Comfort food sells. Here's how to keep it fresh while delivering on its promise of nostalgia and tradition.
"Restaurants that stay open forever and a day typically specialize in comfort food dishes," says Maeve Webster, senior director of Datassential. "It's feel-good fare and good value, and comfort food makes consumers feel satiated on every level." The challenge is to make your comfort food outshine their mama's meatloaf and grandma's Sunday stew. Give it culinary edge, but keep it familiar. "Try these comfort food recipes," says Trevor Williams, corporate sous chef for Kraft Foodservice. "We developed them to satisfy your non-foodie customers while adding just enough originality in flavor and format to make it interesting for your patrons who seek more adventure on the plate."
Clam Chowder "Pot Pie"
This recipe elevates a home-style bowl of chowder to a memorable entrée. Cornbread replaces pastry, keeping the profile rustic and pairing perfectly with the flavors in the chowder. "We add Philadelphia Neufchatel Cream Cheese to give it that chowder reference of thick and creamy without weighing it down," says Chef Williams.
Alternate idea: instead of cornbread on top, go with a buttermilk biscuit; replace cod with haddock or bay scallops
Mini Sweet Potato Shepherd's Pies
"English comfort foods that celebrate the pub culture of eating out and drinking are making their mark on menus," says Datassential's Webster. "Diners are looking for twists on those pub classics." Our chefs deliver a better-for-you twist in this rendition. According to Datassential, sweet potatoes have enjoyed significant growth over the last four years. Philadelphia Neufchatel Cream Cheese adds creaminess to the sweet potatoes and Kraft Light Italian Reduced Fat Dressing deepens the flavor in the meat.
Alternate idea: replace the sweet potato with another root vegetable, like kohlrabi or turnip
Individual Beef & Marsala Pot Pies
Hearty and flavorful best describe this savory pie. Marsala wine adds a touch of nutty sweetness. A.1. Steak Sauce fortifies the savory flavors. "A.1. is also great with the beefiness of the shank," says Chef Williams. "This recipe uses a value cut of meat, and the steak sauce stands up to its big flavors really well."
Alternate use: use a beef chuck roast instead of the shank
Tuna Mac Casserole
"This is our take on the TV dinner or school cafeteria meal that we had when we were kids," says Chef Williams. Made for family-style restaurants or American diners, this comfort food classic gives diners the Kraft Macaroni & Cheese that they grew up with. Fresh tarragon and parsley bring in a hint of sophistication. A potato-chip topping satisfies the kid in all of us.
Alternate idea: instead of crumbled potato chips, top with Velveeta Pasteurized Process Cheese Shreds, then melt
A clever take on the sandwich-of-the-moment, this Reuben soup delivers those classic, much-loved flavors, but with a slightly mellower finish. Creamy, rich Kraft Thousand Island Dressing ties it all together perfectly.
Alternate idea: switch out the sauerkraut with finely chopped cabbage and carrot
How do you combine the mega trend of comfort food with an on-the-go platform? Ask That Pie Place, a wildly successful fast-casual concept in Atlanta that sells made-to-order savory and sweet pies. Fillings are prepped ahead of time and chilled, individual pastry shells are rolled out and ready to go. Customers place their orders and watch their pies get filled and pinched closed. The pies are then baked to a golden brown in less than three minutes. That Pie Place sells about 2,400 pies a week. Eight-ounce savory pies sell at $5.49.
"When we first opened, we were making a lot of different sauces to go with different pies, but it was not practical. We couldn't keep up. We needed one ready-to-go signature sauce that worked on a number of savory pies."
"A chef-friend introduced me to Grey Poupon Bistro Sauce. We never looked back. It's a well-rounded sauce that complements so many different proteins. Bistro has a mustard base with a bit of garlic, bit of tomato and a nice balance of sweet with spicy. It's great with roast beef, salmon and chicken. We go through a few cases a week. I don't embellish it at all. It's perfect as-is."
Out of more than 20 savory pies, the Chicken Cordon Bleu is among That Pie Place's top three sellers. Sporting smoked ham, Swiss cheese and chicken, it's served with their "signature" dipping sauce—Grey Poupon Bistro Sauce.