hy is it so difficult to cook the perfect steak on board an aircraft?I am not saying that you can’t cook a steak while in flight, I am thinking of the perfect steak, the kind found in a Michelin star- rated restaurant.
There are basically four aspects needed for the perfect steak. First and foremost is meat quality. You see this on the front line when you compare prices of one catering source to another. When you make a decision to purchase from the less expensive source, you have to look behind the price and ask yourself why is one company so much less or more than another?
At Tastefully Yours, for all products, we go through a procedure I learned while working as the in-house caterer for a wholesale food packer. The kitchen was located just off the quality control department. I learned so much about the science of food from these scientists and production specialists. I loved being included in their research and then given the products to create meals for their staff . . . so much fun! Anyway, every single product they sold was subject to a ‘cutting’. What occurred was that every product, every grade, every producer and packer sent in a sample of their product and they were lined up on the countertop and then compared to each other at the same time. There were standards for the best in class; viscosity, marbling, percentage of each mixed items within one package, amount of liquid or even the level of bruising of fruits when canned products or frozen were tested. The testing was then evaluated on the taste.
When we sample a specific cut of meat, our butchers bring in all grades they provide, our various suppliers bring in their products and they are evaluated in similar ways to the ‘cutting’ I learned years ago. Believe me when I say it is an eye opener.
You might think a beef filet is a beef filet, but how wrong you are. Did you know there is a filet on the market sold regularly to caterers and hotels for banquets that is about one quarter the cost of other filets? It is called a
| “Perfect Filet” and it is produced - yes produced - by using meat glue to attach pieces of filet tails together to make a perfect diameter steak when cut. It is popular when you want each filet to be identical in size and shape . . . and cheap. It’s still filet, but the best filets come from the center of the tenderloin, not the scraps. The tips and tails are not used for those high end beef filets. When you want a good product, and want it inexpensive, this is a fair solution, generally tender, flavor fair, but I look at it as a lie, deceptive to the consumer.
Then you have a middle grade, a higher grade and then the best - and each level has a different price. If you want Kobe or Waygu (Trivia tidbit for you; Waygu is a type of cattle originally raised in Kobe Japan, now raised in the United States and Australia), then expect to pay for that. Aged-prime, prime, or select grades are all good, but not the best. Consider also whether you want one price for crew and another for passenger. If you have a network provider selecting for you to receive a contracted price, where did they want that price point to be?
Now back to quality check. The raw steak should have fine streaks of marbling (fat)
throughout the steak and not just around the edges. The beef filet is the most commonly ordered steak for aircraft, but also the most challenging to prepare to perfection. It is perceived as elegant and luxurious. If you want the best, request dry-aged steaks as a starting point. These start with the best grade so you are beginning ahead in quality. Ask for grass fed beef since it generally has a better overall flavor, but really should require a skilled chef to cook. Lower fat content = greater challenge!
A second criterion is seasoning. Keep the seasoning and sauces simple for a fantastic cut and grade of beef. Allow the steak’s richness to be the flavor which impacts your taste buds on board. Salt and pepper should be sufficient. A little more salt than you might think should do it and a light touch of pepper so as not to overwhelm the flavor of the meat. The cheaper the grade and quality, the more seasoning will be required.
Third is what I think is almost impossible to achieve on board . . . the sear. I have mentioned in the past that to cook a steak, you need fast and hot; and this applies here. You need to sear the beef in a very hot pan. Even if grilling the steak, start with a sear and then when it’s done, mark with a grill. The pan should be a heavy weight, heavy will hold the heat longer to achieve the necessary ‘seal’ on the meat surface. (Sorry for the added weight and fuel economy of the aircraft!). The result of a high heat sear will be a beautiful golden brown crust. Since the aircraft humidity draws out the moisture when cooking, and because of the lower boiling point of water, a slight smear of oil on the steak before searing might help to achieve that gorgeous crusted steak. And the other reason this step is difficult on an aircraft is that it will produce some smoke. If there is no smoke, then the temperature is not hot enough to properly sear the meat.
