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Food is naturally mostly made up of water; since water is a common element in all fresh food, it only stands to reason that preventing the water in the food from evaporating will keep the food fresher longer. Preparing bulk food ahead of kitchen peak service times is a common way to allow the chef and kitchen staff to focus on other vital tasks during rush hours. When loading bulk food into a moisture controlled heated cabinet, such as a FWE MTU-12, the food is met with heated and humidified air that creates equilibrium with the foods natural moisture content.
This moisture equilibrium is important to maintain. If you get too far out of balance you might over saturate your crispy breading on your fried chicken, or dry out a whole pan of tonight’s lasagna special. One manufacturer uses a humble pea as an example to explain this equilibrium, and I think that is a great place to begin. We have all seen it, too dry and the pea shrivels up like a pruned finger, too moist and it becomes an off putting gray color with a texture that is mushy. Every food product is similar to this pea in the fact that it has a perfect and usually specific moisture balance that fits its needs. Once this balance is found, the longer the food (or pea) can be successfully held with little to no degradation. Each manufacturer will tell you that their equipment can hold the pea better than the other guy can.
When shopping around for a heated holding cabinet, it is important to look at three main areas. First, look at the water reservoir. Is it easy to clean? If you live in an area that has hard water or mineral rich water, this will be important as you will have to descale the cabinet regularly to avoid build up. I recommend removable pans over fixed water basins to make the job of cleaning and replacing faster and easier. Secondly, be sure the cabinet is fully made up of quality stainless steel. A moisture laden environment can quickly become a rust problem or bacteria infested if cheaper construction is used. Lastly take a look at the way the cabinet is controlled (I go into a little more detail about the different control options here: Foodservice Equipment – Controls). There are three common ways the units are controlled. Does the cabinet have a separate humidistat to read the actual environment and give you precise control? Does it use an infinite switch to heat the water from low to high, or does it measure the water temperature in the reservoir to control the heat and humidity? What control and moisture system is best for you? I will go into this a bit deeper in a future post to help you identify the moisture system and control that is best suited for your particular operation.
It’s already a fast pace world, and it’s only going to get faster. Energy drinks and grab and go food items have been flying off the shelves in Convenience Stores these recent years, it’s time you start your Hot Food Program and get some of those profits for yourself.
According to NACS Online “convenience stores have offered fresh, prepared foods for years, it is only in the last decade that the trend has accelerated. The reason is two-fold:
- More and more time-starved consumers want on-the-go meal solutions.
- Retailers have found that food service can deliver new customers inside the store and at a higher profit level than for items like gas, which has razor-thin profit margins.
The result is that convenience stores have continued to evolve from gas stations that happen to sell food, to restaurants that happen to sell gas. The overall food-service category is broad and largely includes non-packaged consumables: food prepared on-site, commissary / packaged sandwiches, hot-dispensed beverages, cold-dispensed beverages and frozen-dispensed beverages.”
Keep it simple, and keep it clean. Customers become hyper aware of sanitation and cleanliness when they look for food they’re going to potentially ingest. You eat with your eyes first, and everyone knows quality has a lot to do with perception. Keeping the total number of food choices available to a relatively small number, around 3-5, will help preventing biting off more than you can chew in terms of keeping up with the flow and cleaning the food station.
Starting your new food program with a simple breakfast menu will ease you into the new waters of serving hot ready to eat food. A strong coffee program is essential to the success of the new food program you will be starting up. Customers in store that are purchasing their morning coffee are drastically more likely to purchase the accompanying food, generating more add on sales. More than likely you already have a decent morning customer base that will be an ideal test platform for your new profit generator. As for food products to start with, I suggest a breakfast sandwich, breakfast burrito and a seasonal limited time offering. We want to start small and simple, and not disrupt the already successful routines that have been established in the store already.
A big part of making life and the food program easy, will be purchasing the right equipment that can take the frustration out of the program. Food Warming Equipment Co. better known as FWE, has developed a specialized low wattage oven that can cook and hold convenience items. The technology in the cabinet can be used to first gently cook the food up to a safe and tasty serving temperature, then automatically switch it’s settings to become a hot holding warmer for the food. This means you do not have to wait by the oven for the food to finish cooking, it will stay ready to serve at high quality for hours. After the food has reached temperature it will be waiting for you to place it on the food serving station or hot food merchandizer. This will allow staff to stay focused on the number one concern, the customer.
Have patience and most importantly listen to your customers feedback and criticisms. Give them what they want, just make it better than they expect.
If I’m not smoking a whole spatchcocked chicken, I’m probably smoking just the chicken thighs. This dark meat is a juicy fatty piece of meat with a nice skin that crisps up and packs a great flavor punch. There are a lot of techniques that can make for a great BBQ thigh and presentation, such as Myron Mixons Muffin Tin Chicken. Cooking with these chicken thighs is a great way to do some learning on a new smoker, BBQ Rub, or flavorings such as wood chips. The meat is inexpensive, and super flavorful so if you mess up they are still going to be pretty good. To get started, just find a new or favorite seasoning and coat them badboys up. I like A.C. Legg’s Old Plantation BBQ Rub when I’m not feeling up to making my own personally. Smoke the chicken thighs with an apple wood, cooking at 250F until the chicken reaches an internal temperature of 165F (I like to cook to about 160F and let them rest out of the oven until they reach 165F). Once you have made you first batch you’ll know about how long to cook to reach the perfect temperature, and by the taste you will know if you should back off the smoke a bit, or add more. A fun idea to play with is to soak you wood chips in things like beer or port wine to impart a special flavor profile. Have fun with them, try new things, and enjoy your food!
