Although beef prices are moderating and pork continues to be budget-friendly, meat remains a high-cost purchase for foodservice operators. The move toward menuing more plant-forward dishes is one money-saving solution, but almost every operation still has meat eaters to feed. How to satisfy their cravings without breaking the bank? Take a look at these five strategies, put into practice in noncommercial kitchens.
1. Stuff it
As corporate executive chef at Elior’s Aladdin Food Management, Eric Pearce develops menus for healthcare, B&I, higher education and K-12 accounts. To portion proteins in a more sustainable and cost-effective way, he rolls pork loin or chicken breasts around a stuffing. “A roulade gives the impression that you’re getting more meat per serving and more bang for your buck,” he says. For pork roulade, he rolls the boneless loin around a filling of shredded cabbage, pecans and carrots; a slice contains less meat but looks “fancy and high-end,” Pearce says. When it comes to chicken, he fills 3-ounce boneless breasts with a mixture of kale, feta, pecans and cranberries, then rolls them up the long way. “It looks like a large portion, and the kale doesn’t cook down as much as spinach would, giving a meatier appearance,” he notes.
2. Vary the poultry pick
Chicken wings are at peak price now, and the cost will probably continue to be high as demand increases during football playoffs, the NCCA tournament and prime hockey season. Pearce traditionally holds weekly wing nights at Alvernia University in Reading, Pa., but has recently switched from chicken to turkey wings. He preps them in the same way, with a choice of Buffalo sauce, teriyaki, hot sauce and more, but an order comes with one turkey wing instead of several chicken wings. “Students are so impressed and satisfied with this one big wing,” he says, and turkey is much kinder on food costs. Pearce is also menuing boneless turkey breast, cutting it into 3-ounce portions that are then marinated and grilled.
3. Explore underutilized cuts
Along with turkey, operators are looking into other underutilized proteins. At Yale University in New Haven, Conn., chef Dave Kuzma menus grilled pork skirt steak in a quesadilla paired with kimchi, and cooks pork temple meat in a Sichuan -spiced broth for a Chinese-style hot pot. The temple meat is cut from the pig’s head and has a similar texture and flavor to pork cheeks or jowl.
4. Put it in a bowl
Grain and noodle bowls stretch smaller meat portions while meeting diners’ demand for customization. University of Massachusetts at Amherst sets up a pho bar, allowing students to add sliced beef brisket, chicken or tofu to a steaming bowl of broth, along with noodles, vegetables and assorted garnishes. At Michigan State University in East Lansing, chef Kurt Kwiatkowski offers shaved pork as a rotational protein at the grain bowl station. And chef Andrew Sasloe of San Diego State University menus pulled pork in a salad bowl, pairing it with shredded cabbage, fresh mango, grilled pineapple and other tropical ingredients.
5. Make it ethnic
In other parts of the world, animal proteins are traditionally used sparingly, so it makes sense to tap into Asian, South American and African cuisines for ideas. One-pot recipes are operationally easy and have wide appeal, such as the Brazilian feijoada served at Yale. Many parts of the pig—the ears, hocks, belly, tail and shoulder—enrich this black bean stew with meaty flavor. Other ethnic one-pot recipes that stretch less-pricey meat cuts include Indian lamb curry, Mexican posole, Japanese ramen, and West African peanut and chicken stew.