December is upon us and the Christmas party season is about to get into full swing, and with it the challenges of producing the perfect Christmas menu. With so much expected, it takes careful planning and the right equipment to get the roast out of the kitchen and onto tables as quickly as possible. But perhaps more importantly, it is also highly recommended to make sure that all your equipment is working safely, effectively and efficiently.
But no matter how well you have planned for your festive season, there is always that chance that things will not go to plan. The key for professional caterers is planning ahead. That’s when it pays to have an expert service partner like Carlton Services to look after your catering equipment. With regular and professional service and maintenance all year round, you’ll minimise the risk of a Christmas failure. Given the high demand on some equipment, it is also recommended to conduct frequent checks on all the vital kit.
In this special seasonal article for our catering customers, we offer some insight on the traditional Christmas dinner.
The main course
Unless you are catering exclusively for vegetarians, no Christmas menu can be considered complete without turkey, an all time Christmas favourite.
The first records of turkey being served at English Christmas dinners date back as far as 1573 - according to the notes of English Poet and Farmer Thomas Tusser.
The Christmas turkey also featured prominently in Charles Dicken’s Christmas Carol (1843), in which Bob Cratchett is sent a large turkey by Scrooge after he wakes on Christmas morning with joy and love in his heart.
Popular as it may be, cooking a whole turkey is no mean feat. An average turkey these days can weigh in at anything from 4 - 7 kg, and a single bird will generally be sufficient for 6 - 12 people depending which end of the spectrum it falls on.
A whole turkey should be cooked at 190°c in a conventional oven or 180°c for a convection oven. You should allow 18-20 mins per 450g and add 70 - 90 minutes depending how large the bird is.
Given the size of the bird, it is essential to ensure that you have plenty of oven space available - especially when you need to think about the other roasted dishes that would typically accompany the bird.
Clearly, the sheer logistics of cooking whole turkey on a commercial scale are somewhat prohibitive. Luckily for caterers, there are acceptable alternatives to whole turkey which can save considerable time and effort - but it still takes a master’s touch to cook well. Considerable savings in terms of time, space and energy can be achieved by using a commercial steamer, for example.
Depending whether you are using an electric or gas powered atmospheric steaming oven, different checks may be required. For gas appliances, it is essential to make sure any servicing is done by a Gas Safe qualified engineer. This is important not just for the safety of staff and customers, but also to ensure the warranty is valid.
Did you know?
Whilst the British Christmas menu is very much centered on meat, in many countries fish is the main dish.
In Poland, a traditional Christmas menu consists of 12 dishes - none of which contain meat! The centre piece is specially prepared Carp.
A good gravy is an essential accompaniment to the roast turkey and another expectation of the average guest. Whilst the Great British chip shop gravy is a staple favourite, a high quality Christmas dinner generally calls for something a little more refined, and the artisan touch is guaranteed to be well received by discerning guests.
Did you know?
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the English word "gravy" is obscure in origin. It is most likely derived from the Old French word "grane." The earliest printed evidence of this word in our language from the Forme of Curry, an English cookbook circa 1390.
Gravy was originally used to make tough meat palatable - it is only relatively recently that it has become a fine dish in its own right.
The good news when it comes to gravy is that it requires a minimum of preparation to produce a relatively high volume and once ready, will happily keep in a bain marie for as long as required with a minimum of attention - as long as your bain marie is fully serviced and running properly of course. One thing is for sure - nobody wants to discover that the next run of gravy has lost its temperature and congealed into a gooey mess. We would highly recommend that you give any equipment like this a quick once over well before the festive season, and check it regularly if being used more often that usual in this busy period.
Along with the turkey and gravy, roast potatoes are another must have. In the commercial environment, pre-cooked roast potatoes can help to reduce both the workload and cooking time whilst still ensuring a high quality result.
It’s hard to imagine a Christmas dinner (or indeed a Sunday roast) without roast potatoes - but did you know that at first many people in Europe were suspicious of them because they were not mentioned in the Bible and some others thought they were poisonous.
With a good quality gas or electric oven that is performing well, you should have no trouble keeping the roast potatoes coming as fast as your guests can eat them.
A convection oven (also known as a fan-assisted oven or simply a fan oven) is an oven that has fans to circulate air around food. Conventional ovens, which do not have fans, rely primarily on radiation from the oven walls, and to a lesser extent, on natural convection caused by temperature differences within the oven, to transfer heat to food.
Whichever type of oven you use, ensuring it is regularly serviced will help to avoid excessive energy consumption and also help to ensure that heat distribution is even, helping you to maintain the quality of your food.
When it comes to vegetables, the Christmas menu wouldn’t be complete without an assortment that includes peas, carrots, and Brussel sprouts as a minimum. Almost everyone has memories of being served barely tolerable veg that has been boiled to death. Whilst you can just pass this off with a laugh and a joke in the domestic environment, the same is most definitely not true when it comes to restaurants.
Luckily, an atmospheric steamer will make quick work of the veg with top quality results - on time, every time.
Again, the key is to make sure that your steam cabinet is fully serviced and regularly checked.
When it comes to dessert, there are two absolute essentials for the British Christmas menu - Christmas pudding and mince pies. Whilst few venues will limit themselves to these items alone, failing to offer these would be likely be highly frowned upon by many a guest.
The traditional Christmas pudding has its origins in medieval England. It is often referred to as ‘plum pudding’ - even though it contains no actual plums.
Although it became hugely popular as a festive dessert in Victorian times, what is now enjoyed as the Christmas pudding originally came about as a way of preserving meat. The same is true of Mince pies!
Whilst a traditional home-made Christmas pudding requires months of preparation and hours of cooking, today’s caterers are lucky to be able to take advantage of high quality pre-prepared puddings of exceptional taste and quality.
This, coupled with a professional microwave means that a top quality dessert can be on the table in minutes. As with any other kitchen appliance, an electric microwave should be frequently inspected. Basic checks include keeping an eye on the cable to ensure there is no evidence of damage, and making sure there is no visible damage to the housing. Whilst modern microwaves are highly reliable, if you are in doubt as to whether your microwave is working correctly, always get it checked by a qualified electrician - preferably with experience in commercial catering equipment.
After Dinner Coffee
The choice of beverage during the meal is very open these days, with some preferring wine and others going for beer or lager to name but a few. After dinner coffee remains, nonetheless, an important element of a properly prepared Christmas dinner event. Many an establishment has been judged purely on the lasting impression left by a poorly executed after dinner coffee service.
As well as offering freshly brewed, high quality coffee and a choice of milk or cream, a traditional meal really should have after dinner mints too (even if younger generations appear to be abandoning them in favour of alternative post-dinner snacks).
Did you know?
The original After Eight Mint Chocolate Thin was first created by Rowntree in 1962.
Your Christmas in Safe Hands
At Carlton Sales, we have everything you could ever need to ensure that your festive period is a success and leaves a lasting impression on your guests. We carry a wide range of top quality, professional products in stock at all times and offer a range of financing options on all equipment too, so we can come up with a flexible and alternative solution to meet your needs. Our expert team is always happy to talk to you about your catering needs. Contact us now or give us a call on 01793 512550.
For added peace of mind, our partners at Carlton Services offer a complete service solution for the commercial caterer. Our highly experienced and fully certified engineers are accredited with many of the leading brands, as well as being Gas Safe certified. We cover a wide area - visit our services site to find your nearest location.
Enjoy a great festive period with quality catering products and support from Carlton Sales!