Winner Winner Chicken Dinner
Hot Tips on Serving Chicken in a Restaurant
Chicken sandwiches are not the only poultry centered menu item soaring in popularity these days. And even though chicken has long had a presence on pizzeria menus, there has been a renewed love of chicken on pizza.
With chicken prices at an all-time high, you might be tempted to take it off your menu altogether, but remember this: consumers are well aware of what it costs to buy groceries, including chicken. To make this decision, it is important to understand the mindset and behavior of your customer base. In my experience, people are still spending money, and a lot of it. They are not shying away from $68 pizzas, but what they expect in return is quality and value.
A good quality chicken breast speaks for itself and means that you can expect your guests to pay a fair price. Conversely, tough, gristly or dry chicken is a poor argument for rising menu prices.
What you must ask yourself is, is it more offensive to your guests for you to charge appropriately for grilled chicken, or take it off the menu altogether? When I engineered our latest menu, I found that a pizza with the least amount of protein on it (chicken) carried the highest COGS. I seriously considered taking it off the menu, but instead, I increased the price, and it is now one of my best selling 10-inch pizzas.
I also discovered that most of the 20-inch pizzas I was selling were one topping, BYOs — rarely specialty pies, and never chicken on its own. This meant that the bulk of the specialty pies featuring chicken were 10 inches and carried a much better profit margin than 20-inch pies. This prompted the decision to only offer our specialty pies as a 10-inch. If a guest would like to build their own 20-inch specialty pizza, they certainly can, but at the build your own price. This more than adequately meets my target margin when chicken and other expensive proteins are chosen.
All chicken breasts are not created equal, therefore even in the face of supply chain issues, consistency is key! While less expensive — lower-quality chicken breast may seem like a good deal on its face, you may find more “funny business,” which requires more trimming and yields less usable product. Lower-quality chicken breasts can also be injected with saltwater to make them appear larger but tend to shrink considerably when cooked and can be dry and tough. Using higher quality, larger chicken breasts, even if you are not serving them as an entree, will cook more evenly and will be juicier than smaller breasts. A larger breast can stand up to the process of being reheated on a pizza which opens the opportunity for cross utilization on sauté, pantry and dough products. Using a better-quality chicken breast may be a little more expensive, however fewer operators are using them, which may help with availability. I also never allow unapproved substitutions of my key items including chicken. Although I have an approved substitution just in case we run into an issue, I still want the heads up from my broad liner that we will have to make the temporary change.
Quality assurance is important in all things. Our line cooks are encouraged, if not required, to taste everything they prepare, and this goes double for chicken. There is a phenomenon in the chicken business called “woody breast”. It is an unforgettable texture that is created by the mass production of chickens, and it can spoil your appetite. While it can happen with any chicken breast it is less common with higher-quality chicken.
When I am thinking about adding chicken to a pizza, I want the chicken to stand out. Chicken in and of itself does not taste like much. It is really the spices that you prepare it with that shines through. For me, quality and flavor profile are more important than the convenience of a precooked and diced chicken breast. Therefore, I use IQF chicken breasts seasoned with a dry rub then grilled for use in salads and pasta dishes. I minimize waste by then taking the unused grilled chicken from the previous shift to use on the pizza line.
I do not recommend using raw chicken anywhere on the pizza line. The opportunity for cross contamination is too risky and won’t really add anything to the finished product.
Another way to reduce your cost on a pizza featuring chicken is to combine it with other lower cost ingredients that pack a lot of flavor. For example, you could use a white sauce or even cream cheese as your base, add grilled chicken, fresh sliced jalapeños, red onion, fresh diced mango and cilantro. None of those ingredients are terribly high in cost and it makes for an interesting specialty pie. Think about what goes well with chicken. One of my favorite pies was a pesto pinwheel pie made with high-quality olive oil, provolone, grilled chicken, pesto and roasted red pepper. The big flavors of the other ingredients are a nice compliment to the grilled chicken, requiring less of the expensive protein.
Because chicken is rather neutral in flavor, it can be paired with a multitude of unique flavors and sauces. At Wholly Stromboli the newest star on our summer menu is “The Queens Hot Honey”, featuring a cream cheese base, Italian hot sauce, provolone cheese, grilled chicken, sweet picante peppers, drizzled with our house made hot honey, and finished with fresh basil. It is a favorite with team members and guests alike – so don’t be a chicken! Give chicken a crack on your next menu!
Try the 10-inch Queens Hot Honey with two ounces cream cheese sauce or your favorite white sauce, Italian hot sauce that is pinwheeled over the cream cheese, four slices Provolone cheese, four-ounce scoop diced grilled chicken, two-ounce scoop sweet picante peppers, hot honey drizzled before and after the bake (we make our hot honey in house.) and finished with fresh basil.
MELISSA RICKMAN is co-founder of Wholly Stromboli in Fort Lupton, Colorado, and member of the World Pizza Champions.