Chefs flock to chicken, turkey and other birds for inventive, crowd-pleasing dishes.

Oven Roasted Chicken with barley, napa cabbage, curry-mustard jus roti

At Sola in Chicago, chef-owner Carol Wallack cooks contemporary American cuisine with Asian and Hawaiian accents. Here, the former L.A. surfer gal brings Pacific Island flair to a crisp, golden chicken breast plated with a bold curry-mustard sauce. It goes for $16 on Sola’s casual dinner menu.

Chicken Paillard with truffle vinaigrette and shaved mushrooms

Outside Bottega’s front door in Birmingham, Alabama, edible flowers and herbs are ripe for the picking. “It doesn’t matter how simple the dish, if you use great, seasonal ingredients it’s a winner,” says chef-owner Frank Stitt. This entree, his most popular, is made with thinly pounded breast cutlets topped with arugula, Parmesan shavings and a light mushroom sauce.

Mandarin Minced Squab

Squab, a young pigeon, has been bred for centuries in China, but now is raised commercially in California. The meat is richer and moister than chicken but just as versatile. At the Mandarin Restaurant in San Francisco, the kitchen chops and marinates the boneless squab, then stir-fries and serves it Chinese-style in lettuce leaves sprinkled with crushed rice noodles.

Smoked Jerk Turkey Thighs with banana ketchup

Susan Goss, chef-partner in Chicago’s West Town Tavern, prefers turkey thigh meat for the way it stands up to assertive seasonings. Here, she brines the thighs, then smokes them over apple wood and finishes them off on the grill, brushed with a zesty homemade jerk sauce. The finishing touch—a sweet-hot condiment made with sautéed bananas, citrus juices and lots of spice.

Chicken with Almond-Pomegranate Sauce

Mediterranean is the focus at San Francisco’s Medjool restaurant and this “Medjool family recipe” is one of the menu’s signature tapas. Boneless chicken is dusted with distinctive seasonings, then napped with thick, almond-pomegranate sauce to create a rich, complex dish that embodies Mediterranean flavor.

Chicken Club Quesadilla

“We contract 8 million pounds of chicken a year,” says Daniel Barash, senior director of operations and development for the 350-unit Moe’s Southwest Grill. The white meat goes into the fast-casual concept’s fajitas, burritos, tacos, nachos and salads. One of the newest menu additions is the Chicken Club Quesadilla—a hearty combo of chicken, bacon, cheese, beans and tomatoes.

Tasting the future

Some of the poultry industry’s mega-producers point out the top trends that are driving product development.

Fresh and natural are in big demand. Poultry companies are responding to the health and wellness trend with all-natural products that are free of trans fats and lower in sodium. While several processors offer all-natural fresh, uncooked chicken, Tyson has just introduced a 100 percent natural line of marinated chicken. A combination of sea salt and proprietary flavoring technology makes the “all-natural” label possible, says Nanette Luningham, senior brand manager.

Recipe-ready products to save time and labor. Operators are looking for quick-to-prep items they can signaturize with their kitchen’s own seasonings and cooking techniques. Perdue’s Chef Redi Chicken Breast Filets are fresh products that are portioned for consistent size and shape to fit sandwiches, salads and tapas. The company’s TenderReady line in oven-roasted flavor is fresh, cooked chicken that goes from the walk-in to plate in minutes; it’s available in halves, quarters and boneless filets.

Guests want to explore and experiment. Products are being developed with more intense flavors, such as Perdue’s Salt & Vinegar Wings and Bourbon Peppercorn Turkey, Tyson’s Tequila Lime Glazed Wings and Pierce’s Chicken Filet-Vors in Salsa Mexicana, Spicy Asian, Mediterranean and Orange varieties. The latter come in three formats: raw marinated, par-fried and fully-cooked unbreaded filets. Consumers not only crave bolder flavors, they want the type of food that can be enjoyed in a “shared dining experience,” Perdue research has found.

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