A MICROWAVE might not be the first piece of equipment that springs to mind when planning a traditional Christmas dinner, but the kitchen stalwart has a role to play in helping outlets speed things up at this busy time of year.
Equipment suppliers claim that even basic commercial microwaves can help chefs to more efficiently prepare for the festive rush.
“The commercial microwave oven is a valuable, very flexible appliance and you won’t find many kitchens without one,” said a spokesman for the Catering Equipment Suppliers Association (CESA).
“These workhorses are used for a wide variety of everyday tasks – from quickly rethermalising a meal to defrosting food or heating a sauce.
“There’s an increasing move towards using them for prime cooking, too – commercial microwave ovens give excellent results, for example when preparing Christmas sauces or steaming foods such as fish and vegetables.
“Another reason for their popularity is their energy efficiency – plus, as they don’t generate much in the way of waste heat or steam, they have negligible impact on extraction systems.”
Contemporary ovens are said to have a wide range of uses over the festive season.
“Microwaves come in many formats and as such have a number of applications that can benefit the pub chef this Christmas season,” said Iain Phillips, sales and marketing manager at Panasonic.
These workhorses are used for a wide variety of everyday tasks.
“When used for predominantly reheating wet food such as soups, gravies and sauces, whether brandy or bread, a standard oven will suffice, although there are many other tried and tested uses too; drying herbs for your stuffing, roasting spices for your pudding, toasting nuts for the ubiquitous nut roast, the list is really endless.”
In fact, some foods are actually better suited to preparation in the microwave than by conventional cooking methods, according to RH Hall managing director, Ray Hall.
“There is a great diversity of dishes that can be prepared quickly and easily from fresh ingredients,” said Hall.
“Not only that, but more nutrients are retained in microwave-cooked food than by any other cooking method.
“In fact, correctly cooked vegetables contain 85% of their original vitamin content; when boiled they often contain none.
“A great benefit especially for growing children where they would only need to eat a little to get more of the vitamins they need.”
There is a great diversity of dishes that can be prepared quickly and easily.
Getting the most out of a commercial microwave will depend on keeping the unit in good shape, however, and there are several regular maintenance checks licensees and their chefs can undertake to ensure their machine remains in good working order.
“Certain breakdowns have been known to occur on a regular basis that can have been easily prevented,” said Phillips.
“Burnt ceiling plates, cracked base plates and penetration by grease into working parts will not be covered by a manufacturer’s guarantee and the cost for repair will lie with the operator but a simple cleaning routine at the end of every service will help ensure your microwave will function throughout service on Christmas Day.
“On a daily basis you should remove the air filters and wash them and if your machine has an easily removed ceiling take that out and wash it too.”
The importance of regular microwave cleaning was also stressed by Hall, at RH Hall.
He advised licensees to make sure they keep the oven’s cavity and inner door clean of food spillages, in particular.
In addition to these steps, the CESA spokesman suggested using a cavity protection liner, “which will help to keep the inner cavity free of debris and can be easily removed for cleaning”.
The positioning of the oven is also important, according to the spokesman.
“Ensure your microwave oven is positioned with sufficient airflow; 5cm around either side and at the back wall of the oven, and a minimum of 20cm above the oven and around the exhaust vents at the rear,” he said.
Even the best-maintained units can break down on occasion, of course, and it can pay for operators to invest in a warranty or service agreement so kitchens aren’t left without a valuable piece of kit at the busiest time of year.
Without a warranty in place, operators expose themselves to potentially high costs.
“Without a proper warranty or service agreement in place, operators leave themselves exposed to potentially high costs over the festive period,” said Hall.
“If a machine breaks down, the charge for an engineer call out could be much higher than normal.
“Also consider that there may not be full cover during this time and any delays could result in costly loss of business.”
It’s also important to ensure that any agreement is comprehensive – covering all potential issues a premises might have with its microwave.
Phillips said: “A comprehensive cover warranty for a professional/commercial microwave oven should be three years.
“It should include on-site repair, including labour, and cover all electronic and mechanical parts.”