Create stand-out breakfast dishes by choosing ham as the star protein

For a long time, pork has been a star protein at breakfast, with menu applications often centering on “The Big Three” – sausage, bacon and ham. However, as bacon and sausage’s popularity has grown over the years, ham’s usage has dwindled and become somewhat stale. Since 2005, bacon and sausage have seen an 11.5% and 8.4% increase in menu penetration respectively, yet ham has seen a decrease of 6.9%, according to Datassential. It’s an unfortunate missed opportunity for chefs to pass over ham as a hero protein at breakfast, as it can be quite the tasty addition to breakfast menus, especially if you want to stand out as an edgy, modern chef.

The key to bringing ham back to the top of the pack is for chefs to stop limiting its usage to a supporting role. Instead of treating it as an add-on to a dish, it should be handled as an ingredient that enhances a dish. When it becomes the central flavor focus, it really shines.

“Most food service establishments incorporate ham into breakfast wraps, ham and egg dishes or omelets.  Trendier chefs are incorporating it into recipes like breakfast salads, ham and cheddar scones and breakfast calzones,” said Michael Ponzio, Executive Chef at Medinah Country Club. “Every time I serve ham as a star in its own dish, my diners make comments like ‘Why don’t I eat this more?’ and ‘I never order ham but I love it.’”

It’s easy for chefs to have tunnel vision when they think about what to do with ham, as it lends itself well to being a single-use item that gets carved, sliced and served up. But there is so much more variety to what chefs can do with ham if they tap into its potential. Chef Pete Balodimas of Oyster Bah has certainly explored ham’s aptitude.

“If roasting a whole ham, the rendered fat can be used to mix into biscuits. Or you could cook Southern-fried chicken in ham drippings. Rendered cracklings can be folded into corn bread, casseroles, soups, salads, deviled eggs. The fat can be used for hollandaise or red eye gravy or even to roast potatoes,” he said.

Getting creative with ham can also be as simple as using it in the ever-popular breakfast application: the breakfast sandwich. Sandwiches rank #2 behind coffee as the most frequently purchased breakfast item overall, according to Technomic. Amanda Downing, Executive Chef at Rockit Burger Bar, has seen the popularity of breakfast sandwiches first-hand and thinks it is a great application to showcase ham product.

“Breakfast sandwiches are very trendy. Carved ham in between an English muffin, bagel or biscuit along with a fried or scrambled egg and a couple of accompaniments such as a slice of tomato, arugula and a sauce is a great application, especially with a mustard-based sauce, as those are always good with ham,” she said.

When developing their next breakfast menu special, chefs should take a chance on ham – it could just become the next local favorite!

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