How do you "hold" sauces?

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Even for the home cook, I'm not seeing how an extra pan is required.  Even if you're using sauce from a can/jar, you still have to heat it somehow.  Cook the pasta, drain, put the saucepan back on the stove, dump in your sauce in, heat, when nice and hot, toss in the pasta and finish cooking.  If you're cooking for more than one person, you're probably using a wide-based saucepot anyway (to have lots of hot water to cook a reasonably small pasta order in).  You still get most of the surface area of a saute' pan.  I'm just having an issue grasping how an extra pan is required in a home kitchen. 
But, by and large, Plan A is a brief heat on the flame, tossing the pasta and sauce.  For a home cook, it can be difficult to explain to one's spouse why you need to get another pan dirty if you're only going to use it for 30 seconds, her (or his) mom doesn't do it, if you like Mario Batali so much why don't you marry him, etc., etc.  However in a restaurant environment it should be SOP and a non-issue.    
 
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Sadly, Gobbly, not everyone is you.

Some people just pour the sauce on the pasta straight from the jar or heat it in the microwave.  Just like some restaurants hold sauces in a bain marie and ladle it over the pasta in a bowl and mix it off the heat, or just ladle it over the top of already plated pasta.

BDL
 
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I guess where my disconnect is, is with taking COLD butter and creaming it.  Perhaps my logic is flawed since I've never worked on a "cook to order" line that involved multiple dishes (my background is fast food and pizza joints).  I would expect that an order comes in, I drop the pasta to finish it (par cooked if dry, from "raw" if fresh) for a minute or two.  During that time, I need to get my sauce ready.  Creaming to order, using BDL's prep method from "raw" would require 6-10 minutes in a mixer.  I've just doubled or tripled my "time to window" for that dish.  Even if I can find a nice small food processor to be able to deal with a single serving of sauce, from chilled pre-made state, that's still a couple of minutes in the food processor -- not impossible, but a little more "manual" of a process to load, whip, unload, put back together, etc for working on a line.  I'm also concerned about having such a piece of equipment on a hot serving line.  I can't think of a good location for such a device that would be out of the way, but not out of reach.  A hand mixer just simply requires constant attention (whereas a stand mixer wouldn't). 

What bothers me the most, is that for standard service, rush should be 5:30-8:00pm in most cases.  2.5 hours is WELL within the "4 hour window", but if the health dept caught me "holding" alfredo at room temp, I'm figuring they'd have a fit. Sometimes, 40 is too cold and 140 is too hot.  That brings me to a pet peeve.  Why is it that a cook is scared to hold tomato sauce at room temp (health dept), yet the bottles of ketchup can sit on the table all day?  Both are safe, due to the acid content, but how do you explain that to the guy with the scorecard?
 
You can portion with a scoop and hold cold, but you'll have to cream it again before using.  It's got to be very smooth and temped before going on the pasta.  You can re-cream smaller portions easily with an electric hand mixer, and that will temp it as well.
 
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Gobbly,

You can portion with a scoop and hold cold, but you'll have to cream it again before using.  It's got to be very smooth and temped before going on the pasta.  You can re-cream smaller portions easily with an electric hand mixer, and that will temp it as well.

BDL
can you sub an immersion blender for the hand mixer? just seems easier to handle/manage......a whisk would be the handiest for me

joey
 
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I think the orginal Alfredo used a wooden spoon.

Whisk -- especially a "French whisk" (i.e., real thick wires) -- is best, all the way through; but doesn't work great with cold butter.

Stand mixer with the wire whip (not the beater blade), or hand mixer with the whire whips -- fine. 

Don't know about an immersion blender, wouldn't think so.

Going on order, start to finish, by hand is best.  But gobbly doesn't have the manpower, so we're trying to work out a comprompise solution that doesn't give up too many of the qualities Alfredo's Alfredo has -- so much smoother, richer, better mouthfeel, and yes creameir than the cooked-cream versions. 

Perhaps the best way to deal with a hold-cold situation is to make your own very soft, very whipped not-quite-butter, combining the cheese in the process.  That way, the al burro never gets hard enough to be a problem.  If you get it just right, it will hold the emulsion -- maybe better, in fact.  I've done it that way for catering.  It might be revealing too much, but it's also an arrow in the quiver of my cooking for seduction schtick -- and has been since my twenties.  Both of those are tough scrutinty. 

By the way, the DIY whipped cream to proto-butter version also works well for tableside presentation.  Any good Alfredo loves tableside and vice versa. 

