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The Caterer

CESA guide: rapid cooking

12 February 2010
CESA guide: rapid cooking

When speed counts, modern technology is probably what you're looking for in the kitchen.

Rapid cooking is normally extremely energy efficient. This is not only because the cooking time is quicker, but also because in most cases energy is only used when the food is actually being cooked.

The term "fast food" was originally created to describe food that's already prepared and can be served quickly. The speed of cooking doesn't come into it. Even equipment that cooks slowly and holds steady at serving temperature for hours is often bracketed in the "fast food" category.

However, almost every kitchen needs to cook food quickly at one time or another, and that's when the separate category of "rapid cooking" equipment comes into the picture.

MICROWAVES - VARIATIONS ON A THEME

The classic rapid cooker is the microwave oven, and this comes in four main types:

• Standard: Heating using only microwaves, and suitable for defrosting, reheating, and (with reservations) for general cooking.

• Microwave with grill: Including a built-in grill that can gratinate (crisp and brown) food while (or more usually after) it's microwaved.

• Combination microwave: Combining a conventional electric convection oven and a microwave in a single compact unit. In convection mode the heat is circulated with a fan, which browns and bakes the food, while the microwave component can heat up the food relatively quickly. (Do not confuse this with a combi-oven, which cooks via steam and moist hot air.)

• Turbo microwave: These combine the microwave with an envelope of hot, blown air, which acts far faster on the food, transferring the heat on the outside as the microwaves penetrate within.

INDUCTION COOKING

The popularity of induction cooking has been growing for some years. Induction heating involves raising the temperature by subjecting the cooking pan to an alternating electromagnetic field, causing it to heat up very fast. Don't be tempted to use widely available, cheap consumer products in a commercial environment - they won't deliver what you need.

NEED TO KNOW

Both microwaves and induction energy are sensitive to the type of food container, although in different ways.

Microwave energy bounces off metallic surfaces so metal containers are normally impractical or inefficient in microwave ovens, and can even lead to sparking and damage the unit. This isn't just a matter of food containers - some types of plates include metals in the glazing, so even crockery could cause problems in a microwave oven.

Because induction works by creating a powerful magnetic field that transfers heat directly to the pan, the pans themselves have to be made of magnetic material -ie, have a ferrous content. There is plenty of suitable cookware in the marketplace, so users will not find their choice limited.


ENERGY USE

Rapid cooking is normally extremely energy efficient. This is not only because the cooking time is quicker, but also because in most cases energy is only used when the food is actually being cooked.

Q&A

Q We're a 50-cover country gastropub with a reputation for serving fresh food, not frozen, and we don't want to compromise that. But at the weekends we can get very busy and our kitchen can't expand. Is there anything we can do with modern rapid cooking equipment that will speed up service?

A A growing number of smaller restaurants and pubs are using microwave ovens in place of bains-marie. It's especially useful for reheating single-dish portions of daily prepared fresh sauces. Because the sauce is only heated up when it's needed, it can keep its quality better than when kept hot for several hours in a bain-marie. The sort of microwave you need for this is usually more compact and is only switched on for seconds when it's needed. So not only does it save space, but it saves a lot of energy, too.

Q We're a contract caterer and don't normally offer jacket potatoes, but there's a very occasional demand for them and it's unprofitable to have them prepared "just in case", time-consuming to make them on demand, and they aren't satisfactory in microwave ovens. Should we get a special baked potato oven?

A Consider a convection combi-microwave oven instead. It can significantly cut the time required to make baked potatoes, while still giving an appealing crispy skin that a dedicated baked potato oven can provide.

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