Making consistent sauces every time is a huge challenge for chefs, who need time and skill to get it right. Perhaps it's time to check out ready-to-use sauces, writes John Porter
The traditional stockpot bubbling away in the corner of the kitchen is far from being an endangered species. Many chefs still lovingly tend their stockpot, feeding in ingredients, skimming and reducing to create an individual stock base from which to create their own sauces.
However, there are increasingly good reasons for chefs to at least consider the benefits of the many ready-to-use (RTU) sauce brands available to the trade. Chief among these is the time and know-how needed to make a stock from scratch.
Nigel Crane, Dorchester-trained chef and managing director of Essential Cuisine, says: "Having the time and the necessary skills to make consistent sauces of the highest calibre is a challenge, however, chefs are becoming less precious about admitting they will call on help, as long as it does not compromise their dish."
Another consideration is the versatility that a range of RTU sauces brings. Consumer tastes have broadened and the growth in popularity of world cuisine and fusion styles of cooking, means that customers expect to see a range of flavours on the menu. However experienced they are, expecting every chef to be just as familiar with Asian, Thai and Oriental flavours as they are with French or Italian is unrealistic.
Roy Shortland, development chef for Uncle Ben's and Dolmio, says: "Offering globally-inspired options is no longer the exclusive territory of specialist restaurants, and, with a growing awareness of different cultures and nationalities, there is far more scope for the industry to profit from this growing trend.
"However, a lack of ethnic cooking skills and pressure to produce healthier choices can leave operators struggling to meet demand. Our rich, new recipe sauces enable caterers to dish up global flavours in a jiffy, with the quality expected from two respected brands."
Uncle Ben's and Dolmio has a 19-strong range of RTU sauces covering flavours from four continents. The products are Food Standards Agency salt compliant for 2012 and free from artificial colours, flavourings and preservatives. This addresses another issue facing chefs - individual kitchens simply can't match the budgets available to the major brand owners to ensure that RTU products meet increasingly strict food regulations.
In the current climate the economics of using RTU sauces to control portion size and reduce wastage are also important considerations. Nicky Dixey, own brand manager at 3663, says: "By using ready-to-use sauces, caterers can profit from impulse dining without needing to worry about large amounts of preparation.
"We're also seeing a consumer trend towards nostalgic dishes that customers recognise and love and by incorporating classic ready-to-use sauces, such as bolognese sauce in a spaghetti bolognese, caterers can capitalise on this trend and attract new customers.
"There has also been a rise in the popularity for cooked from scratch meals over the last couple of years as people crave good quality and comforting food, rather than ostentatious expensive dishes. Ready-to-use sauces allow caterers to keep control over their meal preparation, without the fuss of having to prepare everything from scratch. All they need to do is just add vegetables and protein of their choice."
Get the gravy right
"Gravy is the single most important component of a Christmas meal," says Nestlé Professional head development chef Justin Clarke.
"With the traditional roast being a mainstay of Christmas menus, it's clear that getting your gravy right can make or break a Christmas dish.
"The sheer volume of covers that the average kitchen puts out over the festive season makes delivering that wow factor increasingly difficult. Scaling down your menu variety and focusing on simple but effective ingredients, like gravy, can help deliver great results.
"There's no need to compromise on quality or break the bank," he says.
Nestlé's Maggi Gravy is available as an instant mix or as a simmer solution in resealable, reusable tubs that are freezer, microwave and dishwasher-friendly.
cut food costs and preparation times
Sheffield Hallam University Perween's Cooking Secrets, a range of ready to cook Indian sauce blends from Zahra Foods was launched into the foodservice sector at the start of 2011. The brand formally served the 500,000th meal made with the range to student Charlotte Jackson at Sheffield Hallam University.
The half millionth meal was served by Gagan Kapoor, food production manager at university eatery Chef Hallam Central. "Perween's Cooking Secrets curry sauce blends have had a positive impact on my food costs and reduced preparation times," says Kapoor. "I have received many great compliments from both students and staff alike with regard to the taste of my new dishes."