BDL
 
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A_Mak,

Besides agreeing with Durangojo, I wonder if there isn't a basic misunderstanding going on here.  You wrote,

We may be on wildly different pages.  You seem to be thinking we actually cook the pasta entirely in the sauce.  No, no.  We're not quite that pazzo.

We're talking about a technique in which the pasta is cooked in water, removed and drained when it's barely al dente, added to a skillet on the flame with some sauce in it, where both are tossed together.  The sauced pasta is then turned out, plated and served.  That's the generic, Italian way to handle most pasta and sauce combinations. 

I guess I did misunderstand because this is what I was talking about.  

* We probably mean different things by Alfredo.  The version I'm talking about is butter and cheese only -- creamed to emulsification.  It doesn't call for additional cream and doesn't get any thickening whether from egg, flour or reduction.  

If that's the case then we do false Alfredo.  Ours is heavy cream reduced until almost thick & then at the end we add in a little butter & parmesan & then quickly stir to emulsify.  We tried briefly keeping the cream in the hot well but it discolors & turns ugly.  Actually, whenever we make sauces that use cream or butter & break with too much heat we usually put the sauce in the pan & then that pan in another pan which goes in the well.  This reminds me, I used to work graveyard at a cafe/diner that served Eggs Benedict and I hate to say that we kept our Hollandaise at room temp for a whole 6 hour shift.  And if you think that's bad, at least I made a fresh batch when I worked that station.  Some of the other cooks, the regulars, often used the same batch that was sitting there when they came on shift.  It could've been made during the previous shift (Swing), but who knows, it could have also been made during the day shift.  If you ask why we did this, I don't know I wasn't in charge.  And if you ask did anyone ever get sick & where was the health dept, no as far as I know & the health dept doesn't come in after midnight.  
 
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I prefer Ala Minute  since I mix my pasta and sauce and toss it anyway. Simply putting sauce on top might have been good for spaghetti and meatballs years ago but not today, although it is still done in some peoples HOMES.

Putting in steam table  thickens, darkens and breaks down the various components of any preparation. As far as Al Dente which means To The Teeth I believe it is saying pasta should be slightly chewable and not overcooked or mushy. Putting oil or salt in water is at your option some do some don't it does not make water that much hotter and does not lubricate the pasta. The oil however as stated above does act like an anti-foaming agent in the water.
 
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I prefer Ala Minute  since I mix my pasta and sauce and toss it anyway. Simply putting sauce on top might have been good for spaghetti and meatballs years ago but not today, although it is still done in some peoples HOMES.

Putting in steam table  thickens, darkens and breaks down the various components of any preparation. As far as Al Dente which means To The Teeth I believe it is saying pasta should be slightly chewable and not overcooked or mushy.

I agree with that Idea, but when you are in a business. Making a pre-cooked sauce makes the job easier and efficiently. As quality will be the issue, it can have a ways like.

1. Just make a enough portion for the steam table and  the rest, it can be stored in the refrigerator.

2. Should you have the time for the quality of the sauce, i mean it should have shelf life.
 
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I agree with that Idea, but when you are in a business. Making a pre-cooked sauce makes the job easier and efficiently. As quality will be the issue, it can have a ways like.

1. Just make a enough portion for the steam table and  the rest, it can be stored in the refrigerator.

2. Should you have the time for the quality of the sauce, i mean it should have shelf life.
Making "pre-cooked sauces" may be easier and efficient, but that is NOT always the road to success in the restaurant game.

Most "a la minute" sauces, IMHO, do NOT have much "shelf life", and if you try to hold them beyond their limits, the quality will suffer immensely!

Yes, selected sauces may be pre-cooked and held in some manner, whether under refrigeration or in a bain marie, but, depending on the method of "holding", again, quality may suffer.

With regards specifically to pasta and sauces, pre-cooked pasta is definitely OUT unless there is just no other way to accommodate the guests, i.e. large crowd or banquet, IMHO.

Holding ANY sauce in a steam table is OUT, IMHO, as is plopping sauce atop pasta. Quality SUFFERS!

Holding sauces (only those that CAN be held /img/vbsmilies/smilies/crazy.gif) under refrigeration with heating and tossing with pasta for service MAY work for those skilled at doing so.

A la minute sauces are just that, a la minute, pasta generally takes 6-9 minutes to cook, more than enough time for a la minute sauces.
 
