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Sauteed salmon filets for 40 - cook onsite or keep warm for 3 hrs?

I have been cooking for a winery for 2 years, mainly focused on "vineyard lunches" where the guests are seated at tables in the middle of the vineyard, under some old oak trees. It's quite lovely and a great idea from the small winery's marketing team. The challenge is that the meals are becoming more complex and (most importantly) the location is 1hr from any kitchen facilities. As you can imagine, I rely heavily on Cambro hotboxes and ice chests to keep everything in good shape until serving.

The next event involves sauteed salmon fillets. Pretty basic, I like to cook them skin side down on a hot pan for 8-9 min then flip for a minute or 2 until done. I have two choices for this next lunch event: I can cook everything in my kitchen at the last minute, loading it into a hotbox and having it sit for about 3 hours before serving (saucing with a blackberry sauce) OR I can take a chance and use the winery's new butane burner devices (3 single devices) to do the cooking onsite about 30 min before serving, keeping warm in the hotbox.

I haven't worked with these butane burners before, does anyone have any feedback on using them? Do they last long enough at high heat without running out of fuel? Do they get hot enough? Have you guys ever cooked "in the rough"?

I have time to decide on a strategy, all opinions welcome.


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  1. The same butane burners that hold a can of fuel in a little compartment on the side, usually used for camping? If so, then they are a pretty good heat source. With salmon, I doubt it would be very good after holding for three hours. The crispiness that you get would be gone and the skin would be soggy from the steam. Since they are single burner units, you have the room to put a pretty big pan on them, get it nice and hot, and continually cook. It seems like you might be able to get 15 going at a time over the three burners and a nice preheated pan.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Jemon

      Yes, the single burner butane burners with the can of fuel on the side, each comes with a plastic carrying case, etc. I think the burners are 10k btus which are about 1/2 of what I have in the kitchen where I usually do my prep work.

      True, 15 at a time sounds like a plan, can get 40 out in 30 min...

      1. re: grapedog

        Can the burners support the pans you are planning to use? Also, I'd recommend doing a dry run. If you normally use a 20K BTU burner, a 10K BTU burner probably won't cook your fillets so quickly.

        You might also want to check the heat distribution of the pans on the propane burners. The flame pattern may be different, so you might have some hotspots that would affect the cooking.

    2. If you decide to use the butane burners, try to have some time before (at least a week before) so you can decide if it's going to work or not, no need to add to the stress of preparing an event and find out the equipment does not "work" as expected.

      good luck with that.


      1 Reply
      1. re: Maximilien

        Very good point. I asked the winery owners if they could loan me 1 or 2 of the burners for a test run.

        I always get nervous being out in the middle of a field with 40-50 hungry people expecting high quality. :-) Last year I poached salmon medallions (2" wide strips of salmon, less skin/bones, rolled into a pinwheel and secured with a pick) in olive oil and served them room temp which was fine, but this year we seem to have moved into the "a la minute" model....

      2. grapedog,

        There's no way to achieve the quality you're looking for cooking the fish ahead and holding for 3 hours.

        Have you consideder modifying the menu and grilling skinless salmon on site?

        Evil Ronnie

        1 Reply
        1. re: Evil Ronnie

          ER, good idea. Seems that anything cooked onsite will be better than kept warm for 3 hrs.

        2. Oh, and about the length of time the fuel lasts, I think one can will last a couple hours on high heat, but if you use them, of course, make sure to get a couple of extra cans.

          1 Reply
          1. Some good hints, thanks to all for the comments. Note that after this salmon meal in July, I am being asked to do seared duck breasts for August. Similar type of cooking style, with some caramelized fruit (apples/grapes/pears) as a sauce. I better get used to these butane burners! :-)

            2 Replies
            1. re: grapedog

              Uh oh. :) You might consider doing an initial rendering beforehand, saving the fat, then finishing the sear right before service in the reserved fat...

              1. re: grapedog

                Sous vide the duck breasts in advance, then sear them on site.

              2. If the vineyard lunches are a permanent ongoing and profitable (from both a marketing and economic view) thing for your winery and are held in the same location perhaps you can convince the winery to set up an area on site more conducive to producing the kinds of food they're looking for. In addition to the butane burners, an adobe wood fired oven, a brick lined grilling pit, a smoker (all of which would make a great place to use those vine prunings), an insulated "shelf" affair to hold and access coolers, and a pergola type covered area (with grape vines trained on it) to define the outdoor kitchen/staging area and provide you with some shade would go a long way without a huge investment to allow you to implement wonderful rustic (and not so rustic) meals. A local winery here does the same thing and this was the basic set up they started with. They have since added a beautiful cooking island which contains burners, grills, a salamander, and a refrigeration unit all run on propane. Not so helpful in the short term but certainly worth lobbying for in the future.

                2 Replies
                1. re: morwen

                  That sounds like the next step to me! If these lunches are a regular thing and they're successful, it's time for the vineyard to make a small investment to make them work better! After all, the better the things go off, the more demand (and profit) there'll be for them in the future...

