Monday, February 24, 2014

CHEF TALK Retort and the Culinary Consequences Part 1


Retort and the culinary consequences

Unlike ‘Pasteurized’ cooked meat products where the survival of heat resistant micro organisms is accepted, the aim of sterilization is the destruction of all contaminating bacteria including their spores. Heat treatment must be intensive enough to inactivate/kill the most heat resistant micro organisms, which are the spores of Bacillus and Clostridium.
If spores are not completely inactivated, vegetative micro organisms will grow from the spores as soon as conditions are favorable again. Favorable conditions exist when the products are stored at ambient temperatures.
Temperatures above 100 degrees Celsius, usually between 100 degrees Celsius to 121 degrees Celsius are needed to achieve this goal depending on the product. These temperatures must be reached inside the product.
Surviving micro organisms can either spoil preserved meat products or produce toxins which cause food poisoning to consumers.
Clostridium is more heat resistant than Bacillus. Bacillus spore will die at 110 Celsius. Clostridium spores need 121 Celsius to be inactivated within a short period of time. If these temperatures cannot be reached within a given time, a longer time period must be applied.
From the microbial point of view it would be ideal to employ very intense heat to eliminate any form of micro bacterial activity in meat products. However, most meat products cannot be exposed to such intense heat without suffering.
Degradation of their sensory quality, such as very soft texture, jelly and fat separation, discoloration and undesirable taste will occur.
Loss of nutritional value, destruction of vitamins and protein structures will arise as well. Vitamins are hardier to heat than bacteria but not resistant to intense heat of this nature. In order to comply with the above aspects a compromise has to be found.
Sterilization must be intense enough for micro biological safety and moderate enough from the product quality point of view.

It is of extreme importance that products, meant for canning, that are of a mixed composition (meat and vegetables) are being exposed to a temperature of 121 Degrees Celsius. If not, these products will be exposed to undesirable bacterial growth at ambient temperatures.  
Retort pouches, which are containers made of aluminum or plastic coated nylon material are of growing importance in food preservation.  Thermo-laminated food pouches have a seal layer made of PP (Polypropylene) or PP – PE (Polyethylene) Polymer and the outside layer is usually made of nylon. They can be used for ready to eat meals, and sausages in brine.
The need for safe but not excessive heat treatment received in products needs some practical consideration. These are: Heat treatment temperature and heat treatment time. Different temperatures need different treatment times.
The high temperatures are achieved by injecting steam under pressure in specialized retort steam kettles. Sometimes a combination of boiling water and pressured steam is used.
The level of heat treatment received by a product is measured in the value F. F 1 means an exposure at 121 Celsius for 1 minute at the coldest point of the product. By F 2 this is 2 minutes and so on. The level of sterilization of a product can herewith be determined.
Complete safe canned products, pathogen free and no spoilage, should be produced with temperatures between F 4.0 to 5.5 with temperatures ranging between 110 and 130 Celsius. This will provide a shelf life at ambient temperatures of up to 4 years at storage temperatures below 25 Celsius.
In part 2 of this article I will have a closer look at the possibilities of applying retort in home cooking and some aspects of retort in the culinary world.      

Written for PMG by:

Professional Chef
Marinus Hoogendoorn
Culinary expert in recipe development   

Wednesday, February 19, 2014



 On the 31st of January, our Chinese friends celebrate the most auspicious festival of their calendar year. The Lunar year, as the Chinese New year is called, follows the cycle of the moon and the New Year date changes therefore every year. Every Chinese New Year is named after an animal from their Zodiac signs. This year they celebrate the year of the horse, bringing extra excitement for those born in the years, 1918, 30, 42, 54, 66, 78, 90, 2002 and 2014, the previous years of the horse.
Besides the Chinese, not many people celebrate Chinese New Year, I remember from my youth days seeing some Chinese lighting fire crackers just out of the blue, making me question why they were doing that, only to find out later that it was Chinese New Year.

