Essential  Cuisine

Essential Cuisine

Premium Supplier 17th January 2011


Having emerged from a tough year on profit margins, eating out establishments face further challenges in 2011, with VAT rises predicted to widen the pricing gap between the cost of eating in and going out. However, on a more optimistic note, the latest Allegra report suggests that people will eat out more frequently, helping the market reach £49 billion by 2015. Working smarter in the kitchen by investing in good quality, time-saving solutions is key to success, according to Essential Cuisine...
Only the best stock will do
Whether you are preparing a simple veloute sauce or a delicate, red wine and rosemary jus, sauces play an integral part in every foodservice business, enhancing flavours and bringing dishes to life. It doesn’t matter what sauce you are making, you need good stock.
“The two are inextricably linked,” said Nigel Crane, Dorchester-trained chef and managing director of Essential Cuisine, producer of professional stocks, jus, glace and gravy. Stocks are crucial to a successful recipe, the heart and soul, delivering depth and balance of flavour in the final dish, and, without them, food will be bland and un-interesting.”
In an ideal world, chefs would make their own stock from scratch, but, in reality, spiralling costs, time pressures and a lack of skilled staff mean this is no longer a given. Many kitchen teams are just not in a position to spend up to eight hours a day roasting bones and working a stockpot, whether this is because they are limited structurally or operationally.
Chefs must now also consider Health and Safety, which say you can no longer leave the stockpot unattended. Does this really mean sauces should become an afterthought?
“Using a good, bought-in stock really is the most cost effective way to deliver great taste, appearance and aroma in your cooking, with the stock component cost of an average dish under five pence,” said Nigel. “You can, of course, buy in cheap stock, but is it worth risking the meal for a couple of pence? It is a false economy.
“There are many pre-made stocks on the market, pledging to taste and perform as well as stocks chefs would make themselves, which can be confusing. The best way to ascertain whether a stock is up to the job is to compare and contrast for yourself. Make suppliers go the distance in proving theirs really is the best. There are also a few rules of thumb:
 Nigel’s guide to buying the best stock

A good, readymade stock should not contain a high level of fat or oil, which floats as it dissolves, and adds work for the chef in skimming it off.
A good, readymade stock should smell of vegetables, not because they are laden with tomato puree and dried herbs, but because they are made with the real thing.
When you taste your stock, it should taste subtle, not overbearing, with no unnatural, lingering taste. Some companies use acid to break down fats in their products, making them juicy to the point where the juices don’t stop and it becomes artificial, a metallic, processed flavour.
Readymade stock should mirror the quality of a chef’s own creations and have a clean, not over seasoned, taste. It should be easy to use and a chef must be comfortable using the stock in combination with, or instead of, his or her own stock.
Do the taste test. Compare stocks diluted in hot water at the recommended dosage and don’t accept a stock tasting when the stock is hidden in a finished dish. Think carefully about appearance, taste, mouth feel and aftertaste.
Yield is the number of litres produced by each pot, enabling you to calculate cost per litre. Cost stock prices based on this as, generally, you will need more of a lower quality stock and it will not deliver the taste you require.

