– By CULINARY BOARD MEMBER Jessica James, Executive Chef, Consultant
Many of us think of turkey for two reasons—turkey sandwiches and Thanksgiving dinner. The former is a staple of the American diet served at every diner, deli and sandwich shop across America; the latter comes just once each year, when turkey is center of the meal and the family holiday celebration.
Turkey is so revered at Thanksgiving that salt shakers, table linens, punch bowls and platters are all cast in the likeness of the grand bird and brought to the table each fall to celebrate giving thanks with friends and family. And, thankfully, methods for the preparation of turkey have grown beyond simply roasting, such as deep -frying, smoking, brining and braising.
Yet we still have more to offer our guests when it comes to serving turkey in foodservice operations. Aside from the two occasions mentioned above, turkey is often underutilized in foodservice. Turkey offers many unexpected options beyond the cuts and methods of preparation we are so accustomed to using.
At retail, turkey’s momentum is growing as a variety of right-sized cuts and simple preparations, some pre-marinated, are appearing in meat cases at grocery stores across the country. From fully-cooked meatballs, to turkey breast cutlets, burger patties and blends of ground dark & white meat, turkey is enjoying a renaissance.
As chefs, we owe it to our guests to offer menu options that reflect their preferences, and to expand their awareness and knowledge of of underutilized ingredients like turkey. Turkey’s healthfulness is hard to beat: low in cholesterol, low in fat, high in protein and high in immune-boosting zinc. Turkey lends itself to a variety of preparations, and is a great way to lighten up dishes, such as tacos, salads, stir fries, casseroles and many other center of the plate offerings.
For those of us in foodservice, the opportunity is clear. Retail trends suggest our health conscious guests want to know more about the delivery of lean protein in their diet and, loaded with health boosting benefits, turkey fits the bill. Let’s give them what they want by including turkey on our menus in ways that go beyond the everyday sandwich or traditional turkey dinner—all the while educating them on turkey’s superior nutrition profile and sustainability.