I want to highlight this festival because the Chinese have a very interesting food culture. I admire their approach to life when it comes to food. The Chinese, as far as I know them, are very particular about their food, fresh is their key word. Chinese can be spotted in supermarkets or in any other fresh market, selecting vegetables like beans, piece by piece, the same goes for meats and seafood. If prawns are not fully intact and do not have a firm head, they will not buy. Any irregular spot on a squash and the fellow is rejected. It makes me wonder if anybody around the table will complain if one bean is longer than the other or if one prawn is bigger than the other but it is their way of approaching food.
Offering food in a small prayer house in front of their premises is a daily routine. Food signifies wealth, good luck, prosperity and fortune in Chinese belief. I must say that Chinese believe in practically everything, but food tops the lot.
An orange symbolizes the sun and the sun symbolizes gold, pointing to wealth. Cantonese Chinese compare many beliefs to the sound of certain words in their dialect. Wong means money in Cantonese, lai means come, so wong lai means, money comes. A pineapple is called ong lai, sounds like wong lai right?. You will then also see pineapples being offered, especially during Chinese New Year.        
Chinese New Year lasts for 15 days. It ends with Chap Go Mai. Most businesses will close on the first three days of the New Year. It is considered to be bad luck when you open your business back up on an odd numbered day. The first day of Chinese New Year is traditionally a vegetarian day. On the seventh day a meal with seven different vegetables is prepared, each one of the seven signifies a meaning of luck and wealth. A sweet dessert with three colored round glutinous rice balls soaked in syrup represents togetherness in a family.    
There are two ‘must have’ delights the Chinese cannot do without during Chinese New Year. First is ‘Bak Kwa’, finely minced pork meat is marinated, spread thinly on bamboo mats and smoked for 2 hours over charcoal. It is then sliced into squares, Bak Kwa is grilled over charcoal again, mainly on the roadside before consumption, turning whole neighborhoods into one big smoking BBQ. It tasted somewhat sweet like five spice but is loved by all. Bak Kwa is traditionally made from pork but there are also chicken, duck and beef varieties. A small round version is considered golden coins and every time one eats a piece it means money in the pocket.
Secondly is Yee Sang, a raw fish salad with a wide selection of pickled and colored vegetables and sesame seeds to top it off. Yee Sang is served as the starter dish when the Chinese have their, must have, family reunion dinner on their New Year eve. All ingredients are tossed together with chopsticks by everybody in the family, at the table. The higher it is tossed the more luck and longevity for the coming year. Yee Sang is a great symbol of togetherness and harmony.
Have you ever noticed, by the way, that Chinese are generally very slim. I find it hard to find an overweight Chinese. Being overweight and obesity was only introduced in China when fast food was introduced. I have not mastered the Mandarin language but doubt if there is a character to describe obesity.
So if fresh is the key word to the Chinese approach to food or better their eating habits, then fresh must have some effect on our body weight. Chinese are known to work hard, from young age to old and have quite a bit of exercise doing so. They eat four times a day, not always the healthiest stuff also, lots of soya sauce, oyster sauce, flavoring salt and sugar in the dishes but it does not seem to hurt a lot when it comes to their body weight.
They eat a lot of soupy dishes. Noodle soups are popular in their diet but they also eat a fair bit of rice, protein and vegetables. What is the key for them not being overweight by the masses? Portioning, yes, the portions are moderate, eat when you are hungry, maybe. Fresh, yes.   
The Chinese approach to food is very similar to my definition of healthy eating. Steamed fish, stir fried crunchy vegetables, cooked at high heat, no overcooked stuff, quick and simple seasoned meats and poultry, tofu to complement some extra protein. Many of these dishes are very easy to prepare and lovely to eat. Great thing of this style of cooking is that you can apply it to Western cooking as well so you do not have to eat Chinese food every day.
When you use the pre prepared and vacuum sealing method to keep your vegetables and meats in optimum condition you are ready to go.

Try this simple recipe that can be used for both the Chinese and Western style of cooking.
Stir fried beef with mixed vegetables.
500 Gr Lean beef (thinly sliced)
12 Pcs Spring onion (sliced 1 inch long)
12 Slices Young ginger
1 Tbsp Chinese rice wine
Oil for deep frying, Cilantro for garnish

2 Tbsp Soya sauce
1 Tbsp Chinese rice wine
½ Tsp Baking powder
1 Tsp Sugar
5 Tbsp Water
1 Dessert spoon Corn starch

2 Tbsp Oyster sauce
½ Tbsp Soya sauce
1 Tsp Sugar
Black pepper

Marinate the beef slices with the marinade ingredients. Set aside for one hour. Or vacuum seal and keep until needed. 
Heat oil and deep fry the beef slices for 20 seconds. Remove from the oil
Drain off all but 2 tablespoons of the oil and reheat.
Add spring onions and the ginger slices, stir fry 2 minutes.
Add beef slices and the rest of the seasoning ingredients.
If you like it with a bit more sauce, add a bit of water and thicken with cornstarch mixed with water.
Dish up and garnish with Cilantro sprigs.

½ Nos Medium onion (sliced)
2 Cloves Garlic (chopped)    
1 Bunch Broccoli (cut into small florets)
½ Nos Carrot (cut into wedges)
5 Nos Shi-Take Mushrooms (quartered)
1 Tbsp Oyster sauce
Black pepper

Steam the carrot wedges for 3 minutes and the broccoli florets for 2 minutes.  
Heat  2 to 3 tablespoons oil in a frying pan. Add the onion and garlic, fry for a minute.
Add the broccoli, carrots and mushrooms. Fry for another minute, add the oyster sauce and black pepper. Mix well.
Dish out and serve with the stir fried beef and rice. 

If you like this recipe Western style, simply omit the marinade and seasoning ingredients and cut the beef into steak size. Grill the steaks and treat the vegetables the same way but season with salt and pepper.
Great healthy dinner two ways, full use of vacuum sealing opportunities and last but not least, very tasty and you can use other meats as well.

Written for PMG by:

Professional Chef
Marinus Hoogendoorn
Culinary expert in recipe development