Food standards are difficult to define and are not measurable by mechanical means. However, it is possible to evaluate food products in terms of nutritive value, flavor, and appearance. In a dining facility, the acceptance of a food item by the persons consuming it is used as a "standard" more often than any other means of measurement. Even then several factors tend to influence individual opinion about the quality of food: age, cultural and socio-economic background, past experiences relating to foods, education and scientific knowledge, and emotions. Each person considers himself an expert, based on his own likes and dislikes. Also, maintenance of quality in quantity food preparation is difficult. There are several mechanical controls such as accuracy in weights and measures of ingredients, standard recipes, and standardized equipment and tools that are necessary to obtain quality products. Food service personnel must incorporate these control features at strategic points in the processing and serving of food to preserve the quality of the finished product.
OBJECTIVES OF FOOD PREPARATION
The objectives of good food preparation are to conserve the nutritive value of the food; to improve the digestibility; to develop and enhance flavor and attractiveness of original color, shape or form, and texture; and to free the food from injurious organisms and substances.
CONSERVATION OF NUTRITIVE VALUE
The nutritive value of any food depends upon its composition. If the preparation does not involve cooking or soaking, the original nutritive value may be regarded as largely conserved. When the preparation involves cooking, certain changes may occur, the most important of which are the destruction of some of the vitamin content and some loss of minerals. Specific changes in nutritive value are discussed with each food group included in this text.
IMPROVEMENT OF DIGESTIBILITY
When some foods are cooked, chemical changes take place that are identical with those of digestion. For example, starch is transformed into dextrin and sugars, and fats are partially split. In some cases, when food items are cooked at high temperature or with long-continued low heat, the consistency of the food item changes but digestibility of the product is not improved. The result may be a cooked item that is not easily digested.
ENHANCEMENT OF FLAVOR AND ATTRACTIVENESS
The effect of cookery on the palatability of food may be to enhance and to conserve the normal flavor, to develop a particular flavor, or to blend flavors. The volatile substances that produce flavor in a food may be driven off or may be changed to other compounds far less enjoyable. The effects of cookery on color, form, and texture are also important factors in the palatability of food.
FLAVOR. To conserve and enhance the original flavor of foods, the cooks must insure that the correct temperature for producing the desired results is used. The standard recipe gives the cooking instructions for each type of food.
COLOR. The conservation of color, such as the green of beans and the red of beets, or the development of color, such as in the roasting of meats and the baking of cookies and cakes, is one goal of cookery.
FORM. Foods may be prepared so that the original form or shape is maintained or so that some other form is produced. Baked apples, boiled potatoes, and broiled steaks are obvious examples of foods that show little marked change in form when properly prepared. French fried potatoes, sliced beets, diced carrots, and all pastries, batters, doughs, casseroles, and similar dishes are cooked foods in which the original foods or ingredients are changed. The slices or other forms should be uniform in size, thickness, and contour to present an appetizing finished product. Also, the slices or other shapes should be apparent as such, rather than as a mass.
TEXTURE. Texture may be maintained in its natural state, softened as in some fruits and vegetables, or hardened as in pastries, batters, and doughs. Marked changes in texture are usually accompanied by changes in form. The food preparation should maintain or develop the texture that is regarded as desirable and characteristic of a given standard product. Salad ingredients that are too finely shredded or creamed dishes that are of pastry consistency present forms that do not enhance the attractiveness of the finished food items.
MAKING FOOD SAFE FOR HUMAN CONSUMPTION
Foods must be handled properly from purchase until consumption. The safety of food for human consumption often depends on destroying by cooking those microorganisms and parasites that cause infectious diseases and food poisoning and cause off-flavors, discoloration, and similar spoilages that may be unpleasant and distasteful but are not necessarily cause for human illness. Management practices for the safe preparation of each type of food are discussed later in this text.
PALATABILITY OF FOOD
One of the desired results of food preparation is palatability. Factors that contribute to palatability are shown in figure 1. Every food has a characteristic appearance, odor, taste, and feel which is associated with normality, and any deviation from this normality is not acceptable. Even changes in the color of foods may be an indication of change in their nutritive value. Palatability depends largely upon the freshness of foods. Methods of pre-preparation and cookery which enhance the palatability of the food, suitable seasonings which supplement the natural flavors, and proper serving temperatures influence greatly the acceptability of all food items.
Appearance, a very important part of food, is a visual element to which human eyes, minds, emotions, and palates are very sensitive. A soldier is quick to make comparisons between what he sees and what he eats. The perishability of food and the length of time between preparation and serving make it necessary for the food service sergeant to incorporate control of quality in food preparation.
COLOR. Control of color in food products has received much attention in recent years. The food service sergeant must realize that foods should be prepared in a manner that preserves color and that foods must be served in a manner that capitalizes on the art and psychology of food color. A sprig of parsley breaks the monotony of an otherwise colorless serving tray; mint jellies or cranberry sauce introduce color to light-colored meat; and segments of lemon help brighten fish placed in the serving line.
CONSISTENCY. Consistency pertains to degree of firmness or density or to retention of form of the food being prepared. Soups, sauces, gravies, gelatins, and puddings are some of the foods that have a consistency or a cohesion of the ingredients for which standards of quality have been established.
Soups are classified as thin, thick, special, and cold; each has its own consistency. The standard recipes contain quantity requirements that should be followed to obtain the acceptable consistency.
Sauces are used with meats, desserts, fish, and vegetables of all kinds. All types of sauces have the same purpose--to enhance the flavor and appearance of the foods they accompany. Sauces should present a pleasing contrast in consistency, flavor, and color with the food.
