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Hand-breading lends handcrafted appeal to menu items

Housemade, hand-cut, craft, small batch: Menu buzzwords such as these create more cachet and value when used to describe menu choices. Operators recently have discovered the power of hand-breading as a simply executed extra step that can transform ho-hum fried foods into something special.

Hardee’s, which introduced Hand-Breaded Chicken Tenders seven years ago, played up the human angle in ads showing robots trying to eat the sandwiches, with the tagline, “If Machines Can’t Eat it, Machines Shouldn’t Make it.”

“No other major hamburger QSR makes Handed-Breaded Chicken Tenders, so ours have remained a very popular menu item since they were first introduced,” says Brad Haley, chief marketing officer for Hardee’s. Breast meat is marinated, dipped in buttermilk, breaded in seasoned flour and fried to a golden brown. Hardee’s recently rolled out a spicy version, which is tossed in Cajun seasoning.

KFC recently introduced its first hand-breaded chicken sandwich, the spicy Zinger, to the U.S. market. The sandwich has been available worldwide for decades and is especially popular in Australia.

Made with a chicken breast filet that’s double-hand-breaded with the brand’s extra-crispy breading and a cayenne-infused spice blend, the Zinger is fried, then served with lettuce and mayo on a toasted sesame-seed bun. The Zinger represented a big commitment for the company, which invested $80 million upgrading equipment and spent six months training staffers to produce the sandwiches quickly to accommodate the lunchtime crush.

The universe of hand-breaded dishes extends well beyond chicken. According to Technomic’s MenuMonitor, the “hand-breaded” description grew 1.3% on menus year over year in 2016; on kids menus, the term jumped in use a whopping 20%. Among breaded items overall, the biggest spikes were seen in fish (3.1%), corn dogs (2.4%), fried pickles (2.1%) and fried mushrooms (0.7%).

At Whitehall Tavern in Atlanta, hand-breaded chicken turns up in Chicken Tenders with housemade honey mustard and fries and Chicken Parmesan, served over garlic butter pasta. The neighborhood-style eatery also hand-breads tilapia filet for Fish & Chips; pickle spears, which are double-breaded and served with ranch dressing; and onions, served as an accompaniment to Steak Medallions and Meatloaf.

The fryers are running full blast at Catfish Lake Restaurant near Omaha. Hand-breaded appetizers range from fresh oysters to chicken gizzards, cheddar-breaded cauliflower and butter-breaded mushrooms. Entrees include hand-breaded country-fried chicken; chicken-fried steak; whole 16-ounce farm-raised catfish; Alaskan walleye; and fried chicken breasts, wings and legs.

Hand-breading isn’t appropriate just for rustic ingredients, either. It can elevate something as refined as truffle mac ‘n’ cheese. The latter, breaded and fried, is the key component of Hopdoddy Burger Bar’s new Truffle Mac N’ Cheese burger. It’s piled atop an Angus beef patty and finished with caramelized onions and truffle aioli.

A number of Mexican dishes lend themselves to hand-breading as well. At Torchy’s Tacos, with multiple units in the Austin, Texas, area, the Fried Avocado Tacos feature avocado wedges that are breaded with flour and panko, then fried. And Abuelo’s menu features hand-breaded Jalapeno Cheese Fritters, paired with ranch dressing.

“Operators continue to look for ways to differentiate their menus from their competition, and hand-breading give them that opportunity versus pre-breaded frozen.” says Tim Shaw, senior brand manager for the Kerry Foodservice Golden Dipt brand.  “Custom research, conducted earlier this year, revealed that hand breading appetizers, entrées and desserts can build brand loyalty.  In addition, 70% of customers said they would be more likely to purchase a menu item that was described as “hand-breaded” over one that was not.”

This post is sponsored by Kerry Foodservice

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