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The Approach to Off Premise Catering

My company sees its heaviest workload during December so we can’t have any holiday parties. Instead, our corporate office sends us a box of produce, some hams and a turkey all of which need cooking.

For the last three years that duty has fallen on me and another co-worker. But this year I was entirely responsible for the meal, aside from desserts brought by everyone else and a few side items.

So armed with the company card we selected a few key ingredients that were needed to turn the box of produce, pork and poultry into something worthy of a busy crew who exceeded all past sales.

Let’s talk about office parties for a second. This is a party and I was the host. When you host a party you always have to consider what you have at your disposal and review the logistics. I have no ovens near the party room. I have no oven period that can be used for the turkey or the ham. This party had to be orchestration off premise and transported to site. This, ladies and gentlemen, is the definition of catering.

My tools: chaffing kits, crock pots, toaster ovens, microwaves and off premise ovens. Now that you know your tools you can design a menu. The tools are going to tell you what you can actual make with any chance of success. You may be the best cook in the world but you’re not going to prep souffles with a toaster oven in a busy office kitchen. Catering foods are foods that are durable, resistant to temperate variances and can be reheated easily without loss of quality.

So with what I was given this came to mind:

*Cider Brined Turkey– I named him Charles Worthington Turklish the III.

People like this dish a lot. I make it for the holidays and it’s always a big hit. The reason this is ideal for off premise catering is because a brine helps to tenderize and keep a meat moist. Turkey is already a problematic meat because it lacks fats. Low fat meats dry quicker. Being low fat and left on a chaffing rack is a combination destined for dryness. This recipe helps to avoid drying out.

(Contrary to what the below video shows, things are not epic nor awesome in dry places. Electric Guitars would not have blared sweet 80’s music while I cut into a dry turkey)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bj7R_2WWdKs

The basics of a brine can be learned from a legion of online sources but in its simplest form its a salt and sugar water solution. Beyond that, add whatever you want. I prefer sweeter elements and powerful aromatics. Get your ingredients together:

(Cloves- potent little guy. Don’t go overboard or your turkey will smell like marijuana) 

(Oranges- Good smell, adds some sweetness and the acid helps tenderize the turkey too)

(Sage- And its drinking buddies Thyme, Savory and Rosemary are all savory herbs that add big time flavor and smell insanely great)

(Cinnamon, Nutmeg and Allspice- They add that cider like sweetness that I’m looking for. I may have a crippling Cinnamon addiction. Not sure.)

(and then get Charles into his bath. Make sure its cold… otherwise you’ll kill your turkey child)

*Broccoli and Cauliflower Dish– Just something simple I imagined up with some of the produce. Steamed vegetables(Broccoli, Cauliflower, Carrots and Onions) with a butter sauce tossed with Panko Bread Crumbs and Colby Jack cheese. This dish I knew was going to be problematic because it had to be cooked off premise and reheated. It became overly soft though the flavor was fine.

*Stuffing/Dressing– Everybody calls it something different. I like mine dense and I like it sweet and savory. I prepared it with wheat bread, eggs and milk mixed together with dried cranberries, candied walnuts and chopped carrot, celery and onion. Par Baked it in a pan and completed the cooking using the on site ovens (located in the production facility a building over)

*Mashed Sweet Potatoes- This dish would have been overly lumpy and dried out if not done right. Fat is the key to reheating food. These potatoes contained heavy whipping cream and a good deal of unsalted butter to allow them to moisten back up when reheated at the office. It worked, they were exactly what I wanted them to be like and paired well with the turkey, the gravy and the stuffing.

*The Gravy- The problem with gravy is the thickness that it gets if it sits too long cold. It becomes jelly. I prepped this off premise last and rushed it and the turkey back to the office to get them both back on heat. As far as flavors, I like a good cajun kick to my gravy. It had a lot of paprika, sassafrases and pepper plus the turkey drippings.

*The Holy Trininty- But none of that is as important as the big three. I love Cajun and Creol cooking and almost nothing gets done without what they call the Holy Trinity. Onion, Carrots and Celery. This stuff is essential to many of the dishes I showed you. Its in the Stuffing, it was cooked in oil along with the giblets to make the base for the gravy and a partial trinity was cooked into the Broccoli dish.

Why’s this stuff so important? Ever walk into someone’s kitchen while they’re cooking dinner and say something smells good? Chances are you’re smelling a Mirepoix as its commonly known. The aromatic smell and savory taste cannot be equaled by any other combination of items I know of. If you try chances are you’ll just end up making an evil slime that summons the dead.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kf-Jv4_viQw

Sadly, I couldn’t get pictures of the final products. It got crazy in that kitchen. But here’s at least some visual.

The most important thing to do when it comes to catering an event is to realize your limitations and ask for help when you need it. I could not have produced the meal without help from my co-workers to stage the site. Ask for help. No reason to take all the glory for a meal. The difference between producing a great event and failed event often comes down to ego.

And that’s my approach to catering an off premise event. what’s yours?

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