In today's economic climate we find ourselves increasingly looking at the bottom line and searching for ways to cut costs without compromising on quality or taste
Brian Young, director-general of the British Frozen Food Federation (BFFF) and Oliver Clifford Brown (caterer) explain that as the technology of freezing food has improved dramatically in recent years, it is time to reassess our outdated perception that frozen food is in some way inferior to fresh and embrace the fact that when caterers opt to use frozen, they are potentially saving not just money but also time.
Fish and seafood begin to decline in quality immediately after catching, so freezing as soon as possible ensures maximum freshness and ultimately the highest quality for consumers. Freezing is a natural process that does not require the use of preservatives. Crucially, where fish is concerned, freezing stops all microbiological activity, including that of pathogens, which cause food poisoning and also spoilage.
Using frozen fish and seafood rather than fresh gives the caterer greater meal and menu flexibility as freezing technologies allow you to offer a consistently high-quality product all year round at costs up to 25 per cent less. This is due to year-round price stability and the hugely extended shelf life – typically 18 months in a commercial freezer.
Frozen fruit and vegetables
Freezing enables you to offer your customers at all times a wide variety of fruit and vegetables that have been picked and frozen at their peak quality – making the ‘exotic’ available everyday at prices usually fixed until the next crop. These days, for example, 20,000kg of peas can be frozen in just one hour, thereby maintaining not only their ‘just picked’ taste but also optimum nutritional content.
Frozen fruit and vegetables maintain much higher levels of vitamins than those sold fresh. As fresh fruit and vegetables are harvested, transported, stored and then moved to their point of sale, it is quite usual for products to be up to 14 days old before they reach the consumer – meaning valuable nutrients are often lost.
Frozen appetisers and buffet items
Frozen appetisers and buffet items are two of the more convenient areas of frozen food, enabling the caterer to offer a wide variety, from the simple to the complicated, in a handy and labour-saving format.
Frozen appetisers and buffet items offer flexibility in menu choice (without wastage), production of hot food at the last moment and replenishment opportunities should the food run short. Frozen is also a convenient option when faced with last minute events.
Frozen bakery and bread
There really is nothing like the aroma of freshly baked baguettes or croissants to tempt your customers. Many frozen breads and pastries can simply be thawed and served offering the ultimate in convenience when time saving is important or catering equipment limited. By baking off small amounts almost on demand you can ensure your customers are offered the ‘just baked’ freshness they want while reducing costly waste and ultimately maximising profit.
Many frozen bakery products offer great menu appeal and provenance, such as French pastries or Italian breads. Regardless, frozen bread and pastries are a great back up, even for those chefs who want to make their own.
Frozen meat and poultry
Although meat and some poultry improve with age and hanging, freezing can still offer the caterer many benefits. For instance, it allows the caterer to choose the perfect quality cut for their purpose and buy as much or as little as they need – in turn reducing waste and minimising cost.
The majority of frozen meat and poultry is ‘quick frozen’ (a process that freezes the water in the food into smaller ice crystals minimising cell structure damage) to maintain freshness, tenderness and flavour. Quick freezing also extends shelf life (up to 18 months in a commercial freezer), which ensures the year-round availability of highly seasonal meat supplies such as turkey or game.
If stated in the manufacturer’s instructions, portions of frozen meat can be cooked from frozen, which not only reduces waste but also has added convenience for the chef. Frozen meat can also help the caterer protect their profit margins as fresh meat prices are much more volatile than frozen.
Frozen prepared meals and entrées
Some of the most innovative and exciting areas in frozen food comprise frozen individual and multi-portion ready meals, premium entrées and centre of plate products. Here the opportunities are endless and today’s caterers benefit from specialist teams of chefs dedicated to developing new, tasty products.
Frozen meals and entrées are labour-saving alternatives to their fresh counterparts with the former enabling the caterer to offer premium centre of plate options without the services of a highly skilled chef. Additionally, prepared meals and entrées can facilitate a wider menu choice with perfect portion and cost control.
With continually improving freezing techniques, the market for frozen desserts has increased beyond all recognition over the past ten years allowing quality and product development to exceed all previously held expectations.
Frozen desserts are normally manufactured with short shelf life ingredients, which means that they are very fresh when frozen. This ensures that the product is of maximum quality when defrosted. For added convenience, most frozen desserts that require baking can be cooked from frozen while individual luxury desserts allow function catering to offer the highest quality and presentation on a mass scale.
If, however, you prefer to operate with a specialist dessert chef and make your desserts from fresh, you can always save yourself plenty of time and effort by using frozen pastry – many top chefs do.
For menu ideas, access to industry experts and general information on frozen foods, visit the website launched by the BFFF in December 2008: theNewIceAge.com
Brian Young, director-general, BFFF: BFFF represents circa 250 member companies in the frozen food industry including producers, retailers, wholesalers, distributors, importers and brokers of frozen food.
Oliver Clifford Brown: as well as acting as culinary expert on www.theNewIceAge.com, Oliver is head chef at The North London Tavern and owns Heaven’s Kitchen, a catering company in London and Oxford.