How to Achieve Consistent Quality of Food Through Recipe Standardisation
The purpose of a recipe is to ensure that the resulting food is of desired and consistent quality and of an accurate and viable yield.
As a catering company can only be successful if it can consistently produce high quality food at an acceptable cost, having the ability to write good quality recipes is extremely important.
In this article we teach you the very best practice regarding recipe-writing so that you can:
- Achieve consistently high quality results
- Achieve predictable yields
- Minimise wasted batches
- Reduce the likelihood of serving sub-standard food
- Boost your reputation
- Teach better technique
- Show your chefs you care for them
- Sleep better at night
Also, if you receive a quality complaint, you will be able to eliminate problematic recipes from your investigation and focus on what else could have gone wrong.
For caterers, there are basically two distinct ways that you may need to write a recipe:
- Standardising/upscaling an existing recipe
- Writing a recipe from scratch
These days, with the internet and recipe databases at your fingertips, it is rare that you will be creating recipes from scratch. Therefore we will be focussing on No. 1.
(We will cover recipe writing from scratch in a future edition.)
When upscaling someone else’s recipe, first you need to analyse it, looking for the following factors that you are going to have to adjust when you formulate your version of the recipe, such as:
- Modification of technique - for example, if the original roast beef recipe says to sear it then slow roast at 53 degrees then serve a la minute, in a cook/chill facility you might decide to sear it on the outside and roast at 140 degrees to internal temperature of 52 degrees, then chill.
- Change of equipment - to beat 4 egg yolks you might use a hand-whisk, but for 4L of egg yolks you would use a planetary mixer. Another example would be the types of trays needed to chill large quantities of cooked food.
- Changed ingredient spec - for example, to make 1L of chicken soup, you might order one chicken, cook it whole, then pick the flesh off the animal after cooking for use as garnish. To make 100L you are probably going to order bones to make the broth and then breast and leg meat to steam or poach for the garnish
- Poor economics - the author of the original recipe quite often has not thought about how to produce the desired result in an economical manner, perhaps using unnecessarily expensive ingredients. You may need to alter the recipe as you upscale in order to achieve the correct food cost.
- Evaporation challenges - the main reason you will experience inconsistent yields is because it is hard to predict the rate and volume of evaporation, given different volumes of ingredients in different kinds of vessels.
- Wording - the methods in recipes written for domestic or non-industrial situations will always require heavy modification for use in your kitchen.
Imagine you are making caramelised onions. In order for the onions to get hot enough to start caramelising, the majority of water contained in the onions has to evaporate first. If you are trying to caramelise 1kg onions in a 10L capacity pot, the ratio of water to the surface area of the pot means that this happens very quickly. So cooking your 1kg caramelised onions may take 20 minutes. However, if you are trying to caramelise 50kg onions in a 150L capacity brattpan, there is a huge amount of water compared to the pan’s surface area. So in the first couple of hours there will be no caramelisation and you will have a very thin oniony broth.
Practically, this means you have to either factor in the long cooking time, use thickeners, or, more commonly, remove any type of watery liquids from the recipe and replace with dried alternatives, or use other imaginative ways to reduce cooking time and standardise the cooking process.
The language you use for the method in an internally-written recipe must always be:
- Consistent - once your chefs get used to reading consistently written recipes, they can be held accountable for the results. If each recipe is written using different kinds of words then you are forced to leave interpretation up to each chef.
- Facility-specific - Refer to equipment by terms that you establish in the language of your own kitchen.
- Completeness - be very careful to ensure there are no gaps or missing words in your standardised recipes. If there are errors or missing information, not only will your chefs come up with a different way of attacking the recipe, but you will find it hard to diagnose quality issues as you will not have a standard method to refer to.
7. Version Control - your database should register versions. Even if you use Word or a piece of paper, make sure you keep control of your versions. There is nothing more frustrating than ensuring a recipe is perfect then realising that your chefs are operating off an old one!
8. Silly stuff - you will sometimes find completely ridiculous mistakes or things in recipes that simply don’t make sense. Question everything you read - a wrong recipe is bad enough, don’t upscale it to make it bad food x 100!
To demonstrate some recipe-upscaling and re-tooling techniques, we will be focussing on the following recipe:
Baked Orange Custard (original recipe from client)
1 Vanilla bean, scraped
145g Castor sugar
5 Oranges, zest only
10 Egg yolks
- Combine cream, milk and scraped vanilla bean in a small pot and scald.
- Whisk together egg yolks, sugar and orange zest until pale and creamy.
