For Casual Dining Segments, Consistency Keeps Customers Coming Back
Recently my parents — world travelers and foodies — celebrated their 44th wedding anniversary at a popular national steakhouse chain. No strangers to fine dining, they have eaten their way through the California wine country and Provence, France. What made them decide to go casual on their big day? Lower prices, quality, and consistency, Mom said. They’d eaten at the chain on the road before, she explained. “They have a really good steak — and they’re all the same.”
Sous Vide Protein Items Take Pressure Off of Back-of-the-House Chefs
Family dining, bar and grill, fast casual, and casual dining restaurants thrive on consistency. Diners know what to expect in terms of price, portion size, and flavor every time. That’s a tall order for a food service chain, where back-of-the-house chefs can vary greatly in terms of experience, enthusiasm, and talent in the kitchen.
Wholesale cuts of meat that are processed and prepared sous vide style can play a critical role for many food service chains to keep customers coming back. Sous vide is a trendy term that simply means cooking vacuum-wrapped protein items in a water bath low and slow. It’s a hands-off method that yields valuable, repeatable benefits to chefs:
- Accurate control of the inside cooking temperature prevents overdone, dried-out protein pieces.
- Vacuum-wrapping prevents moisture transfer from food to cooking liquid — which can happen during poaching or boiling — so meat products always turn out tender and juicy.
- Unlike any other cooking method, sous vide guarantees that beef, pork, and poultry will achieve the same degree of perfect doneness from the middle to the edges of the cut.
- Timing issues are eliminated vs. cooking over heat and flame, so finished items can remain in the water bath — without overcooking — until ready to plate.
- Various methods of finishing the products — oven, broiler, grill, flat top —provide many options for final plate appearance, creating tremendous menu flexibility.
Packaged Meat Solutions Provide Quality at Low Price Points
“Perfectly cooked” doesn’t mean a whole lot if the quality isn’t there to begin with. This is especially true for center-of-the-plate protein. Sous vide cooking lets even fast-food chains deliver high quality while keeping price points low.
“Because typically underutilized cuts of beef or pork are the cuts of choice, sous vide meat products give food service development chefs the ability to develop menu items that are full of flavor, on trend, and increase cost efficiency by offering dramatically improved yields when compared to dry heat or braising cooking methods,” explained Dennis Gruber, VP of Technical Innovation & Culinary Development at Bridgeview, Ill.-based Stampede Meat.
“Cuts not typically used for steaks that also contain natural marbling and distinctive muscle fibers are ideal for sous vide processing. ‘Fall off’ or ‘end pieces’ from portion steak cutting also work well,” he continued. “The low temperature and long cooking times break down the tissue and fiber, making finished items extremely tender and flavorful.
Stampede Meat specializes in custom-made, center-of-the-plate protein solutions that include a full line of sous vide items. Gruber offered some examples of value-added meat cuts that work well under the sous vide process, including:
- Bone-in Beef Short Ribs
- Boneless Pork Butt or Cushions
- Bottom Sirloin
- Eye Round
- Ground Steak and Trimmings
- Rib Eye
- Sirloin Tip/Knuckle
- Louis Style Spare Ribs
- Strip Loin
Meat processors like Stampede Meat place a wide variety of sous vide style products in front of food service culinary experts with multiple layers of success. If my parents are any indication, the quality, value, and consistency sous vide provides can help casual dining restaurants stay popular and profitable.
By Jennifer Moore
This is the second in a series of articles about sous vide cooking for casual restaurant market segments.