Club chefs are highlighting chicken in creative, cost-effective and delicious ways.
As prices on beef, veal and pork continue to rise by as much as 8.5%, poultry remains the most cost-effective protein. And when used in smart and practical ways, it can help to balance food costs, improve member satisfaction and expand menu variety.
At Cress Creek Country Club, Naperville, Ill., Executive Chef Don Zajac is highly skilled at featuring chicken so that it’s not only cost-effective for the club, but also downright delicious for members.
“We dress up our chicken sandwich with our own mostarda, wild arugula, and tomato focaccia,” he says. “We’ll utilize the whole chicken by making a forcemeat from the leg and thigh, or by frenching a single-lobe airline chicken breast for a more upscale look, then utilizing the bones to make a stock.”
Cress Creek strives to makes the most out of random-sized chicken breasts in recipes where size and uniformity aren’t as important, such as in salads.
“With creativity and proper utilization, chicken can be both attractive and affordable,” Zajac says.
The new restaurant at Muskegon (Mich.) Country Club, dubbed “Four Se4ons,” is fast becoming a menu playground for Executive Chef Sean Marr. And chicken is a major player in his game.
“Obviously, we’ll focus on seasonality,” says Marr, who came to the club a little more than two months ago, after having served as Executive Chef of Spring Lake (Mich.) Country Club for nearly three and a half years. “But it will also have a gastropub feel, with a farm-fresh, local spin.”
Four Se4sons is open to the public, while the club’s member grill remains private. It’s located on the clubhouse’s second floor and features sweeping course views from three of its sides. “You can enjoy all four seasons from the new space,” says Marr.
One of the club’s upcoming seasonal specials will feature a chicken breast that’s been roasted on cedar paper and then glazed with a kumquat teriyaki sauce. It’s served with roasted fingerlings and asparagus on the cedar paper, which acts as an aromatic.
“We also do a confit airline breast that we serve with a sauté of pork belly, Brussels sprouts and urban mushrooms,” says Marr. “We finish that with a white-wine butter sauce.”
To ensure a good crunch on the skin, Marr salts it and lets it dry out in the cooler overnight. He then rinses it and roasts it to get it crispy, and confits it in duck fat with mirepoix and thyme.
“I like to cook simply, but deliciously,” says Marr. “I try to pay close attention to the ingredients and let them speak for themselves.”
One such example is his barbecued chicken wing, which he dresses with a Michigan cherry barbecue sauce.
“We roast the wings and fry them to order,” says Marr, who enters a number of barbecue competitions annually. “I usually create a couple of different barbecue sauces every year, but this one stuck with both myself and the membership.”
The sauce starts with a tomato and coffee base. Onions and seasonings are then added before the dried cherries, which plump up as they rehydrate. The sauce, Marr says, goes really well with wings as well as legs, thighs and breasts.
“Chicken has a relatively neutral flavor profile that marries well with the other elements on the plate,” says Marr, who notes that the club always offers chicken as an upsell for salads and as a healthful option for kids. “It’s a workhorse protein.”
Seasonal applications like a grilled chicken breast with a fresh cherry tomato-and-leek relish are a lighter option for both a la carte and events like Mother’s or Father’s Day. But classic chicken dishes with big flavors remain popular on the banquet side.
“You’ll never get away from chicken marsala or chicken picatta,” says Marr, who relies on marinade and a la minute cooking to help maintain moisture. “Our gorgonzola chicken, served with a balsamic onion marmalade, is also really popular for banquets.
“We try to be as creative as possible with chicken,” he continues. “And we must be doing something right, because our members continue to choose these dishes and tell us they love them, because they’re unique, delicious and affordable.”