10 January 2015
A major component of any ready meal is the quality of its sauce. The finish, colour, smell and flavour of the sauce are all critical factors in the commercial and culinary success of the finished product.
In a ready meals facility the sauce production will usually be carried out in steam jacketed vessels known as kettles (pictured below).
Milk or cream-based sauces are very heat sensitive and a great degree of care is required to prevent these products being spoiled through burn-on. Burn-on being the unwanted caramelisation of the dairy product by the intense heat of the kettle heating surface. If not prevented, burn-on can spoil an entire sauce batch and at the very least, result in a great deal of cleaning when preparing the kettle for the next batch.
A common method of preventing this product damage is to heat the sauce using direct steam injection. Reduced pressure, 5 micron-filtered steam is sourced from the factory main to achieve the necessary culinary quality supply.
This steam is injected via a nozzle, or series of nozzles, located on the inside wall of the kettle. The sauce heats up as it absorbs the hot steam.
Steam condensate creates additional moisture which will dilute the sauce and has to be compensated for in the sauce recipe.
Whilst this is a well-established and effective process, it can be improved upon. A major UK cooking equipment manufacturer has reviewed this heating process and innovated a number of advanced features.
The first innovation is the careful positioning of the injection head in the centre of the kettle and within the rake of the moving agitator, ensuring all the injected steam is captured, and mixed instantaneously within the sauce.
This maximises the efficiency of the heating process and heat distribution within the sauce, and thus enables greater consistency between batches as the steam absorption, and the resulting water addition, is consistent.
The second innovation is the nozzle design, dubbed JET COOK. The new design differs from a standard nozzle as the steam injection head is manufactured in the shape of a deep profile ring.
Ideal for soups, sauces, creams, pie fillings, ready meals, preserves, dips, desserts, lotions and creams.
The direct injection steam is fed into this ring in such a way that it creates a venturi effect of sufficient strength to continually draw the sauce through the ring, and at the same time blend the injection steam into the sauce being drawn through. Combined with the action of the agitator this rapid mixing ensures the minimum temperature differential between the hot input steam and the sauce. This results in rapid heating times for the sauces, greater productivity for the process, and above all, no burn-on.
The use of JET COOK is not restricted to dairy-based sauces and provided the recipe is adjusted to accommodate the additional water, it can be used as a rapid heating method for any sauce.
The manufacturer claims that the process will heat up a 500Kg batch of sauce from cold to 95°C in 8 minutes. Furthermore, as all the steam’s energy is captured within the sauce, this process also scores as being highly energy efficient.
From the initial success of their static kettle design utilising the JET COOK head, a further application of the design has been recently made in the form of a standalone JET COOK station.
This station could typically be located in the high risk cookhouse area and would prove particularly useful in a hot fill operation where it can be used to maintain the required food safe temperature of a sauce while it awaits dispensing on the production line.
A mid-run production line breakdown is a typical example of this, where the sauce has been produced and loaded into the sauce mobile, but is now going nowhere, and rapidly cooling, as the line has stopped.
Any sauce which cools for too long runs the risk of falling outside the HACCP temperature parameters and may have to be scrapped and remade. This in turn causes further disruption to a line that may already be behind schedule.
With this standalone steam injection process the sauce can be reheated within the sauce mobile, maintaining food safe temperature conditions and preventing further downtime and product wastage.
Alternatively, the station could be located in the low risk cookhouse area for a variety of simple tasks such as heating up sauce batches that do not require the commitment of a static kettle to prepare, i.e. a simple recipe, or as a means of quickly producing hot water for clean downs.
The innovative Jet Cook process proves that even well-established sauce cooking processes like direct steam cooking can always be refined and improved upon. The Ready Meal manufacturer who is prepared to research, invest in, and fully exploit these new innovations will gain a critical edge in the market place.
With the bar of quality continually being raised and so many competitors vying for a leading share of the ready meal market sector; achieving and maintaining this innovative edge has to become a vital ingredient in every manufacturer’s success strategy.
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