Tuesday, October 24, 2006
Keeping It Kosher
Banquet class was a bit more interesting today. We had a guest lecturer in the form of a local rabbi (who's called a mashgiach), who supervises area venues and makes sure they are properly keeping kosher. According to our guest rabbi, "kosher" means fit or proper as it relates to Jewish dietary laws. It basically requires constant rabbinical certification and supervision, which is where he comes in to play.
I'm not even going to go into the religious parameters as far as the philosphy/reasoning behind the laws, because that's not really relative as to what we were talking about today. We were mainly discussing what you, as a caterer, have to keep in mind if you are going to plan a kosher function for your guest.
First off, if you plan to do kosher catering, you should probably just do kosher catering, because you really need a separate kitchen or kitchens. Which leads us to the question of "kosher style," which is a misnomer, according to the rabbi, because he said there's really no such thing. It's either strictly kosher or it's not. The"style" part comes in when you make sure you don't do things like serve pork, shellfish or meat, and dairy products together.
Anyway, back to the kitchen thing...and please forgive me if I have something incorrect, because I don't mean to offend anyone, and if I need correcting on something, please do so.
Basically, when dealing with kosher, there are 3 main divisions: Meat, Dairy (sometimes called "Milky") and Pareve (which is Hebrew for neutral).
According to the rabbi, most people and caterers who keep kosher have separate utensils, pots & pans, china, refrigerators, and sometimes stoves and ovens to be used with meat and with dairy. This can get expensive, so most caterers who do kosher usually are meat-based and do no dairy unless they have a separate kitchen.
This also means you have to be careful in your cooking methods as well. If you cook onions in butter, because butter is considered dairy, the onions become dairified or milky, so they cannot be served with meat. You'd need to cook them in oil or margarine to be able to serve them with steak.
There are some foods that are pareve, which means neutral, and that means they can be served with either dairy or meat items. Eggs are pareve, as are most vegetables, grains, and fruit.
I knew about the no pork rule and no shellfish rule, and the rabbi also explained the fish rule. To be considered kosher, fish has to have fins and scales. Catfish are out, because they have skin; shellfish (shrimp, lobster), and invertebrates like squid and octopus are forbidden as well. He also said that it doesn't have anything to do with these creatures being bottom dwellers or scavengers, because fish like sole and flounder, which are bottom dwellers, are fine. Consider that myth busted!
And, it's not just the food that needs to be kosher...wine has to be kosher, too! Gone are the days of the syrupy wines; with new advances in pasteurization technology, kosher wines are now coming into their own, with some of them better than their non-kosher counterparts. Plus, most liquors are inherently kosher--bourbons, rye, tequila without the worm, scotch, and grain vodka (unflavored) are exempt from kosher certification.
So, what if you want to do a kosher meal but you don't have a kosher kitchen? It's possible you could have your equipment put through a "kosherization" process to cleanse and purify it in preparation for cooking meat. However, be warned that some of your equipment might not survive the process, because it involves a lot of intense heat.
At the end of the lecture, we went into the dry storage room, where all our spices, oils, baking supplies, and other dry goods are kept. The rabbi pointed out how many things we have and use that have kosher certification (as evidenced by a variety of symbols). He also told us about certain items that have what looks to be a kosher symbol, but really aren't kosher because they don't go through the proper supervision...kinda like the "get your diploma on the Internet" scams...you can get a kosher certification that's not exactly (oh, I can't resist!) "kosher."
He gave us some websites for reliable kosher information, in case you'd like to investigate it a little further: oukosher.org, one of the most comprehensive sites, and kashrut.com, which provides a listing of questionable kosher designations.
That concludes a very abbreviated lesson in kosher catering. Hope it was a little bit informative and enlightening. Up next is Hot Sandwiches from Pantry class tomorrow...in which we will make Reubens with corned beef, which I have been wanting ever since the rabbi showed up. Gotta love that 6 degrees stuff!