This section is from the book "The Steward's Handbook And Guide To Party Catering", by Jessup Whitehead. Also available from Amazon: Larousse Gastronomique.
Take care of the meat, all the rest will take care of itself. It seems most shocking to people in general to waste bread because such has been the teaching of their childhood, but where abundance of other things besides bread is in hand, as in our hotels, the expense of meat makes that of most other items seem insignificant by comparison.
In order to realize how like the wasting away of meat is to that of a block of ice in the sun It has to be considered that only prime cuts of the carcass are selected in the first place. These, under the latest improved system, are subjected to a preserving process, being dipped in a solution of which the composition is at present a secret, and, whether so treated or not, are dried, chilled and sometimes even frozen in a cold-blast refrigerator, then wrapped in several coverings of paper, packed in hogsheads and shipped by rail or steamer to all parts of the country, usually reaching the destination, which may be a thousand miles away, still in a semi-frozen condition. Still, this meat, when it reaches the hotel meat-cutter's block, is only raw material. There is the bone to be taken out, that is from one-fourth to one-third of its weight gone; there is the outside to be pared off; there is the inevitable loss of weight in cooking; there is the risk of loss through the negligence of cooks; then the cooking of too great a quantity and having it left over with the chances doubled that what is so left over will not be useful any more, and will be entirely lost.
That is all under the most favorable circumstances.
But the times that try a steward's efficiency are the unfavorable times when the meat arrives in bad condition, when the weather suddenly turns warm while the hotel meat house is full of meat, or the number of people to be fed suddenly diminishes before the stock on hand can be worked off; and other unfavorable times are those in a resort hotel where the weather is most trying and the supplies are irregular, there being at one time two or three carcasses, and barrels of poultry to be taken care of at once, and then nothing fresh for several days. The thorough steward is, however, equal to the task of meeting all these difficulties and makes of them no difficulties at all, when the untrained and inexperienced man stands helpless, blames the weather and has the whole hotel, the kitchen, carving room and dining room for days in succession full of the sickening odor of tainted meat.
Here is an instance of the employment of steward's common sense which may prove serviceable. A hotel man finding, himself out of employment at the end of a summer season, bought the dining car privilege on a train carrying a very large excursion party out to an interesting part of the country on the newly built railroad. It was the last week in September, oysters in season, but still dear. The man loaded up with oysters, raw, soldered tight in cans, which came by express packed in ice. There was every prospect that the oysters would prove the favorite dish with the excursionists and he would soon sell out his stock, and such might have been the case had the weather remained cool, but it changed to summer heat again and oysters were not in demand, and, next, the train ran into a lot of game, which interested the passengers and kept them feasting until their return home. The hotel man's cases of oysters remained on hand, still in ice, but highly perishable stock. A man less accustomed to the care of provisions might have sold a few of them to the restaurants at a greatly reduced price and have lost the rest, but our steward packed the cans in an ice chest in a layer of broken ice and salt, more ice and salt on top, more cans on that and more of the freezing mixture on top of them, and the oysters were half frozen in the cans and could have been kept for weeks, but as the spell of warm weather had prevented the dealers from ordering any for a few days, the steward's frozen stock was all there was in town and he retailed them out at a good profit.
Another example: A new steward went to a city hotel in the trying time of midsummer and found that tainted meat served at table was the rule rather than the exception, and the waste of meat which became totally unfit for use with amazing rapidity was enormous. He took the meat out of the refrigerator, where they were keeping it, altogether. He had a long discarded ice chest cleaned out and a draining rack of cross pieces laid in the bottom. He placed his loins and wasts of beef and quarters of mutton on that. He bought sheets of light canvas and laid one clean washed on top of the meat, and on the canvas he spread plenty of ice. On the ice again he placed his smaller meats, lambs, poultry, tongues, sweatbreads, covering them with a sheet of canvas, and that again with ice and closed it down. Every second day he unloaded the ice chest, placed the newly killed meats at the bottom, to remain there and season and become tender, and the old stock on top to be used next, and refilled the box with ice and, occasion ally had the canvas sheets washed and bleached.
This going back to the old fashioned ice chest looked like retrogression, for the upright refrigerator, where meat may hang up and keep dry in a cold atmosphere, is the later improvement, but the requirements of different places are different and it all defends upon hew the refrigerator is used, whether it is the best preserver of meat or not. In this case there was no more loss from spoiled meat; there was scarcely another pound thrown away that summer. Meat kept in ice is wet and in danger of becoming soaked and divested of some of its juices and fine flavor, but when the other alternative is a hot weather taint and the greenness of incipient decomposition, the ice box method is infinitely preferable.
One more instance of very recent occurrence may prove Instructive: A large new hotel was finished up and furnished with great liberality, as regarded the expense, the desire on the part of the owners being to have everything right, the cost of it being only a secondary consideration. The refrigerator meat house was therefore built of large capacity. The upper part would hold a car load of ice at once, the lower or meat room was a good sized butcher's shop, large enough both for storage of a good lot of meat, and for barrels and boxe* besides, and still had room left for men to work in. Yet, when the trying time of blazing hot days and sultry nights came the refrigerator utterly failed of its purpose and the meats spoiled in it with frightful rapidity, the choicest and costliest imported roasts and loins having to be thrown away by the hundreds of pounds at a time. This was largely owing to the incapacity of the cook, but the immediate cause was the too frequent opening of the refrigerator both at top and bottom, the general arrangements being insufficient for the needs of the house, and the one large receptacle being made a place of half-hourly traffic.
Hot air was admitted every time the door was opened and the ice sometimes was diminished to a small quantity, hence the meat spoiled quicker than if it had never been chilled at all. The remedy applied in this case was the removal of everything but the fresh meats and, there being no other ice house, the providing of a pile of blocks of ice buried in sawdust outside, to be drawn from for every other purpose, and the refrigirator was then kept strictly closed spite of all excuses and reasons to the contrary, and then it proved effective for its purpose.
The steward who has meats to manage that are not select and not shipped in to him ready trimmed avoids loss by attending to the selection at once as soon as it arrives. He has the shanks, flanks, necks and breasts cut off and consigned while fresh and untainted to the 60up boiler, to the salt beef barrel, to stews and meat pies, holding back live poultry and things that will keep till these perishable goods are used up, and packs away the choice cuts in refrigerators or ice boxes in which there is plenty of room and of ice through the roughness having been first disposed of.
The other possible sources of loss of meat, which the steward has to watch, are the great stock boiler, the cook's roaring fire, the gaping swill barrel and the surreptitious back door basket. Of these the stock boiler is the most ravenous and consumes the house's substance with the most harmless and innocent expression of countenance and the most plausible excuses and the promise to give it all back, which it seldom does. The roaring fire may be satisfied to take tainted or dirty meat, the swill barrel will be content with cold cooked joints, but the hungry stock boiler will consume a hundred pounds of the freshest meat and relieve the cook of all trouble of working it up, and then return nothing but a consomme which nobody cares for, and which will be rejected even in the officers' dining room where it is that or none.