- Pour hot cream over egg mixture and whisk.
- Put mix in a small pot and cook out, stirring, until thickening slightly
- Strain then pour into ramekins and bake au bain marie at 160 degrees until set.
10 x ramekins
Baked Orange Custard (my standardised and upscaled version)
3kg (?)* Castor sugar
200g Vanilla paste
40g Orange oil
5.4kg Pasteurised egg yolk (sweet)
- Whisk yolks, sugar, orange oil and vanilla paste in the Hobart planetary on #1 until incorporated, but do not allow mix to become aerated.
- Scald cream and milk.
- Pour some of the cream mixture into the yolks, whisking.
- Transfer yolk mix back into cream and whisk.
- Strain entire mix through fine chinois into stock buckets.
- Skim foam from custard. Fill large measuring jugs. Skim foam again from top.
- Pour 110g of custard into 350ml ramekins on flat trays. Use a blowtorch on low flame to burst any bubbles on the surface of the custards.
- Preheat oven to RED (dry heat) 90 degrees. Cook custards at 2-bar fan speed for approximately 1 hour until totally set, smooth and sexy.
- Chill and refrigerate.
310 x 350ml ramekins
Referring to the factors listed above, here are the main problems I identified and how I fixed them:
*When you upscale a recipe for the first time you are using all your experience and skill to do so. Your recipe will most likely result in a high quality product. But even so, there will still be some unknowns at this point, the most likely one being salt content.
Therefore, train your chefs to spot question marks and when they do, back off on the quantity of the ingredient with the question mark and confirm the final amount with a senior chef.
Modification of technique
- Cooking the custards au bain marie in large batches means the following problems:
- If I was to use water baths I would have to use 100mm-deep 1/1 gastronorms, so I would only be able to fit 10 in my oven, with 9 in each gastro (90 ramekin yield). As I wanted to maximise the number of custards in a single trolley, I calculated the upscaling to achieve 300 ramekins on 20 x 20mm 1/1 gastros.
- Using water baths would have led to a risk of scalding the chef when they removed full trolleys of custards from the oven.
- The original recipe doesn’t indicate whether the water bath should be cold or hot but regardless, the cooking time will be unacceptably long. But removing the water bath meant that we could not cook the custards at such a high temperature. Modern combi ovens are good at cooking accurately at low temperatures, so in this case I chose 90 degrees at 100% dry heat, but at a reduced fan speed to ensure the custard was not blown around the cabin and there were no hot spots.
- The original method made no mention of the foam that would form on the top of the mix and lead to poor presentation of the tops of the custards. I added in the methods of skimming and bursting the bubbles with a blowtorch.
- The original recipe asks for the custard to be cooked out over heat prior to baking, a completely pointless exercise. I removed this step entirely.
- The original recipe did not specify a desired product weight. I double checked and found out it was 100g. So I tested the recipe and found there was a 10g weight loss due to evaporation. The final recipe asks the chefs to actually weigh the mix at 110g each custard.
Change of equipment
- I indicated I wanted them to use ‘the Hobart Planetary’ and I even specified the speed I wanted it whisked at.
- Given the forecasted order volume for this product, I decided to use a 20 tray Rational, meaning I had to write my recipe specifically for this piece of equipment.
Changed ingredient spec
- There was no way I was going to have my chefs separating approximately 275 eggs for a standard batch. So I swapped out egg yolks for sugared pasteurised yolk, reducing the amount of castor sugar in the recipe to compensate.
- The original recipe asks for the zest of 4 oranges. If I didn’t change it this would mean zesting 120 oranges, a task that would be expensive in both ingredients and labour. I swapped in orange oil, a very consistent product.
- Vanilla beans had the same problem, with high ingredient and labour cost. I swapped in vanilla paste.
- I’ve already mentioned all the silly stuff in the above sections but cooking out the custard before baking was particularly pointless.
The final part that you must get right in order for your standardised recipes to work is communication.
When you issue a new recipe to a chef:
- Ask them to read it from end to end while standing in front of you (or your senior chef).
- Ask them to tell you if there is any part that they do not understand or need clarified
- Ask them for their help - tell them this is a new recipe and that they must report back to you with:
- The final product
- The recipe with any method changes that they think may improve the recipe
- Confirmation of the final quantities of any ingredients that you put question marks against
Recipes are the backbone of your catering business. Having highly standardised recipes increases quality and consistency and enables you to take control of food cost and helps you manage labour cost.
 "Recipe definition and meaning | Collins English Dictionary." https://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/recipe. Accessed 10 Feb. 2020.