What is Cook/Chill?
Cook/Chill is a simple, controlled system of advanced food preparation designed to provide more flexibility in your pub kitchen. The technique involves the full cooking of food, followed by rapid chilling and storage at controlled temperatures (for up to five days). When required, the food must be regenerated before service. The production system itself is simple to operate, provided you manage it well, and completely safe as long as the rules on temperature/time controls are followed. Cook-Chill Systems have the added benefit of maintaining food quality, nutritional value, flavour and appearance. Implementing a Cook/Chill System also gives you not only flexibility in the kitchen, but because you will minimise the risk of food spoilage it will also help ensure maximum profitability.
Why do I need a cook/chill system?
If you cook then chill food, its temperature needs to be reduced safely from 70°C to 3°C within 90 minutes. If you are freezing cooked food, the temperature needs to go from 70°C to -18°C in no more than 240 minutes. Otherwise you are breaking the law and even more importantly, you are putting your customers at risk. This is because bacteria grows most aggressively between 5°C and 63°C, in consequence food needs to get past this ‘danger zone’ as quickly as possible.
Just putting hot food into a refrigerator or freezer will not cool it fast enough and the resulting rise in the temperature in the fridge or freezer may endanger other food being stored there, and it will also overwork the refrigeration system thus costing you more money to run your refrigeration.
Equipment manufacturers will tell you the only safe way to comply with the food safety regulations governing the chilling or freezing of cooked food is to use a blast chiller or blast freezer, however, these are costly items which may well be beyond your pub’s budget. Not to worry though, there are plenty of ways to cook/chill safely without this capital outlay.
What is the difference between hard and soft chill?
Blast chillers offer the option of soft or hard chill. Soft chilling is a gentler process that ensures delicate products, such as fish, fruit and vegetables, do not develop ice crystals.
Hard chilling is suitable for denser foods such as meat, casseroles and lasagne. Here the airflow drops below freezing to maintain safety while ensuring the product stays in prime condition.
What equipment do I need for a cook/chill system?
If you are already serving hot food, the only additional equipment you will require for a small to medium sized Cook-Chill operation is a suitable Blast Chiller or Chiller Freezer. You will also need a suitable refrigerator or coldroom (0ºC/+3ºC) for the storage of the finished product.
Blast Chillers and Blast Freezers with capacities from 10kg under counter models up to roll-in models capable of Blast Chilling 320kg. If you are going to invest in a cook/chill system, work out the volume of food you will be preparing in advance and choose a model that suits. (Remember to add in an allowance for an increase in trade). Whatever type of Blast Chiller or Chiller Freezer you choose, it must be capable of reducing the temperature of a 50mm layer of food from +90°C to between 0°C and +3°C within 90 minutes, when fully loaded. It must also feature an accurate (+/- 0.5°C) temperature display, with a built in food probe featuring digital display. Digital and audible timers are also useful features.
On completion of its rapid chill cycle, the machine should automatically revert to storage mode (0°C/+3°C), until the chilling mode is selected again. This enables the operator to put one load in last thing at night, for example, and remove the chilled product first thing in the morning.
Make sure that the model you choose is compatible with the electrical supply you have. Smaller models will operate satisfactorily on a 240 volt domestic supply, larger models may require a 3-Phase supply.
As with most kitchen kit, best equipment is made from stainless steel. You should also look for a good seal around the door as poor seals mean an inefficient machine and will cost you money in increased power consumption and less effective to comply with cook/chill timings.
Top Tips – Look for removable shelf slides and racking. Cabinets with these features are easier to clean, and an automatic defrost and evaporation are essential features to look for when selecting a machine
The storage equipment used for holding pre-cooked chilled foods must be designed and used specifically for that purpose. Steps must be taken to ensure that possible cross contamination between raw foods or other cooked products and stored chilled food does not occur.
The store must be capable of holding products at a constant temperature of between 0°C and +3°C, and this should be indicated clearly by a visible temperature indicator.
The equipment should ideally feature an audible alarm which will alert you if the storage temperature reaches unacceptable levels. A temperature recording device is also required.
When selecting storage equipment, allow for sufficient capacity to cope with peak production, as well as room for an efficient stock rotation system. A minimum storage capacity of two days is normal for Cook-Chill products.
Storage equipment will need to be sited in an area that allows for easy access, and must be sufficiently close to the Blast Chiller to ensure that food arrives at the store without risking any fluctuations in the 0ºC/+3ºC chilled temperature – whilst still at the optimum chill temperature.
Make sure your cooking, chilling and storage equipment are all compatible with the containers you use (Gastronorm or designed for Combi ovens). As with any cooking operation, a Cook-Chill system requires care to ensure that food does not become vulnerable to harmful bacteria. Staff should, therefore, be given specific training on the Cook-Chill operation.
How To Cook/Chill Safely Without A Blast Chiller
First of all, if you can avoid cooking large quantities of food in advance of service then do so, if you do carry out “batch cooking” then plan how you are going to chill it down as quickly as possible and put it in the fridge or freezer. Here’s how to get food chilled as quickly as possible:
- Divide the food into smaller portions, it will cool down quicker
- Cover pans of hot food and stand them in cold water, iced if possible, replenish cold water/ice as the food cools and warms the water
- Stir food regularly whilst it is cooling, this will quicken the process
- Cover hot food and move it to a cooler room, such as any larder space you have
- If your oven has a cooling function, then use it
- Cover food with cling-film and place a wet tea-towel over the food and direct a table fan at it, evaporation of the water in the tea-towel will induce cooling. (Repeat as often as necessary)