Gelatins are used in salads, cold soups, aspics, and desserts and are used to decorate meats. The proper consistency of each type of gelatin is obtained by close adherence to the recipe.
Custards and puddings are made from ingredients that cause the consistency of the finished product to depend heavily on the cooking principles. Care must be taken in the preparation and cooking of these food items to avoid lumpy, tough, rubbery, curdled, and quivery results.
Other foods such as whipped potatoes must be prepared and served in quantities that insure a generally acceptable consistency. Lightly whipped potatoes that have settled into a soggy mss are not appealing, and creamed beef that has the consistency of dough is not tempting.
ARRANGEMENT. Food heaped in the serving trays is not attractive; two light-colored foods placed side by side in the steamtable lack eye appeal. The food service sergeant and the cooks must visualize the items listed on the menu as they will appear when served and make an effort to arrange the food attractively on the serving line.
SIZE OF PORTIONS. Large portions of food tend to dull the appetite; small portions are not satisfying. However, the sizes of the portions to be served by dining facilities are established by the master menu, and the recipe and should present no problem.
SHAPE OR FORM. Variety in shape helps create an appealing meal. Too many creamed or mashed items on the serving line are not attractive. An interesting serving line should contain one flat item, one in a mound, and one in strips.
Flavor is more elusive to judge than appearance. It is influenced by such factors as temperature and the sensitivity of taste of the person eating the food. Flavors often change in cooking; some are lost in the steam; and others are decomposed. Some of the changes such as the browning of meat are highly acceptable, and others such as the strong flavor that develops in cabbage that is cooked long are considered unpalatable. Industry has developed many tests and analyses for quality control in the manufacture of food products. The first cook must stress the importance of following recipes and must exercise his own judgment in setting up controls for maintaining and enhancing the flavor of foods served.
TEMPERATURE. To be palatable, foods and beverages should be served at their desired temperatures. Fruit cups, fruit and vegetable juices, and fruit and vegetable salads should be thoroughly chilled when served. Soups, meats, and fish should be served hot, unless the recipe indicates otherwise.
SEASONING. Salts, spices, herbs, and other condiments are known as seasoning. Spices are pungent in aroma and are often pungent in flavor. Herbs are more delicate than spices in both aroma and flavor. Seasoning should be used to enhance, not to disguise, the natural flavor of food. A knowledgeable use of seasonings is not only a means to better flavored foods, but is also a way of creating more exciting food items. For example, vegetables may have onions, herbs, nuts, or lemon added for variety. Seasoning may be used to intensify, to add to, or to enhance the flavor of foods. It is recognized that seasonings contribute few if any nutrients to the diet but do promote the palatability of other nutrient-bearing foods.
Texture refers to the manner of structure of foods and is best detected by the feel of foods in the mouth. Crisp, soft, grainy, smooth, hard, and chewy are some adjectives used to describe foods. A variety of textures of foods make a menu more pleasing. Experience should aid the food service sergeant in determining whether the texture of a food item is palatable.
The sense of smell is 25,000 times more sensitive than the sense of taste. Aromatic compounds must contact the olfactory nerves in the nasal passage before an aroma can be detected. The common aromatic classifications include the earthy, fruity, flowery, fishy, spicy, putrid, and oily odors. The food itself should have an aroma characteristic of the product. For example, the characteristic aroma of ripe bananas and melons are indicative of the flavor.
DEGREE OF DONENESS.
Changes in appearance, rigidity, thickness of sauces, tenderness, flavor, the length of the heating period, and the attainment of a definite temperature are the methods commonly used in determining doneness. Cakes are tested by the "toothpick" or "spring" test. Many items are done when they are cooked a definite time as specified in the recipe. The attainment of a definite internal temperature as indicated by a meat thermometer is particularly recommended for meats and poultry (fig. 2). Table 1 may be used as guide to doneness of roasted meats. Specific tests for determining the doneness of foods will be given for the various types of food covered by this text.
Progressive cookery is one of the most important aspects in controlling the quality of vegetables and other food items. Progressive cookery is defined as "the cooking of food in minimum quantities and at proper intervals to meet the requirements of the serving period to insure uniform quality throughout the entire meal." Small quantities of a food item (10 pounds or less) are cooked in one vessel at different intervals as needed. In small kettles or stock pots, heat penetrates to the center of the food mass much more quickly than in a large pot, so the cooking of small batches is a timesaver. This method reduces the need for holding periods after cooking which cause rapid loss of color and flavor. Also, this method insures uniformity of cooking and reduces the chance of damaging the bottom layers of food. Fewer leftovers result, and better waste control is achieved, because the last planned batch of a slow moving item need not be cooked. Progressive cookery requires good organization of the kitchen staff and close supervision of the persons preparing and serving the items. From written records of vegetable and other food item usage at frequent and stated intervals throughout the serving period, the food service sergeant has a factual basis for determining the schedule for the progressive cookery of food items. The following suggestions for progressive cookery of vegetables should make the system workable:
- Fix definite responsibility for progressive cookery of food items.
- Designate the amounts to be cooked at each time to avoid the last-minute rush in determining the amount.
- Keep an even flow of fresh batches by predetermined plan according to rate consumption of different foods.
- Cook most vegetables until crisp-tender for best color, texture, flavor, and nutritional value.
- To present the most attractive service, do not mix batches at the steam table.
- Note the specific intervals for cooking foods on the cooks' worksheet.
- Make a general rule that when a steam table insert pan is half empty, another cooked batch will be finishing up to replace it.