps growing, led by consumer desire for convenience and comfort, and spurred by the availability of popularly-priced birds at outlets like Costco. There’s also an increasing variety of flavor profiles available, from traditional lemon-pepper and Italian to smoky Peruvian-style pollo a la brasa, many of them brined for added juiciness as well as taste appeal.

Did You Know? Rotisserie chicken callouts are up 1.7% across all U.S. menus over the past year, with notable growth seen at limited service (+5.0%).

But consumers are also getting more educated about what goes into those brined chickens. Are there 22 ingredients on the label, some of which can’t even be pronounced, or is it a simple salt-and-sugar liquid brine? Operators can set themselves apart by calling to the fact that their chicken is natural-brined or house-brined, whether it’s an herb-and-salt liquid or traditional buttermilk.

Chicken Tenders Grow Up Sure, kids love ‘em, but brands like Raising Cane’s are betting the ranch on the fact that adults also want to eat chicken fingers—especially when attention is paid to using fresh (never frozen) chicken and hand-dipping and breading the meat to order, then serving it with a proprietary sauce.

In New York City, Sticky’s, The Finger Joint touts fingers and poppers tossed with signature finishes like Buffalo Balsamic Blue, Salted Caramel Pretzel and a General Tso’s variation that includes scallions, peppers, and black and white sesame seeds along with a distinctive sauce. These chicken-tender specialists are no doubt giving wing joints and chicken specialists like KFC and Popeyes a run for their money.

Slow-Roasted, Responsibly Sourced One time-honored way to up the ante on a workhorse ingredient like chicken is to source better-quality birds and cook them simply but perfectly. Enter premium poultry like all-natural, Amish, Jidori, organic, free-range, locally farm-raised and other “haute barnyard” chickens, showing up on the menus of chef-driven restaurants and even at fast casuals that tout responsible sourcing practices.

Cultivar, a new farm-to-table restaurant in Boston, features a $52 roast chicken for two, which is boned out, rolled into a ballotine and served tableside in an oval sauté pan with ancient grains, seasonal vegetables and seasoned pan juices. This is how you turn simple chicken into a destination signature.

Fried all the Time It’s no secret that American diners are having a love affair with fried chicken, from down-home Southern to Nashville hot to twice-fried Korean-style. Rubs, batters, accompaniments, regional/global references—they’re all part of the drive to get on fans’ “Best of” lists. Some trendy restaurants are even doing Sunday-only fried chicken suppers with all the fixins’ served family-style, including mashed potatoes and gravy, vegetables and biscuits.

Did You Know? Fried chicken appeals to Millennials, almost half of whom prefer deep-fried/ breaded chicken as preparation style for entrees at lunch (47% vs. 43% overall category) and dinner (47% of Millennials vs. 42% overall respondents).

Fried chicken sandwiches are also making news, with crunchy and sometimes spicy fried chicken breasts or thighs replacing more predictable grilled chicken breasts. Distinctive sauces, toppings, breads and accompaniments are helping to make these sandwiches more craveable. Starbird, a small chicken specialty chain from San Francisco, features six different fried chicken sandwiches, including banh mi style and Nashville HotBird, as well as five taco-wrapped choices.

When it comes right down to it, it’s versatility that chicken provides, making it a neutral canvas that works with all kinds of flavors and cooking techniques.

Make the Popularity of Chicken Work for Your Menu
Minor’s Classical Reductions is a workhorse new product that can be used in a variety of ways to enhance chicken preparations. Reconstitute it as a pan stock or chicken velouté for sautéed or roasted chicken specialties, develop it into a Marsala or Chasseur sauce, or use it to create chicken gravy for homestyle fried chicken.
• This Buffalo Blue Dressing really elevates ordinary chicken breasts and other white meat applications.
• Here’s a Simple Chicken Brine that works for whole birds or parts.

Source: Technomic Center of the Plate: Poultry Consumer Trend Report, 2017

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