As October gives way to November and peppermint mochas replace pumpkin spice lattes, the holiday season gets into full swing. This is the time of year when thoughts turn to favorite seasonal dishes and meals with loved ones. However, people with celiac disease and other forms of gluten sensitivity often struggle to find gluten-free dishes that serve up festive holiday flavors, particularly at Thanksgiving when pies, dressing, and gravy thickened with flour rule the day.
For restaurants accustomed to serving gluten-free menus, the holidays present an opportunity to boost the bottom line while serving up great-tasting food that GF diners will love. When considering a gluten-free holiday menu for your restaurant, here are four tips to keep in mind.
Find New Ways to Be Consistent When It Comes to Soups and Sauces
Restaurants that want to serve gluten-free holiday dishes will need to find alternative ways to thicken soups and sauces. There are many alternatives including cornstarch and arrowroot. When switching to a gluten-free thickening agent, it is best to make the change across the board due to the risk of cross-contamination. Even chefs with tested recipes can make a mistake when things get hectic and reach for flour to improve the consistency of a gluten-free dish. Using a gluten-free alternative for all soups and sauces eliminates the risk of cross-contamination and produces mouth-watering dishes with the right consistency.
Let Them Eat Dessert
For many of us, the holidays wouldn’t be the same without dessert, whether it’s iced sugar cookies or our favorite pie. However, for people with gluten sensitivity, finding a holiday dessert that doesn’t contain gluten can feel like Mission Impossible. For people like me with Celiac, or those with gluten intolerance, when you go out to eat during the holidays, dessert is—you know, it’s pies: It’s pumpkin pie, apple pie, pecan pie, etc. When those on a gluten-free diet come across a restaurant that offers a gluten-free dessert, they’re almost definitely going to get it because finding GF desserts is a rare experience.
Along with appetizers, desserts provide restaurants with a chance to upsell dishes and gluten-free desserts are perennial bestsellers because they’re so hard to find. Crème brulée is a great option that can be made in-house without adapting recipes to make it gluten-free. You can also add different flavorings for variety and give your desserts that holiday flair.
If the prospect of making a gluten-free dessert in house feels daunting, purchasing pre-packaged chocolate brownies can be an inexpensive, hassle-free way to include a gluten-free dessert on your menu. Like crème brulée, brownies can be doctored to make them more festive. Try serving them with ice cream and chocolate syrup or add cranberry sauce to give them some holiday flavor.
Spruce Things Up with Seasonings
Using the right seasonings is another excellent way to add some holiday flavor. Spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves don’t contain any gluten. In fact, most spices are probably a safe bet. There may be some brands out there that are less expensive that may add some sort of a flour to them, just to make them go further, but still unlikely.
If you’re looking to add salt to savory dishes, try gluten-free soy sauces. Both Kikkoman and La Choy, the two biggest soy sauce brands in North America, offer gluten-free varieties. You do want to make sure that the soy sauce you’re using really is gluten-free, because you can’t taste the difference between those that contain gluten and those that don’t.
Get Some Expert Advice
Restaurants that want to serve gluten-free holiday menus can increase check averages while serving great-tasting holiday dishes by following these simple tips. However, if you’re going to serve a gluten-free holiday menu, it’s vital that you have the proper procedures in place. Consulting with the Gluten-Free Food Service or pursuing certification from a qualified organization can provide expert assistance in preparing safe, great-tasting holiday menus.
The holidays are a time for friends and family to spend time together and going out for a holiday meal has become a modern-day tradition. By following these tips and taking the right precautions, you can make sure that everybody enjoys their seat at the holiday table.
Lindsey Yeakle, Gluten-Free Food Service (GFFS) Program and Quality Control Manager, Food Safety, for the nonprofit Gluten Intolerance Group (GIG), has a culinary history working at 4-star and 4-diamond rated restaurants, and she founded Alligator Pear Personal Chef Service. A celiac disease diagnosis encouraged Yeakle to attend culinary school at Indiana University of Pennsylvania Academy of Culinary Arts to learn how to design dishes that delight diners who have all types of dietary needs and restrictions. In June 2016, Yeakle decided to use her background and education to help the gluten-free community by working with GIG.