The Bird’s the Word

By | July 12th, 2011

Chefs are dishing up inspired chicken, turkey and duck recipes that showcase these versatile proteins’ bounty of possibilities.

A brilliant poultry recipe can start with the simplest idea, like taking a classic dish such as grouper daufuskie and replacing the main ingredient, grouper, with that oh-so-versatile protein, chicken.

“Our members don’t come to the club looking for bland comfort foods,” says Sean Sennet, Executive Chef, River Hills Country Club, Lake Wylie, S.C. “At the same time, they want something that is still familiar and approachable. Dishes like our chicken daufuskie offer them that perfect balance they have come to expect of us.”

Sennet starts his recipe riff by heating cream, then adding mushrooms, mustard, cheddar, bacon, Worcestershire sauce and Tabasco. He whisks the concoction over medium heat until smooth. Then, using a knife steel or a hollow larding needle, he makes a hole in an airline chicken breast; starting from just behind the wing joint moving down beyond the middle of the breast, making sure the knife is just under the flesh, under the skin. He pipes the filling—made of caper berries, roasted red onions and cheddar cheese—into the chicken and bakes it until it reaches 120°F. At this point, he coats the top and sides of the chicken with the mushroom sauce, reserving some of it for plating, then returns it to the oven until it reaches 165°F.

SUMMING IT UP

  • Poultry offers a great cost point, and can be used in both upscale and casual dishes.
  • Don’t be afraid to experiment with poultry—its beauty lies in its versatility.
  • Cooking methods, like sous vide and deep frying, can help lock in moisture while adding flavor.

Indeed, the dish isn’t overly complicated in concept or execution, but it’s one of River Hills’ most popular entrees. “It’s novel and still approachable,” says Sennet. “Our members love it.”

Twisting Tradition

Taking a cue from adding a modern  interpretation to a classic dish, Sennet and his Executive Sous Chef, Jonathan Oliver, eke out enormous flavor from simple ingredients in other poultry dishes such as chicken parmesan, corn dogs with a homemade chicken bratwurst (see recipe, pg. 36), turkey meatballs and duck spring rolls.

“We use only the highest quality products and we scratch-make a lot of our ingredients, too, including the mozzarella we use in the chicken parm,” says Oliver, whose culinary background is heavily seeded in Southern cooking. When you combine his strengths with Sennet’s more Northern culinary background, it makes for a talented team that creates some delicious flavor profiles. “In scratch-making things like the mozzarella, we are not only providing a highly local product to our membership, but we’re also able to teach our kitchen staff skills they might not otherwise learn,” notes Sennet.

River Hills CC has 715 members on its roster, 165 of whom are new since January. “Our food and beverage program has been a really big draw,” says Sennet. The menus tend to be regional and, naturally, member-driven. “I learned a long time ago that it’s important, especially in the club world, to cook to your audience,” says Sennet.

With that in mind, River Hills’ menu changes about six times a year, focusing each time on seasonality and local ingredients. The menu is a clean split between upscale and casual fare—but poultry, because of its profitability and versatility, finds its way to both sides, as well as to some of the club’s special-event menus.

For Thanksgiving, Sennet and Oliver decided to wage their own culinary version of the Civil War by using their skills to serve up turkey in two distinctive ways. Sennet prepared a traditional, Northern feast of brined, slow-roasted turkey, while Oliver cooked up a deep-fried version. (Allegedly, the latter was slightly more popular with members.)

River Hills CC’s Executive Chef Sean Sennet (right) and Executive Sous Chef Jonathan Oliver plate tamales featuring housemade chicken bratwurst.

“Our membership is made up of a lot of transplants, so we always try to find a good balance between heavy and light, Northern and Southern cuisine,” says Oliver.

Another popular item at River Hills is the chicken corn dog made with a homemade chicken bratwurst and served with a locally made grainy mustard. “The corn dogs are especially popular with the ladies’ golf group, because they’re very lean and very flavorful,” explains Sennet. “That’s kind of the beauty of chicken. It’s lean and healthful, everyone likes it, and it’s great for food costs.”

Perfecting Poultry

When Daniel Vallone came to Tam-O-Shanter Country Club in West Bloomfield, Mich., as Executive Chef six years ago, the club’s menu featured traditional club fare, but members were starting to tire of the heavy comfort foods. So Vallone and his team decided to start refining the offerings and the club now menus highly seasonal, more healthful dishes.

“Instead of offering a standard menu of ‘club classics’ and a handful of specials each night, we offer a menu of the kinds of dishes most would consider specials, and then do the classics—like meatloaf, roasted chicken, and lasagna—as the ‘specials,’ ” he explains.

Chicken, turkey and duck are all over Tam-O-Shanter’s menus. “Our membership associates poultry with lighter fare and healthier eating,” he says. “They come to the club looking for dishes they wouldn’t make at home that are good for them and full of flavor.”

