With diners open to new culinary trends now more than ever, restaurants can make an impact with their own worldly inspirations, offering diners something new and exciting in place of the expected.
If your restaurant tackles holiday meals such as Thanksgiving, the old standbys of a full autumn harvest buffet—as comforting as it sounds—may be limiting your appeal to those with more expressive and celebratory tastes.
Though turkey gets stereotyped as a bland protein that needs gravy to carry it, unique brines and sauces provide a wonderful starting point for international creativity and flair. Whether you roast, braise, grill, fry, broil, boil or barbecue the bird, consider stepping away from traditional, American-style brines and sauces.
Spike your rubs and brines with Asian seasonings and flavors such as Chinese five spice, Szechuan peppercorn, ginger, lemongrass, Thai basil, Sriracha, sambal oelek, or even a splash of fish sauce. A plum pepper sauce, combined with ginger, soy, honey, and poblano peppers, pairs perfectly with turkey, especially when barbecued Szechuan-style. Peruvian sauces shine bright with lime, cilantro and aji amarillo paste, which is made from a pepper used by the Incas that packs a latent heat. For alcohol-spiked sauces, try a reduction of calvados. This apple spirit is simply substituted in more familiar bourbon and whiskey sauces, lending a subtle apple brandy flavor that naturally pairs with other fall dishes.
Side Dishes for the Senses
Now that the star centerpiece protein has been plotted, think about the supporting cast that will accompany it. Align your flavor profiles to the style of turkey and sauce, but don’t feel boxed in. Get creative with alternative vegetables in preparations that will still hit guests in their nostalgic hearts. As mushroom soup is often a popular Thanksgiving starter, consider the wide assortment available and take advantage of maitake, royal trumpet, oyster, and enoki ‘shrooms, especially when sauteed in butter and used as a garnish to your button or portobella base.
Similarly, shiitakes provide a fantastic, meaty twist in stuffing. Japanese sweet potatoes, which have a fluffier, starchier texture and nuttier flavor than regular sweet potatoes, complement applications either mashed or baked into a casserole. You know you need some green on that plate, so substitute Chinese broccoli and bok choy in place of more familiar broccoli or spinach dishes. And finally, in place of rice dishes, look towards Indian cuisine by employing curry and couscous in a side dish studded with oranges and cranberries to add some tartness and kick.
Leftovers Rescue Day-After Specials
Everyone looks forward to Thanksgiving leftovers, and that translates into lunch and dinner restaurant sales as well. When guests take a break from their Black Friday shopping, offer truly unique spins beyond the turkey wrap. Leftover ingredients are the occasion to get truly creative. Fried rice with gochujang turkey—instead of the traditional ground pork—will fly off the line. Likewise, butternut squash or pumpkin can be reimagined into tasty, savory vegetarian eggrolls and empanadas. Dust with some powdered sugar and a swoosh of caramel or fruit sauce, and voila! — you have a spectacularly seasonal and international dessert special as well.