By Flavor & The Menu
September 10, 2019
Poultry provides a great launching pad for aggressive or inventive flavor play. It’s incredibly familiar and popular, of course, giving chefs latitude when extending a brand’s flavor reach.
As flavor exploration goes further afield and runs through the trends cycle at a faster clip, that grounding becomes even more important. Chefs are upping their poultry game, taking the standard to signature with layered, enticing flavors.
They are also reimagining familiar chicken and turkey offerings, like chicken and waffles and turkey sandwiches, introducing creative flavor combinations aimed at delighting modern diners.
Poultry partners easily with a number of trending global flavors, and chefs are showcasing that partnership in signature ways. At Anthem, a Tex-Asian pub in Austin, Texas, the JFC Popcorn Chicken serves up familiarity alongside adventure and craveability. The Japanese-style karaage fried chicken is a popcorn chicken dressed in a honey-Sriracha sauce, served with cucumber sunomono (vinegared salad) and a dipping sauce of miso ranch.
“Traditional Japanese fried chicken is dipped in Japanese mayo, but we wanted to create a dish that had an American finish, so we serve it with miso ranch,” says Tony Gentile, corporate executive chef of Flagship Restaurant Group, parent company of Anthem. “It is definitely one of our top sellers. People love the spicy, crispy chicken with the creamy dipping sauce.”
Riffs like these keep recipe development around chicken an exciting, dynamic part of culinary innovation.
Farm restaurant in Bluffton, S.C., features an entrée called Charcoal Grilled Chicken, with chicken thighs, crispy skin, red onion, chiles, cucumber, cabbage, soft herbs, and a garnish of toasted rice powder and garlic chips. Thai influences introduce surprising flavors.
“This dish is inspired by one of my favorite Thai dishes, called larb. The biggest difference, though, is grilling the chicken, which I feel really sets it off and makes it unique,” says Brandon Carter, executive chef and partner.
“Pairing the grilled chicken with fish sauce produces a super savory aspect. To balance that, we add the bright and fresh flavors of mint, cilantro, lime, ginger, chile, cabbage and red onion. It’s an incredibly complex dish, but refreshing at the same time.”
He uses chicken thighs in this entrée, counting on the fat that drips onto the coals for a “rich, umami smoke.”
Turkey Turns it up
Chefs are leveraging turkey’s ability to take on adventurous flavors, thanks to its familiar and well-loved status. The Smoked Turkey Banh Mi at Blood Bros. BBQ in Houston is just one example of turkey’s ability to star in eclectic global builds.
Chef Nancy Silverton is tapping turkey at her new fast-casual Italian restaurant, Pizzette, opening in the fall in Culver City, Calif. One of her Stuffed Pizzettes (an ingenious cross between a pizza and a pita) is filled with both turkey and smoked pancetta. The torta is also a welcome platform for turkey innovation.
At quick-serve restaurant Tortas Manny in Phoenix, deep-fried turkey is a comforting filler. In Portland, Ore., newcomer Xica Cantina’s version is a Confit Turkey Torta, with avocado, Fanta confit turkey leg and molcajete salsa.
Chefs are also dialing up complexity in their turkey sandwich builds. Nolo’s Kitchen & Bar in Minneapolis dresses up the traditional turkey club with smoked ham, bacon, smashed avocado, butter lettuce, jalapeño, mayonnaise and potato chips.
Stacked Sandwich Shop in Portland, Ore., cleverly reimagines the Reuben, subbing out pastrami with turkey in its Smoked Turkey Reuben with Granny Smith apple, provolone, house kraut and “2,000 Island Spread” on rye.
The Reuben gets a Greek, brand-fit spin at fast casual Zoës Kitchen, based in Plano, Texas. Its Grüben is a layered build with grilled turkey, Swiss cheese, slaw and spicy mustard on rye.
Serving chicken on a skewer isn’t new, but it certainly can add drama to the plate—and it naturally plays into the Eastern Mediterranean trend.
At LH Rooftop, the tri-level rooftop and restaurant at LondonHouse in Chicago, Jacob Verstegen, executive chef, menus a shareable of Goat Whey-Brined Chicken Skewers with a charred eggplant purée, marinated feta, seasonal slaw and housemade pita. “The goat-whey brine provides a tangy marinade, making the chicken incredibly tender while offering something a bit different,” he says.
Of course, poultry served on sticks is a worldwide tradition, broadening the opportunity for chefs to take it into most of the trending regions, pairing its mild flavor with more assertive ones.
At Gun Izakaya, a Japanese street-food restaurant in Oklahoma City, Okla., guests can choose from six variations of chicken on a stick, cooked on its binchōtan-burning grill, including tsukune (chicken meatballs), teba (chicken wing), momo (thigh) and kawa (skin).
Call it a kabob, brochette or pincho, chefs are dialing up flavor in their skewered chicken offerings.
- Chicken on a Stick: Chicken wrapped on a stick with a biscuit on top
—Roost Fried Chicken, Bozeman, Mont.
- Shishkatori: Mideast-seasoned chicken-thigh shish kabobs served in traditional Japanese yakitori style, with spicy yuzu tahini
—Bowery Bungalow, Los Angeles
- Flame-Grilled Chicken Pinchos skewered with fresh onions and peppers, and served with original or spicy barbecue sauce
—Pollo Tropical, based in Miami
- Crawfish Boil Fried Chicken Sticks: Spicy dark meat with Crystal hot sauce pulp
—SoBou, New Orleans
India’s Rising Star
What do you get when you combine yogurt-marinated chicken with a sauce of butter, onion, ginger, tomato, garam masala, cumin and turmeric? Some would say “heaven.” But officially, it’s a classic take on butter chicken, a mild Indian dish that already has a worldwide fan base and is now increasing its reach in the United States. In fact, Datassential reports that it’s finding traction: Menu mentions are up 30 percent over the last four years.
Chefs are cleverly moving it into mash-ups, maximizing butter chicken’s craveability while customizing it to fit their brands. At newly opened Superkhana International in Chicago, the Butter Chicken Supreme Calzone is a pizza puff made with naan filled with shredded chicken thigh (marinated in yogurt, cumin and coriander), “orange gravy” made with chicken stock and tomato, mozzarella and Amul processed cheese from India. It’s then brushed with ghee and topped with Maldon salt.
At Chaatable, Maneet Chauhan’s Indian street food concept in Nashville, Tenn., she serves The O.G., her version of butter chicken that takes a half-roasted chicken and slathers it in “original gravy.” “Butter chicken is the perfect flavor balance: tomato, butter, cream and fenugreek,” says Chauhan, chef/owner. “The flavors just go so well together, and it’s the ultimate comfort-food dish.”
At her sister concept, Chauhan Ale & Masala House, also in Nashville, Tenn., she uses the sauce in poutine. “At home, I use it on pizzas, and I also use it in a vegetarian pasta dish on the menu I created for American Airlines,” she says. She encourages U.S. chefs to explore its menu potential. “The sky is the limit—get creative!”