Among the more popular poultry offerings at Tam-O-Shanter are the rotisserie chicken served with a cherry marmalade and potato leek gratin; turkey chili; tempura-breasted chicken served on a pretzel roll with gruyere cheese; and house-roasted turkey sandwiches served with Brie and a fresh mango chutney.

“We also do a crispy duck that the members really enjoy,” notes Vallone. “At the club I worked at prior to coming here, the members were more into dover sole and filet, as opposed to chicken, turkey or duck.”

But at Tam-O-Shanter, poultry is king, even on the banquet side of the operation. “When the economy turned, we saw more and more members and guests ordering chicken, especially for banquets,” he says. “It’s great because it’s so flexible;  you can stuff it, roll it, bake it, fry it, smoke it, sous vide it, use it for appetizers or entrées, or set up a carving station. You can introduce ethnic flavors with it, or keep it simple and regional. Poultry also has a great cost point and we can run some great numbers with it.”

Maintaining food costs is very important at Tam-O-Shanter, as the club recently survived financial ruin when a member purchased the club and turned it into a for-profit entity. As part of the process of making the business run better, Vallone has reduced food costs by 6 percentage points—from 44% to 38%—as well as labor costs by 12 percentage points.

“Our philosophy is to concentrate on simple, high-quality food, with flavors that speak for themselves,” he says, adding that menu prices were raised across the board as part of the initiative. “We are setting the tone to deliver a highly refined product to our members.”

The overall plan seems to be working, as the club has brought in 65 new members since January.

Constant Evolution

Keeping up with menus at Rockrimmon Country Club is a constant challenge as the club, located in Stamford, Conn., changes its menu weekly. Executive Chef Vincent LaForte and General Manager Frank Benzakour, CCM, along with other members of the team, work together to not only drum up new ideas and inspirations, but also to add modern twists to club classics.

The menu mix at Rockrimmon is as follows: 20% poultry, 30% meats, 30% fish, 10% pasta and 10% vegetarian. “We do Nouveau American cuisine here,” says Benzakour, who came to the club this May. “We keep close attention to industry trends without forgetting classic preparation methods and flavors.”

Rockrimmon’s food philosophy is “simple food made from the best quality possible in a simple presentation.” And that philosophy is aptly applied to all of its poultry dishes, too.

“We do a roasted chicken with truffles under the skin and a cognac sauce that’s very popular with members,” says LaForte. “We also do a lot of marinades with poultry because it has a fairly neutral flavor profile, allowing us to infuse a lot of taste.”

Some of the club’s more popular poultry dishes include chicken scarpiello, turkey meatballs, traditional fried chicken, and a Peking duck panini.

“In a country club, obviously demand is a good measure of success,” says Benzakour. “Our motto is to always be delicious, be price-sensitive, serve ample portions and incorporate all of the senses in our culinary experience.”

Putting the Chicken Before The Egg

When the new owner of Tam-O-Shanter Country Club, West Bloomfield, Mich., purchased the club, one of the first initiatives was to elevate the overall quality and experience. As part of that, the owner, who was previously a club member, sat down with Executive Chef Daniel Vallone to discuss the club’s F&B strategy.

“He was very quick to point out that he not only trusts me and my staff, but that he wants us to think outside the box and try new things,” says Vallone.

So, when Bravo TV’s “Top Chef” reality competition show came to Michigan and held a local celebrity chef’s competition, Vallone was quick to participate and even earned himself the first-place title.

“The event was held at Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital, which is well-known for its sustainability efforts,” says Vallone. “They’re doing some really inspiring things with food over there. They don’t have a freezer or any can openers, and they only purchase products that are sourced from within a 110-mile radius.”

While not entirely practical for Tam-O-Shanter, this hyper-local sourcing really intrigued Vallone, as he had instituted some sustainable practices at the club such as composting, building a vegetable garden and using eco-friendly to-go containers.

Then, a few months later, when Vallone was interviewing potential sous chefs, one of the candidates brought him a dozen eggs that he had collected from chickens he raised on his nearby farm.

“I thought it was kind of gimmicky, but when I tasted the eggs they were amazing and something hit me,” he says. “Why couldn’t we build a chicken coop at the club and offer our members eggs of the same quality?”

Vallone and his newly hired sous chef met with the owner to pitch the idea of building a chicken coop.

“His exact words were, ‘I love it. Do it. Build it. Let me know what you need,’” says Vallone, who built the coop (see photo, above) and now raises hens that produce cage-free eggs that are used sparingly at the club.

“The hens don’t produce as many eggs as we need, but the coop has been such a great talking point with members,” he says. “Plus, the taste is unbeatable, especially in omelettes.”

 

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