Choosing Proteins for Large Plates

When meat is presented as the centerpiece of a meal something special occurs. Customers crave these large portion, shareable meals when dining out. Large platters boasting beautiful cuts of meat can help restaurants and food service operators meet customer needs for communal dining, shared plates, and unique, bold flavors that are all currently trending.

When it comes to choosing the right meat for large plates, Maines can help you add impact with a selection that’s going to appeal to the appetites of customers looking for a unique experience. Locally sourced and new cuts of meat were among the top trends in the National Restaurant Association’s What’s Hot forecast in 2015, so consumers are on the lookout for dishes with quality, interesting proteins. Given the margin on meats, the goal should be to utilize every edible morsel. This is also referred to as nose to tail cooking, which not only maximizes resources but capitalizes on the large platters trend.

The choice of protein will dictate what kind of feast you’ll offer to guests. Here are a few suggestions.

Suckling Pig
Suckling pig is more than a meal, it’s an event. Seeing whole suckling pig on a menu will be exciting for diners who will delight in the chance to order something they most likely never cook at home. Pigs can range in size from 10-24 pounds. Suckling pigs that weigh less than 20 pounds typically fit in fi to a standard kitchen oven for roasting. Suckling pig is a versatile meat that can be prepared in a variety of ways. It can be roasted, smoked, and confit. Many cultures across the globe share a deep love of pork and serving a whole suckling pig is a perfect opportunity to venture outside the box with ethnic flavors and influences.

Try going German and stuffing it with sausage and complementing with potatoes and sauerkraut. Latin flavors pair nicely; offer a slew of taco fixings such as fresh guacamole, salsas, pickled vegetables, and tortillas. Southeast Asian flavors are a big trend right now, especially Korean style barbecue, which works best as a large plate shared meal. Tableside service is coming back in a big way and serving suckling pig is one of the best opportunities to get in on this trend. Having a chef expertly carve a whole pig tableside while explaining the origin and story behind the dish will be an experience that diners won’t soon forget.

Whole Duck
The choice of duck will make large platters extra special. Duck offers so many more possibilities than the traditional Peking style with the familiar sweet bean sauce and pancakes rolled around fillings. It has become a popular dish on restaurant menus around the country and a great way for a restaurant to showcase its cooking style and philosophy. A confit breast can be served with Asian-inspired sides and flavors like spring rolls and hoisin sauce. The rich flavor of a wild duck roasted pairs beautifully with in-season winter vegetables. Duck, made into a salty prosciutto or hunter’s sausage can even highlight a charcuterie program.

Whole Chicken
Tried and true chicken will always be a popular choice among diners. Large plate service is a great way to add some excitement to this familiar menu staple. Showcase ethnic-inspired flavors like Vietnamese Roasted Chicken (see recipe on page 17) and carve the bird tableside to interact directly with customers and share the story of the dish. Highlight local produce with shareable sides like butter crunch lettuce for wraps and house-made pickled vegetables.

Leg of Lamb
For a large platter, a boneless leg of lamb is a good choice, because it will hold its shape while cooking and is easy to carve tableside. Lamb’s robust flavor lends itself to a variety of cooking styles. It is the perfect protein for Italian style dining to experiment with diverse culinary styles and the other influences of the Mediterranean such as Moroccan, Greek, and Lebanese. For some inspiration, check out the recipe for Italian-Style Lamb Roast with Roasted Potatoes, Fennel & Tomatoes and Charred Broccolini with Lemon & Garlic on page 10.

Large Beets Cuts
Large cuts of beef were destined for tableside service. Demonstrate the craftsmanship that went into making the meal by creating a memorable event. Use tableside service to directly share the story behind the dish. With the Just In Time (JIT) Meat Program from Maines, you can get the highest quality beef, butchered to the customized needs of your large plate program.