 
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When you refer to pre-cooked pasta, do you leave room for "par-cooked" pasta, which in my mind is just short of al dente, so that another water ride for 1-2 minutes will reach the temp and doneness prior to being introduced into the sauce?

Would you mind listing the sauces that you feel are able to be held vs those that should be made a la minute?  In my mind, a stout tomato-based sauce (excepting a fresh, chunky style tomato "salsa") needs to be mixed with the herbs and spices for a significant period of time (which can be shortened by adding heat), but are not good candidates for a la minute cooking. 

My background is quite limited and my professional experience is fast-food, so I'm interested in the experiences of others.  I rather enjoy being incorrect as it shows I still have room to grow (as if there were any doubt).
 
With regards specifically to pasta and sauces, pre-cooked pasta is definitely OUT unless there is just no other way to accommodate the guests, i.e. large crowd or banquet, IMHO.
 
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As I stated, if there is "no other way" to handle the crowd, par/pre-cooked pasta MAY be the only way to go. TBS, I don't condone par/pre-cooked pasta for operations under MY control. Can it be acceptable? Possibly, depending on the chef's desires.

Sauces that require more cooking than "a la minute" are, generally, all candidates for being held under refrigeration for last minute heating for service, among others, marinara, bolognese, or other "slow cooked sauces. Probably some cheese sauces as well, though that might prove "tricky" with extended hold times. When my restaurant was open, I ALWAYS had marinara and bolognese in the refrigerator next to the range top.

Some sauces, like Alfredo (a la BDL), are worth waiting for and, personally, I would not even attempt to "hold"!

Now, the above is colored by MY personal viewpoint and how I would serve in MY establishment. I do not do "fast food" but I do "good food fast"!

The "key" question, IMHO, is what YOU find acceptable for YOUR guests and establishment. If par-cooked pasta and "hot held sauces" are acceptable to you, go for it. You may have to "experiment" to find the best techniques to work for you.

IIRC, I remember seeing a "culinary instructor" cook pasta al dente, portion it, using a long tined fork, and placing on a plastic lined sheet pan, covering it with plastic and a damp towel, and holding in a warm oven. No water bath to heat and wash the starch off; either plate and top with sauce or toss with the heated or a la minute sauce, as desired. That particular instructor also advocated no oil in the cooking water and draining the pasta in a "restricted flow colander" adding oil to the cooking water at the time of draining so the oil would "seep through" the pasta, coating every strand, FWIW.

Now, remember, I am OLD, Opinionated, and Crotchety!
 
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It's pretty simple. 

If a sauce only takes a few minutes to cook, it should be cooked to order. 

If it takes a long time to cook, it can probably be held a long time as well.  Whether it can be held hot or should be held cold and reheated is case by case.

Some sauces are a mix of one thing and the other.  For instance, if you had Fra Diavolo on the menu, you might cook the shellfish in a little olive oil then white wine, and add that to a light tomato base you had  standing by.  It just depends.  

If you're planning to parcook ordinary noodles like spaghetti, linguine, and so forth, you're like that kid who started the thread about opening a hamburger stand and was asking about holding cabinets -- in other words you should probably be in another business.  Of course, I know you're not -- I know you're just trying to figure out what the bright line rules are and asking all the right questions.  But par-cooking ordinary noodles is one corner that really shouldn't be cut. 

If you're talking about special pasta which require long cooking. canneloni for instance, they can be cooked ahead, stuffed, oiled, held and reheated in the oven in a small casserole.  Usually, just like enchiladas, it helps to add just barely enough sauce at the last second before going into the oven, then add more hot sauce when you plate.       

A lot of the pasta stuff I think you already know as a home cook and are hoping there's some way around the rules.  Unfortunately, while there are lots of things you can do to make pasta better there aren't many things you can do to make it easier and faster. 

One thing which will actually allow you to cook noodles faster on the line is to make them fresh, daily.  It will use more of your time in prep than it will save on the line -- but time on the line is gold.  And the bump in quality -- so worthwhile. 

Most of this saucing questions can be answered on general saucing principles, while a few things you're going to have to figure out dish by dish. 

Cost and efficiency management are critical -- you certainly don't want to waste time or money anymore than you want to light your pilots with hundred dollar bills.  But quality trumps. 

BDL
 
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One of the things I love about you is that you tell it like it is.  I appreciate that.  One thing though, don't worry about my feelings -- I'd rather you hurt them than lose my shirt because no one had the "concern" to tell me how it is.  I'm still WAY up in the air.  I got a tour of the kitchen of a restaurant that I'd like to open -- they're a good 30 miles away, and one of my favorite places to eat.  There are aspects I can improve upon and some things that are quite great as they are.

