Comfortine: By The Pan

No, that’s not a typo.  Comfortine.  Comfort foods to battle quarantine. 

Everyone needs comfort, especially these days. Food provides comfort from the inside out like nothing else can.  Casseroles are high on the list of foods that make us feel good and that’s what we are talking about here.  The aroma of them baking, the warmth that fills our bodies and minds, wrapping us in a blanket of smells, tastes and memories of less tumultuous times. 

Casseroles sometimes get a bad rep.  They can be done poorly.  They can be horrible.  Oh, but they can be amazing.  Operators sometimes stay away from casseroles, buthey are a perfect opportunity to build in flavour, match core menu styles and fill your customer’s comfortine needs.  But to be successful, you need a plan and a pan. 

 

Menu options, like casseroles, that can be made in food pans have many benefits for foodservice kitchens. 

Large batches - making a little or a lot typically isn't a proportional increase in time/labour.
Simple ingredients - building your pans with simple (local and cost effective) ingredients is a smart choice to increase margins and to achieve sublime flavours.
Infinite combinations - tweak classics to make it yours or take your pans for a ride around the world.
Reduced labour - yes, some dishes are more labour intensive to prepare, but after they have been popped in the oven, they are hands off until serving.
Food inventory management - with times being uncertain, this is always a menu option to bake in flavour and revive inventory that needs attentions.
Portioning options - from one pan you can provide several portion sizes from small to large individual serving or up family sized servings.
Freeze/fridge - advanced prep means these treasures can be every ready from the fridge or freezer for takeout or to add as a retail offering.
Travel friendly - due to their builds, these menu options hold their heat and shape and texture, whether you are taking them to the table, the takeout counter or handing it to the delivery person.

         

        A Plan 

        Pick.  Yes, it will be difficult but pick one (or maybe two) Can we recommend that first and foremost, you don’t call them casseroles.  Call them by their given names. Lasagna, moussaka, pastitsio, mac and cheese, cassoulet, spanakopita, shepherd’s pie, biryani and pinon to name a few. Even harder to pick one now? Yah, we thought so. 

        Play.  Keep your choice classic if that fits with your brand.  They are called classics for a reason.  But taking your selection for a global spin or a plant-based spin can hit a few more trends along the way.   

        Let’s use lasagna as an example:

        Cuisine/Trend Sauce Protein Pasta Type Extra
        Italian tomato beef lasagne - traditional 4 cheese blend
        Italian - Veg basil cream ricotta lasagne - fresh steamed spinach
        Italian - Plant roasted veg  vegan sausage spinach lasagne vegan parmesan
        Italian - Gluten Free portobello tomato Italian sausage gluten free lasagne gluten free bechamel
        Italian - Paleo spicy tomato pork zucchini slices cashew cheese
        Canadian - Local butternut squash turkey lasagne - no bake sage
        TexMex - Top Flavour salsa style black bean flour tortillas avocado crema
        Moroccan - Global  vegetable tagine lamb or lentils lasagne - traditional Ras el hanout

         

        Prep with PurposeWhichever you decide, ensure you make detailed notes.  Quantities using measuring cups, spoons, ladlesspoodles and scoops to account for every morsel or even better, scales to keep track of every gram.  A little more here or there “because it looks better” can cost you precious dollars and cents over time. 

        TIP: If you prefer to weigh ingredients, take a tare weight of your pan before you start, mark it down or write it on the pan or in your recipe notes.   

         

        Pan (or two or three)  

        Stainless steel food pans (also called insert pans, steam table pans and hotel pans) can move from freezer to oven and all the places in between and are ideal for baked dishes like casseroles because of their various sizes, shapes and volumes.  

        Almost like another set of hands, smaller inserts can hold prepped ingredients (or store until you are ready to assemble). 

        Perfect for baking, stainless steel construction provides even heating, can withstand the weight of full pan and handles repeated use. 

        Remember the lids or covers. This reusable option assists in heating things up or keeping them hot or allowing them to be stacked while minimizing contamination during storage (before or after baking) 

        What size?  That depends.  Remember to allow for expansion and bubbling during the baking phase to maximize yield and not make a disaster in your oven.  Go back to your detailed notes. If you want your dish to stand tall on the plate, use a deeper pan and increase the layering. Take up more plate real estate, use a shallower pan.  Keep in mind all the places you will be serving - a tall stack might not be the best choice for takeout or might not even fit in your packaging.

        Check out our Stainless Steel Food Pan Buying Guide for sizes and volumes of various pans. 

        An After the Pan Plan  

        Okay.  You have picked, played, prepped and panned.  You can smell the comfort coming from the kitchen. Customers are anxiously waiting.  You pull your creation out of the oven and... we know, don’t worry.  Although delicious and satisfying, certain casseroles are sometimes less than attractive.  Give them a lift!  

        Portioning.  Size does matter.  And shape.  Go back to your recipe notes.  What portion size is feasible to meet your margin goal.  Will you be offering a small and large portion? Lunch vs Dinner or kid’s vs adults.  Is there an opportunity to offer a family sized portion?  It’s all in how you cut it.  And cut it you should.  Use the right knife.  Scoring before baking might make it easier.  And please, let it sit before trying to cut if you want clean slices. 

        To ensure your slices lift out of the pan neat and tidy the right spatula is key.  It should be as close to the size and shape as possible.  And strong enough to hold your portion until you reach the plate, or takeout container or vacuum sealer bag. 

         

        PhotoworthyElevate your creation with the winning touch of Fresh + Visual Appeal + Taste.  And it doesn’t need to be fancy to be effective.  Green, whether herbs, vegetables or leaves offer all three.  Sprinkles of fresh or dried herbs, minced vegetables, chopped nuts or seeds.  Shake on grated cheese or a house-made spice blend.  Squeeze on (or aroundpurees or dressings.  Pour or ladle on a complementary sauce. Pair and place fresh sides.  

        Whatever your final flourish, remember to add to your recipe notes, every little bit – a flake, a dollop or even a quick shake – costs you money (and time). 

        Comfort and comfortine are just a forkful away when casseroles are on your menu.  Give the people what they need. One pan at a time.