Put to the test
The food operation of St Austell Brewery’s 25 managed pubs is overseen by catering development manager Paul Drye and, while he insists each pub retains as much autonomy as possible, a re-evaluation last Autumn flagged up areas where business could be improved.
One area was the procurement of cupboard and freezer essentials, which Paul felt could be more cost-effective for the managed estate as a whole and on an individual pub basis.
At the top of the list were gravies and stocks or bouillons, with his band of chefs generally buying a mix of premium brands to use in a host of dishes including their selection of pies.
“We spend £20,000 on stocks and gravy over the managed estate each year and buying through lots of companies as a ‘free for all’ isn’t cost-effective, with consistency also an issue,” said Paul. “If possible, I was keen to find one supplier offering quality at a good price.
“The challenge was that chefs are quite pernickety about certain products and I didn’t want to dictate what they should use. A blind tasting session seemed to be the best solution.”
With 13 chefs from across the managed estate lined up as tasters at St Austell Brewery’s Pescadou restaurant at the Old Custom House in Padstow, plus Stephen Brown from Cornish ambient and chilled foods supplier Chaffins, Paul invited three foodservice producers to put their stocks and gravy ranges to the test, including Essential Cuisine’s Beef, Chicken and Vegetable Stock and No1 Beef, Chicken and Savoury Gravy.
Six products from each company were put to the test, with each producer preparing their own samples as per instructions on the packaging in one kitchen, adding nothing but water. The same plain bowls were used across all products, numbered 1-3, with the three producers kept in another room to ensure no outside influence. Chefs were given a tasting sheet to mark products from best to worst with marks out of 10.
Nigel said he was delighted to win five out of the six categories. “I created these stocks and gravies for my own use as well as for other chefs, so know they are good,” he said. “It is, however, always a proud moment to get feedback like this and we hope the results speak for themselves.”
Paul said: “It was quite unique having the three companies in the same kitchen in a head to head situation, with the winner decided in a purely democratic way. Some of the chefs went into this exercise as loyal users of the more well-known brands, which shows it’s amazing what marketing can do.
“Essential Cuisine might be considered a new kid on the block, but this was a completely blind taste test. Coming first in five out of six categories, we now have this company’s products listed as the preferred gravies and bouillons across the managed estate.”
Essential stock
Essential Cuisine’s comprehensive range of powdered stock  offers a superior yield of 50ltrs per 800g tub, and, unlike most others on the market, each flavour - from chicken to light vegetable - tastes just like kitchen-made stock with a clear appearance and appropriate levels of seasoning.
Each one has a low level of fat (c3%), is simple and easy to use, with no MSG or preservatives. With a 12 month shelf life, there is no need to refrigerate after opening, and each tub is colour coded for easy recognition.
Powdered stocks are the best on the readymade market, according to Nigel. “Chefs simply don’t want to wait around for sticky, hard stocks to dissolve, which is why we created powder mixes. The myth that they don’t contain real ingredients is absolutely untrue. Our vegetable stock, for example, smells of vegetables because it is made with vegetables.
“Because our stocks are powders, you can add them straight into a dish at any stage of the cooking process, giving pub chefs ultra convenience and control during a busy service, along with consistent taste and performance you can rely on. Gluten-free, they also cater for those with special dietary requirements, a demand in today’s diverse society.
“We’ve demonstrated time and time again that our stocks not only improve menus across foodservice, but save time and money in the kitchen, something that’s especially close to chefs’ hearts right now in the current climate.”
Sauces of the moment?
Increased health-awareness has contributed to the decline in popularity of creamier cooking sauces, said Nigel. “There's a move towards fresher, tomato-based sauces because these tend to be healthier and people are increasingly interested in fat, salt and sugar.
“Tomato concasse is an ever popular sauce, made with chopped shallots and garlic, fresh tomatoes and white wine. Ideally, you should also add vegetable stock, but often chefs are wary of making it too watery. Powdered stock solves this problem perfectly.
“Thai curry sauces are also big sellers, partially due to increased travel and familiarity. You should just remember to use the freshest, wholly natural ingredients and produce, the best chillies, tomatoes etc and give people the choice to customise.”
Essential’s Classic Béchamel Sauce Mix
With so much else to think about in a busy kitchen, chefs can find themselves crying out for some basic essentials to ease the pressure, but without compromising on quality.
Making a great tasting roux, for example, is not rocket science but can be a task chefs would happily forsake if they could rely on a readymade base as consistently good as their own.
For this reason, Essential Cuisine added Classic Béchamel Sauce Mix to its range of kitchen-made tasting stocks, jus, glace and gravy, combining flour, butter and milk with an appropriate balance of onion, clove, pepper and bay for the smoothest, rich, roux sauce.
“As every trained chef knows, béchamel sauce is a classic mother sauce of French cuisine and, to be able to call on a readymade base that performs consistently, tastes first class and is completely free of rubbish is welcome in today’s kitchens. Once made up it will not lump, thin or skin,” said Nigel.
“On the back of our growing reputation for the finest products made by chefs for chefs, we have introduced this easy-to-make-up, premium white sauce base to take away some of the work, leaving chefs to focus on creating their final sauces with absolute confidence. We recommend chefs try it against their own or current brand to see just how good it really is.”
Classic Béchamel Sauce Mix is perfect for lasagnes, cannelloni, veloutes and soufflés, or as a base for a chef’s own creations, whether you wish to add cheese for a mornay or cheese sauce, parsley for a classic parsley sauce, mustard or mushrooms and cream. You might want to add to a white wine and cream reduction to make a classic cream sauce.
Classic Béchamel Sauce Mix is an extension of Essential Cuisine’s Classic range, which includes Classic Veal, Beef and Chicken Demi-glaces, and Classic Lobster Bisque. Each 1.5kg pots costs around £17 and makes 18 litres (add 80g to a litre of full or semi-skimmed milk).

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