With its endless versatility and healthful profile, poultry might just be the perfect protein.
It can be roasted, grilled, or smoked. It can be rubbed, brined, or fried. It can be dressed up or dressed down, deconstructed or served whole. It can be made healthful or rustic. It has a low price point. It works for a la carte and banquets, as a small plate or an entrée.
It’s poultry. And thanks to some creative chefs, its popularity as a center-of-the-plate protein on club and resort menus continues to soar.
“Too often, people’s perception of poultry—chicken especially—is that it’s boring, with no flavor or excitement,” says Ralph Edmonds, Food & Beverage Director and Executive Chef at Pinnacle Country Club, Rogers, Ark. “But its versatility is part of its beauty.”
The members of Pinnacle CC benefit from Edmonds’ global and seasonal culinary style, as well as his penchant for quality ingredients.
“I have a lot of freedom to purchase the finest products available,” he says, noting that he runs a 48% overall food cost. “This works especially well with poultry, in that we can play with many different things like tikka masala, Thai curry, borracho, garlic, and craft beer.”
Four of the club’s most popular poultry dishes include an herb goat cheese-stuffed chicken served with a rich hunter’s sauce; a duo of duck featuring a pan-seared breast with red currant gastrique alongside a ballotine of leg, served with wild rice pilaf and snow peas; an Asian pressed quail served with corn cakes, sautéed kale and a sweet-and-sour lime glaze; and a spiced-pecan chicken salad.
“The quail, while upscale, is a very homey dish that goes over really well in the autumn months,” says Edmonds, who changes menus seasonally and tends to feature more game poultry during hunting season. “The spiced-pecan chicken salad is our best seller.”
To create this super salad, Edmonds mixes seasoned chicken breast with strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, grape tomatoes, hard-boiled eggs and house-spiced pecans over mixed greens, with a sweet raspberry vinaigrette dressing.
“Its simplicity is what makes it a success,” he says.
Poultry is equally popular at the club’s banquets. In fact, Pinnacle’s spinach and boursin cheese-stuffed chicken breast has proved great for larger plated functions, while roasted turkey makes for a low-cost, high-impact carving station.
The club also frequently features turkey in its taco del día special.
“We recently did a creole turkey with an apple walnut slaw as a taco,” says Edmonds. “The members loved it.”
With menus that change twice a week, poultry is also in heavy rotation at Alpine Country Club (ACC), Demarest, N.J., where Nicholas Gatti, who has been the club’s Executive Chef for nearly two decades, is constantly dreaming up new and interesting applications.
“Poultry is a staple and marries really well with many different flavors, sauces and marinades,” says Gatti.
ACC’s most popular chicken dishes tend toward classic and rustic variations. Coq au vin, chicken pot pie, chicken stew and a simple, brined-and-roasted chicken are consistent favorites.
“A great dish starts with great ingredients,” says Gatti. “The chicken we source is both local and fresh-killed, resulting in a flavor that is pure and clean.”
In the summer, Gatti and his team brine whole chickens, rub them in a housemade spice blend and smoke them as part of an outdoor dining experience for the club’s nearly 400 members. “We break the chicken down in front of the guest and give them whole pieces,” he says.
Duck tends to be featured in more upscale applications at ACC, but is still quite popular when it finds its way to the menu, reports Gatti. “We do duck usually once a month,” he says.
One duck recipe that’s particularly popular is Kaeng Phed Ped Yang (roasted duck Thai red curry), made with pineapple, tomato and red curry.
“The duck is marinated and then slow-roasted until it’s a deep mahogany color,” says Gatti.
Shane Taylor, Executive Chef at Pensacola (Fla.) Country Club, agrees with Gatti that quality sourcing forms the basis of a good poultry program. But he also believes that technique has much to do with a successful end result.
“We use commodity chickens/poultry for our everyday menu items because of the value we can pass on to the membership,” he says, noting that he runs a 42% food cost. “Proper cooking technique is the most important thing.”
Taylor, who describes his culinary style as “modern, creative and approachable,” relies on brining to maintain moisture and add flavor. He also looks for creative ways to reinvent classics.
“We’ll change an ingredient in a familiar flavor combination, or change a cooking method to one that offers more flavor or creativity,” he says.
Poultry dishes that are especially popular at Pensacola CC include the smoked duck chili; beer-brined hot wings served with a celery frond salad, blue cheese puree and Budweiser foam; and grilled turkey caprese on ciabatta.
“To break the monotony, we embrace exactly what it is that makes a dish monotonous,” Taylor says. “Our hot wings are a perfect example. At the end of the day, they’re still wings—but when dressed up with a purée and foam, they’re unusual and interesting.”