BUT, one of the things they do is par-cook the pasta, portion, toss in baggies, toss on sheet pans and hold in the walk-in.  It works for them.  Without guidance to the contrary, I would certainly consider doing the same. I would prefer to use fresh pasta when possible, but pasta extruders aren't cheap.  One of the huge benefits is that fresh pasta cooks so fast.  As far as dried pastas go, can you suggest some good brands to use?
If you're planning to parcook ordinary noodles like spaghetti, linguine, and so forth, you're like that kid who started the thread about opening a hamburger stand and was asking about holding cabinets -- in other words you should probably be in another business.  Of course, I know you're not -- I know you're just trying to figure out what the bright line rules are and asking all the right questions.  But par-cooking ordinary noodles is one corner that really shouldn't be cut. 
 
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GG,

i don't know your operation or your clientele, but it doesn't sound to me as though your clientele is the fresh pasta eating type.... would they care or notice? what is your price point? would they be willing to pay for fresh? ... sometimes i find that there is a bit of snobbery that goes along with fresh pasta.....would it be any different with an organic dry pasta? there are some really great ones out there... there are small batch craft companies that make incredible fresh raviolis that i buy through my fish purveyor, of all people. from lobster, to black ink squid, butternut squash/chive,portobello mushroom, s.d. tomato and feta, chile relleno, spinach/3 cheese...the list goes on...also, nice tortellinis and tortellonis(bigger).. if you deal with sysco they have a line of gourmet frozen raviolis, you might want to check out. some great shapes and colors as well... as far as factory made pastas, which i think the good ones from italy are just fine, get ones that are made from 100% semolina flour...DeCecco & Del Verde are two...i don't think fresh is necessarily better compared to a good italian dry....how big is your operation? how many seats? other menu items? other cooks or just you?.... fwiw, PRECOOK my pastas(al dente, of course), against bdl's sage advice, but i am the only cook and i cook them off fresh everyday, according to use....its what works for me...hope this helps....quality does trump, but i do think there is a way to balance quality, efficiency and cost, that doesn't necessarily involve all the headaches...save the fresh pastas for your ravioli, tortellini and  your specials..

joey
 
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     If you are going to hold your sauces in a BM, a bit of sulfer papper cut to shape and placed on the serface of the sauce is a good way to go.  If you use a lid, condensation forms and drips into the sauce.  If you leave it uncovered some sauces will form a skin. So use sulfer papper.
 
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OK, allow me to preface my question with a little information. I'm the director of the Hospitality Ministry (which at our church means the kitchen) at a fairly large church in Arkansas. We have a couple thousand members. I have no formal training in the culinary arts, but I’ve been directing the kitchen for about 5 years. We often prepare meals for groups of 20 – 350 sometimes more, using mostly institutional food items from a local vendor, i.e., foods of the frozen heat up variety. But, we do actually cook some of the meals we serve using 4 Duke convection ovens and a 6 burner professional range and a 4 burner professional range with a 36" griddle. We have three proofer/warmers and a 4 hole steam table, so whatever we cook must be cooked in batches and held pending the preparation of the rest of the batches. I would love to serve an upcoming meal for a “dinner theater” production our Drama Ministry is planning for 350 people consisting of fettuccini alfredo with salad, garlic bread and dessert. How this would work is that the guests arrive all at once, about 30 to 45 minutes before performance time and are seated at 40 round tables, 8 to a table, then the meal is handed out and they all eat in the this short period before the performance starts (we've used this scenario many times). I realize that this is an ambitious idea. But, what advice can you offer (besides the obvious advice not to try it), we're so tired of sreving up the same generic meals? BTW, what I'm talking about here is a "real" alfredo made with heavy cream, butter, and fresh grated parmesan and romano cheeses.
 
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Tom, 

First, you should repost this as a fresh question. It will  not get as good a reply following someone else's post. 

Second, I'm not sure I understand what your question is. I'll jump to the conclusion it is related to how to go about serving alfredo to that many people?

So I'll answer that. 

Make everything else ahead of time. Cook the pasta ahead. Have all the ingredients for the sauce ready to go. Then about half an hour before service, begin making sauce. By the time the sauce is ready, the rest should be moving right along. The rest is like any other large meal and it sounds like you've done plenty of those. 

Hope this helps. If this did not answer your question, post a reply. I'll check back. 
 
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