As a classically trained chef with an Indian background, Kapoor appreciates the authenticity of the range, describing the taste as "very close to traditional Indian restaurant dishes".
Chef Hallam Central serves dishes made with Perween's Cooking Secrets as part of its rotating world foods menu.
"We can easily serve between 200 and 300 portions during a lunchtime," says Kapoor.
Perween's Cooking Secrets was developed by Perween Warsi, who has been at the forefront of Indian cuisine in the UK for more than 20 years.
stock cupboard sauces
Keeping a range of ready-to-use sauces as stock items greatly increases the variety of menus a caterer can offer, using standard ingredients such as meat, poultry, fish, rice, pasta and vegetables. 3663 advises having the following on hand
Tomato & Basil Sauce Good for pasta, especially for children. This sauce could also be used to top pizzas or for calzone pizzas, mixed with meat and veg to make a hearty casserole or with veggies and used to top chicken.
â- Sweet & Sour Sauce Great with chicken or pork. Add stock to the sauce to make a Chinese-inspired soup or mix with some stir-fry veg to make some spring rolls.
â- Black Bean Sauce Great with chicken or beef. Use in soups, stir-fries, chilli's, or mixed with some soya beans for a quick black bean salsa.
â- Bolognese Sauce Great in the traditional Bolognese, but can also be used to top nachos or used in calzone.
â- Korma Sauce A mild curry sauce that tastes great when served traditionally with chicken. Try with turkey meatballs - great for a new spin on the turkey curry at Christmas or just add some sweet potato and spinach for a tasty veggie dish.
â- Tikka Masala Sauce Chicken Tikka Masala is one of the nation's favourite dishes, use the sauce as a marinade and use to make chicken tikka skewers.
â- Balti SauceTraditionally served with chicken and rice, but can also be used to make a trendy balti pie.
â- Jalfrezi Use as a marinade as well as a sauce.
â- Madras: Use as a marinade as well as a sauce. Don't just serve with rice, marinade the chicken and serve in a flatbread for an inspired take on wraps.
â- Rogan Josh Use as a marinade as well as a sauce.
Cost effective and controllable banqueting options
Park Plaza Westminster Bridge Hotel Imthiaz Kader, head chef at London's new Park Plaza Westminster Bridge hotel, is one of the first chefs to put Essential Cuisine's new Signature Red Wine Jus through its paces. The product is part of a range of new Signature products launched at the Restaurant show this year.
The hotel's banqueting operation serves anything up to 4,000 covers during the working week, with additional weekend functions.
Kader says: "Every chef loves to say they make their own jus, but, especially in banqueting, it's a matter of time and lack of quality staff.
"By finding the right products, we are saving a day's labour roasting off, perhaps, 50kg of veal bones, which cost around £250 a throw. Once you've added in your wine and other ingredients, you are looking at a total cost of around £700."
The Essential products can be re-heated, extended or finished to a chef's own recipe. "I've used the Signature Beef Jus since its launch as an adaptable base for everything from my pepper sauces for fillet steaks through to our whisky and morel sauce," says Kader, who worked as a sous chef at London's Hilton Heathrow for more than a decade before joining the Park Plaza.
"The new Signature Red Wine Jus is a welcome addition, and I use it as a glaze for my lamb shanks amongst other things. What is great about it is that I can add a little more wine and herbs to give me the colour and texture I personally like, but it is also perfectly good neat, warmed up straight from the pack, and I would have no problem using it this way.
"Essential's Signature Jus is not a cheap product, but the point is that it is extremely cost effective in operations such as ours, working out at around 25p per dish."
Essential Cuisine's commitment to NPD also appeals to Kader: "I started using them more than a decade ago and they have just got better and better, finding new ways to develop products to improve taste and quality," he said. "Their Lobster Bisque, for example, for my fish soup in banqueting is failsafe. I have converted and continue to convert many a chef."
Essential Cuisine 01606 541490
Mars (Uncle Ben's/Dolmio) 0800 952 0011
Perween's Cooking Secrets 01332 277112