Soft fluffy potato goodness with a buttery crispy exterior. The Hasselback Potato is an extraordinary side dish that looks as good as it tastes. There are a couple of tricks that I would like to share with you to help make this complicated looking starchy vegetable an easy side to make on your next menu.
A Hasselback Potato is pretty similar to a simple baked potato, but they come with bonus crispy potato fins. These fins are what makes this so special, and a little scary to first attempt. Not to worry though, I have a couple of quick and easy tips for you. First you need to cut slices down the potato being very careful not to slice into your previous cut, or not to slice all the way through the potato cutting in two. A simple hack is to place two chopsticks, or wooden spoons down to act as bumper to insure you can’t cut it all the way through. Once you have made all of your cuts for the fins, spacing them out evenly as you go, you will want to run the potatoes under water washing out some of the extra starch. The potato has a good amount of starch in it and if you don’t wash some out it will tend to keep the fins stuck together. Next, microwave (Yikes! Yes I said microwave) the potatoes for 5 minutes to pre-cook, or par cook the inside. With a nice par cook we can finish off these hasselback potatoes in the oven on high heat to give us those nice crisp fins. Add a bit of clarified butter, or oil, salt and pepper and you are ready to put them in a 350F oven until done (about 15-30 min).
Once they are cooked, you can serve them right away, or hold them in a warming cabinet that uses moisture like the FWE MTU-12 for about 2 hours. Moisture in the holding cabinet helps keep the skin nice an crisp without drying out that fully center. Many foodservice operations use these cabinets to make food in bulk ahead of service to free up the kitchen staff to work on other tasks. I talk a little more about this topic in my blog post Foodservice Equipment – Bulk Food Holding.
In cases where food needs to be served faster than it can be cooked by a kitchen, such as when a school serves food on a lunch line, bulk food holding cabinets become a necessary piece of equipment to accomplish the job. Holding cabinets such as a FWE UHS-12 are the workhorses of the warming world and can hold bulk food hot and ready to be served for hours. Kitchens can cook large quantities of food well before it needs to be served to their customers, and place it in these FWE warming cabinets where it can stay service ready. This allows the kitchens workload to be spread out during preparations for service, freeing up the cooks and chefs time to perform other vital tasks. During service, these food warming cabinets are a place for storage of the food before it reaches the serving areas. Storing food out of the way increases the ease of workflow and helps the service area stay organized and clean.
Many quick service restaurants (QSR’s) utilize similar cabinets to hold bulk food before it reaches a prep area or serving line. The cabinets on or near a serving line tend to be shorter in size and may even fit under or be built into a counter. Food in this area is ready for plating, or ready to go on top of the serving line once current food supplies are used up. As for the actual food that can be held? Well that is as varied as the restaurants themselves. Everything from fresh warm sides such as rice, beans, and proteins that are going to fill a burrito bowl or the tortellini special that is ready for the catering pick up at 12:15pm during the lunch rush.
It’s not just about nobs and switches these days, even though some people would prefer it that way. Foodservice equipment manufacturers have brought us some pretty out of this world technology, such as dazzling touch screens that can control every aspect of a cook cycle while utilizing Wi-Fi to report live HACCP data to a headquarters for review. But who needs all of these bells and whistles, what happened to just applying temperature to food? Well depending on your operation, and the size of your company / franchise, eliminating even the smallest step from an employee or Critical Control Point can save millions of dollars at year end. Continue reading
What is it to Rethermalize?
I came across this challenge while reading through some of the great forums that are on ChefTalk.com and could not resist. It’s literally freezing outside, and the best way to warm your bones, is with a nice slow cooked meal after a long day. The set it and forget it cooking method is always a plus during the work week, and it is also great in a professional kitchen. No reason we can bridge the two right?
Lamb Barbacoa Taco’s
Place a boneless lamb leg (NAMP234) in a slow cooker / hotel pan, season with Trade East Six Pepper Blend, add cooking liquid (Beef broth and Tropical Rub Glaze) to about half way up the roast. Cook on Low /200F for 7-8 hours, and after it is cooked you can ether take it out or hold it (if you are in a commercial kitchen) at 150 for up to 8 hours.
This lamb came out tender and juicy. So tender my bear claws pulled right through it! I spread it out on a warm taco with some freshly made hot salsa, red onion, cilantro and a squirt of lime juice. These little spicy Lamb Barbacoa Tacos warmed my bones after shoveling some snow.
The oven I used was a FWE Cook and Hold, the great thing about it is, it can act pretty much like a crock pot on steroids. You set it for a low temperature and time just like you would at home, plus you get to add a hold temperature that has a little more flexibility than the crock pot, but some idea.
I want to tell you a little about how all of the energy conciseness and the green movement can help you get money in your pocket, the real green movement. Every time you flip a switch, you are bleeding out money, and helping add to a death by a thousand cuts. Maybe not that dramatic, but I got to make the power bill entertaining right?
There are a lot of ways to help lower your power consumption and help get those dollars and cents back to the bottom line where they belong. First, it’s more than that blue sticker on the side of your equipment that you need to help lower your bill. You need to have a little discipline and a little training to identify potential problems. I’m not here to give you the discipline, I can’t do that (if I could I would be making a lot more money as a motivational book writer). What I can do though, is help you identify some problem areas.