The range of products available to the caterer in pre-packed, pre-cooked and/or frozen form is most comprehensive and to deal with even a fraction would require a separate volume. This section can only cover the very basic principles of this very important area.
Meat may be obtained either frozen, chilled, canned or dehydrated. If packaged with Cryovac it should be removed from the wrapper at least one hour before actual use so that air can circulate around the item and remove any traces of fustiness.
Items of meat which have been deep frozen should be allowed ample time to defrost completely before use unless they may be cooked from frozen in accordance with the manufacturers instructions on the packaging. Once thawed, however, such items should not be re-frozen for use at later date.
A microwave oven may be used to reheat small amounts unless packaged in a foil or metal container. A forced air convection oven is ideal, especially for large numbers of frozen meals.
Once thawed, frozen items may be used in exactly the same way as fresh items for any of the dishes outlined in this chapter. In addition, extra garnishes of fresh vegetables, for example, may be used to improve the general appearance, taste and quality of many products such as tinned and boil-in-the-bag stews bought in convenience form.
Frozen uncooked poultry
Great care should be taken to avoid contamination when handling frozen poultry. Items should be stored in a deep freeze at a temperature of -18°C and without exception should be thawed completely before cooking. Frozen poultry items should be allowed to thaw at their own rate and under no circumstances should attempts be made to accelerate the process by placing the item in cold water or under a cold running tap.
Once thawed poultry items should not be washed. By doing so – or by trying to speed up the thawing process under water — can spread food poisoning bacteria (salmonella) over the sink, draining board and other work surfaces ready to contaminate other food.
These are items that have been cooked in the usual way and then blast-quick chilled. They should be kept at a temperature of 3 °C and may only be stored for a maximum of five days. Reheating should be carried out in an infra-red oven rather than in a microwave, or as recommended by the manufacturers.
Meats such as ham, tongue, corned beef and luncheon meat are familiar to most people in canned form. Pie fillings such as stewed steak and chicken suprême are also commonly bought in cans as are foie gras and pâtés. They may be used directly from the can as recommended by the manufacturers.
Stews are generally available in accelerated freeze dried form and are reconstituted by adding water and boiling. The quality may be enhanced by adding a further garnish of appropriate fresh vegetables.