Building a readymade dinner to go

The $8-per-pound hot bar in the Harvest Fresh Market retail location at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst is a popular grab-and-go destination for students. But dining services wanted to give staff and faculty the opportunity to take UMass cooking home, says Chef de Cuisine Anthony Jung. “We started with holiday meals to go, and about a year ago built on that success to begin offering a rotating selection of daily dinners,” he says.

The healthy, sustainable meals—reconfigured from hot-bar favorites—feature a protein, starch and vegetable, with about 80% of the ingredients sourced locally. The heat-and-eat dinners are packaged in recyclable, microwave-safe containers and sell for $10, positioned right next to the hot bar. “During the semester, we do about 200 units, but our goal is to grow that to 800 a day,” says Jung. Not only are the readymade meal kits providing a convenient service, but they also capture takeout business from local supermarkets and restaurants “and strengthen the UMass brand,” he adds.

Here's how those readymade meals are prepared: 

  1. Although many of the prepared meals are plant-centric, Jung says, a best-seller is Korean galbi—beef short ribs with Korean fried rice and local Chinese broccoli. The kitchen marinates the meat in teriyaki sauce and grills it instead of braising “for a tinge of smoke,” Jung says. “We also added more ginger to the marinade to boost the aromatics. It’s very important that food smells great when reheated.”
  2. The short ribs are paired with aromatic jasmine rice. Here again, a shot of heat in the form of Sriracha or Korean red pepper flakes enhances the aroma and amps up the flavor during reheating.
  3. Par-cooking the vegetables is another trick Jung employs to assure the best end result. “We cook the Chinese broccoli 70% of the way through, and it cooks to 80% during the cooling-down period prior to packaging,” he says. Once the customer heats up the meal, the vegetables cook to 90% and attain “perfect texture, color and flavor.” Detailed reheating directions are provided on each package. 



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