Finally, internal temperature. The perfect cooking technique is to place this steak in the HOT heavy pan for about 30 seconds without moving, and then with tongs (do not use a fork since it will pierce the flesh of the meat and allow the juices to escape) flip the steak over for 30 seconds more, and then pop into a preheated oven for 3 minutes in the air, and it is done to perfection- medium rare.
After reading this, you are now wondering how to order this from the catering source to avoid the smoke, the heavy skillet and the other cooking issues so that you can serve the perfect steak on board.
When speaking with your catering source, inquire about the quality of the steaks. To be honest, when I tasted side-by-side six different grades of beef at six different price points, all cooked and seasoned the same, I suggested to the chef that I liked the fifth highest to the most expensive. One grade had a slight liver taste which I found offensive, one was tougher, and the one I choose almost melted like a creamy butter in my mouth. It was one step away from sensuous and made me want to savor another bite and another bite.
Of all the steaks we tasted that day, I did not choose the most expensive, but I did choose one that was almost $20.00 a pound more than what we were currently purchasing. I selected it because of the additional deep depth of flavor, the additional moisture and marbling which I knew would translate to a better steak for the aircraft. The most expensive steak allowed for fewer mistakes in the onboard handling. It had the moisture and fat to be seared on the ground and reheated in the air without drying or becoming overcooked as fast. It was a steak that could be cooked on the ground and held to be served cold in the air.
If I were selecting for another end use, I would have selected a different steak, but I needed to provide the best for our overall aviation needs. You, as the end consumer, can make educated choices of a catering source by understanding the relationship of price to quality. Compare apples to apples, not apples to oranges.
Visit your catering sources and ask for your own personal ‘cutting’ based on your passengers preferences and see the differences in the exact same product provided by different suppliers.
About Paula Kraft . . .
Paula Kraft is the
founding partner of the DaVinci Inflight Training Institute located in
Fort Lauderdale, Florida and the founder/president of Tastefully Yours
Catering, an aviation specific caterer, located in Atlanta, Georgia for
over 35 years.
Paula is active with
many aviation and catering-related groups including the International
Caterers Association, the International Inflight Food Service
Association and is a board member of Women in Corporate Aviation. She is
the past chair of the NBAA Flight Attendant Committee Caterer’s Working
Group for 15 years perfecting unique catering training sessions for NBAA
conferences and events. Currently, she serves on the NBAA Flight
Attendant Advisory Committee and is a member of the Training and Safety
Subcommittee. Paula was a founding member of the Steering committee for
the creation of a European Flight Attendant Committee and conference and
serves as a subject matter expert to the board of International Standard
for Business Aircraft Handlers (IS-BAH).
Tastefully Yours Catering, she has been offering culinary
and food safety related training to the general aviation
community. With a strong dedication to improving catering
safety, risk mitigation and safe food handling, she
developed and introduced the concept of “catering safety
management systems”. As a certified food safety instructor,
Paula offers catering SMS and culinary classes for all
first-hand experience, business acumen, research, and
relationships make her an industry expert - one which allows
her to share information that will help raise the
professional training level for flight attendants today that
will reduce the risk of food-related concerns tomorrow.
From Paula . . .
I have coordinated
training programs and clinics for NBAA and EBAA conference attendees for
over 10 years, created mentoring programs for caterers and flight
attendants to broaden their aviation culinary skills, and to assist them
in adapting to the unique challenges and constraints found in catering
for general aviation. I recognize the need for training and have worked
closely with flight departments, flight crews, schedulers and customer
service reps at the FBOs to ensure that catering specific training
provides information and skills necessary to reduce risk while assisting
them in their job duties that include safe food handling, catering
security, accurate transmission of food orders, and safe food
production, packaging and delivery.
I fell into aviation
catering quite by accident. I was the in-house caterer and bakery
supplier for Macy’s department stores in Atlanta when catering was
ordered for a Macy’s customer which was soon to change my life. After
the client enjoyed the catering provided, I was summoned to the client’s
corporate office to provide several of the items delivered through
Macy’s to the executive dining room. Within a week, I was providing food
for the flight department and my first order was for the President of a
foreign country (as I was too be told soon after).
So, here I am, some 35
years later, still loving every minute of every day in aviation