Slow-Cooking On The Fast Track
By Andy Hanacek,
Executive Editor
Restaurants’ menus reflect consumers’ growing desires for braised, roasted comfort foods as entrées.
With another holiday season having just passed, fresh in the minds of consumers is the tasty memory of holiday roasts, hams, turkeys, and the like. Consumers can almost still taste them (and many can, if they still have leftovers).
But the landscape of foodservice is changing, and with consumers finding less and less time to cook those foods that transmit the comforts and traditions of home, they are turning to other arenas to meet that demand.
According to the Foodservice Research Institute, which tracks the menus of more than 1,000 restaurants and foodservice venues across the nation, the foodservice segment is stepping up and answering the call of consumers.
The Institute’s eFoodletter™ demonstrates that comfort foods are found on restaurant menus more and more in part because of the lack of time that Average Joe Consumer has to slow-cook these items in his home. It also relays that customers associate slow-cooked, braised, and roasted entrées with the comfort foods they are most familiar.
Recent data from the Institute’s MenuMine™ database showed 1,763 slow-cooked, center-of-plate entrées — comfort foods — on the menus of foodservice outlets. Roast chicken appears most often on those menus, at 29 percent, followed by pork ribs (13 percent) and roast pork (12 percent). Chicken entrées populate the list most heavily among comfort foods, accounting for 34 percent of the total, with pork sitting at 25 percent, and beef at 14 percent.
Mimicking the flavors, aromas, and textures of the roasts that Mom or Grandma used to make, however, can be achieved by a foodservice venue that uses patience and surrounds the dish with the ideal accompaniments and flavors.
Among the hundreds of sauces used in foodservice to cook and finish slow-cooked meats, BBQ sauce and au jus sauce top the list. Also ranking highly on the list are assorted gravies and wine, garlic, cream, and mushroom sauces.
Foodservice providers and venues should not be averse to offering new, interesting flavors for their slow-cooked sauces, as mustard, curry, plum, and horseradish sauces garnered some support among foodservice outlets.
Top Comfort Foods on Foodservice Menus
Slow-Cooked Meat/Protein Share of Menus
Roast Chicken 29%
Pork Ribs 13%
Roast Pork 12%
Loin/Leg of Lamb 8%
Roast Turkey 7%
Roast Duck 7%
Roast Beef Dinner 7%
Prime Rib 7%
BBQ Chicken Dinner 5%
Roast Squab/Quail/Pheasant 3%
Roasted Rabbit 1%
Veal Ossobuco 1%
Source: Foodservice Research Institute’s MenuMine database; 1,763 slow-cooked, center-of-plate entrées in database. “Share of Menus” refers to the percentage of menu entries in which the particular meat/protein is present.
The Institute suggests that the sauce is quite possibly the most important item when serving the entrée, and that complementary gravy or sauce is a must for any foodservice outlet. It ensures to the consumer that he or she will get the ultimate in tenderness, juiciness, and tastiness in the comfort food they’ve chosen.
Seasoning the meat also offers a chance to help the entrée stand out, and the Institute shows that garlic is easily the most popular seasoning indicated on menus, with a 15 percent incidence. Seven percent of menus name herbs as a seasoning, while six percent use lemon & herbs to season the slow-cooked meat.
Foodservice outlets have met the demand of consumers to extend their craving for the comfort foods to the rest of the year. Now, menu and entrée developers must let their imaginations run free, giving consumers the tender and tasty, slow-cooked, braised, and roasted flavors they miss from more simple days. NP