The traditional saturday night takeaway is something that we take for granted, whether it be pizza, Indian or Chinese. These are tried and tested staples of the takeaway market. But recently we have seen many more restaurants forced into joining this rapidly expanding field.
Unless you have been living in outer space over the past 12 months you will know that your favourite eatery has had to close at some point. Restaurants, bistros, cafés, bars and pubs have been hit hard by government measures in an attempt to control the pandemic. All have been forced to close to customers at some point with the only exception being that they are allowed to continue with a takeaway service. The result is that we now have Michelin starred chefs putting their glorious creations in a carton.
But not all food is suitable for takeaway and when most chefs are used to putting their carefully crafted dishes onto hot plates for service in the restaurant the change is quite daunting. Normally that food has been cooked to order, plated, served and the customer has started eating within a matter of minutes. So how do you serve your best food in a carton for someone to carry home? I have spent a good part of this year trying to figure the answer to that question and here is what I have to share.
Being an Englishman I grew up with fish and chips as a standard, normally with soggy chips, overcooked fish and not so crispy batter. It is well known that chips do not travel well and I have tried cooking them various ways, including Heston Blumenthal’s famous triple cooked chips, but the result is pretty much always soggy once you have got them home!
It appears that grilled meats and roast meats are the champions. As long as they are not overcooked on the grill, because they will keep cooking for a while once removed, then the meat will stay moist and flavoursome. Other great dishes are anything made as a casserole type, for example beef bourguignon or lamb tagine. It is also the reason why curry and Indian food is so good for takeaway. The sauce that the meat has been cooked in helps keep it moist and it is obviously very easy for re-heating.
One of my successful dishes was a stir fry of prawns and scallops marinated in ginger and lime and served with chow mein noodles. A very simple dish cooked at the last minute so it’s served piping hot and keeps well while the customer gets home. Anything served with noodles, rice or couscous seems to work well but also try some sliced potatoes cooked in the oven with some onion and herbs. I served roasted, sliced potatoes with pan fried seabass fillets which I then covered with a butter sauce – but I think the sauce should go separately.
Nobody wants their dinner to have dried up and have congealed sauce but at the same time they do not want it to be dry. So what about sauce? The sauce will be soaked up if you are serving your main dish with rice, pasta or noodles as an accompaniment. The rule is keep the sauce separate. If possible put it in a heat proof container with a lid so that the customer can serve it themselves.
Finally, what about the containers. We are all familiar with the foil container and cardboard lid which is pretty efficient at keeping your food warm. The disadvantage is that they cannot go in the microwave but at least the container is recyclable. Food containers made from expanded polystyrene are great insulators and cheap to purchase but, unfortunately, are not recyclable. Then there is the new wave of compostable containers that are made from natural products such as wheat fibre pulp and recycled plant fibres. They claim that because they are made from natural products, food will not sweat or go soggy. We may have found the answer to those awful chips.