                  1. re: morwen

                    Good idea, morwen. This winery is in the medium-size category and are not really spending money right now. I took the job since I want to keep working, so I have to play within their boundaries. The outdoor kitchen/staging area sounds really great, maybe one day.... :-)

                  2. Sounds to me like what you really need is a nice big propane infra red barbecue grill. The salmon steaks and the duck breasts would be a snap! And for four or five hundred bucks, you can get one with a gas hotplate on the side from Sears or Lowes. It would beat the hell out of the one burner gas "stoves" with the hair-spray sized cans of butane. I have one of those and I love it for sukiyaki or crepe suzettes for four to ten people, but damned if I'd tackle cooking for forty, no matter how many of them I had! The problem is that they have a fairly small trivet and hold a cooking vessel about two and a half inches or more above the surface they sit on. Using one "stove" at a time allows someone to pay attention to safety factors, but I wouldn't want to try to keep a row of them working safely. That's a headache and I don't think they make aspirin that big! GOOD LUCK....!!!!

                    Oh, and don't even think about trying to keep salmon warm for four hours after cooking and still having them edible. blech....!

                    1. What you need is something like this:


                      Not a huge investment for the vineyard, and multi-use.

                      4 Replies
                      1. re: Robin Joy

                        Robin, great idea! I wonder if I can get one of these in the US. I found some other outdoor propane-fueled burners but the comments were that they were really hot (like 54k btus) and just too hot for most cooking outside of crab boils and such.

                        1. re: grapedog

                          You may be thinking of theLP gas wok burners. They look very similar but the paella burners don't usually produce that kind of heat. The problem with either (at least for me) is still adjacent work spzce.

                          1. re: Caroline1

                            I don't actually have a paella rig yet (it's very much on my "really really want one,let me have one and I'll be good forever" radar), but I assume that there's some method of turning the flame down? Maybe they just run on one setting? Something to check.

                            Caroline, here's a workspace solution:


                            A (very good) UK site I know, but I expect that US equivalents exist.

                            1. re: Robin Joy

                              I was thinking more like this for cooking:
                              While it is a super hot portable infrared gas grill, it can also be used for cooking with pots and pans as long as you have plenty of mitts handy! With this kind of grill, you could cook with a wok using a ring and depending on how large a paella pan you want to use, you can reduce the heat and make a paella. It could sit right on your portable table. But personally, for outdoor use I don't like those tables. I always end up with one leg over a gopher hole!

                      2. The lunch outside at the winery sounds so nice. The butane burners work fine, but if you use them just make sure you have plenty of backup fuel. Do the the salmon filets have to be sauteed? If not, I agree with the above comments. Perhaps you can just roll out a grill? That way you are able to get more done at once and you wont have to hold them in the hotbox. The grill also gives off that relaxed summery smell and feel that everyone loves.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: CooksBook

                          CB- I wrote the menu to have sauteed salmon fillets since I have made them at the bistro before so I just take my recipes out into the vineyard for this client. Rolling out a grill sounds easy, but the vineyard is a 1 hour drive from my house and quite a few miles from any city. I'll have to think about this one...

                        2. grapedog, you've got all the right ideas.

                          I, for one, have used the burners (in fact we use them for Shabu-Shabu in our restaurant, I buy those butane cartridges from the Chinese store by the case -- multiple cases).

                          If you want to do any kind of nice technique, the key is to use cast-iron ware on top of the burners. They have a heat "memory" that's second to none. I use these things for cooking demonstrations and utilize the cast iron because we've gotta be on a TV set rather than in my kitchen, where the woks and stoves exceed 50,000 btus!

                          Now, the draw-back for you is that you've got a *lot* of food to turn out. Perhaps you want to have twice the number of burners and let half of 'em recover while you're cooking the next batch... just an idea.

                          The more firey you can get your cooking surface the better it'll be for results (when salmon's concerned) and frankly if you invest in cast-iron grilles or pans you'll be able to ace the duck breasts you mentioned down-thread.

                          Good luck!

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: shaogo

                            Good thoughts, Shaogo! Cast iron would be much better than my aluminum saute pans or a paella pan I was going to use. I figure I can saute 6 pieces of salmon per pan (3-4oz each) and get 12 going at a time which means about 3 batches. I can keep them warm in the cambro for just 30 min or so until they are all cooked and the pasta water is ready.

                          2. Just a follow up on this topic, the event was held yesterday and came off ok. I used 4 butane buners/12" nonstick skillets and cooked the salmon (very fresh) onsite. My helper cooked the pasta (par boiled that morning) and tossed with the pesto. Definintely better than cooking in the morning and having it sit all day! We had close to 50 guests so this worked out well. I was cooking 6 4oz filets per pan, two batches and then into the cambro hotbox to keep warm whilst we plated the pasta and garnishes. Thanks for all the ideas!