OK, day one of Advance Culinary Techniques.
First, let me get the gripes out of the way.
This class is small, only five students, and that is good, but they have stuck us in crummy little kitchen on the ground floor. It is much inferior to the excellent teaching kitchen we had last time. There are no stations per se; we don't have our own burners and ovens; there are not nearly enough shelves or counter space. It gets very crowded very fast.
Worse, unlike the prior kitchen, this one is not stocked with tons of excellent All Clad pots and pans, dozens of bowls, various tools of every description, and sundry food staples like flour, oil, spices and the like. Everything we need we have to grab from the other adjacent kitchens. These are the working kitchens of the school, the ones that produce all the food for family meals and for the restaurant (L'Ecole). Thus everyone in them is a career student, and they really are not interested in helping us and, worse, they seem to resent it when we take "their" stuff. Hence it helps to have Chef with you when you go a-pilferin', or just ask him for stuff and he will get it. But that takes him out of the room a lot, which is not good.
Worst of all, if you ask me, is that our countertops were made for hobbits. They are a good 18" lower than the stations in the teaching kitchens. This is seriously annoying.
The instructor is Chef Tim. He is a nice guy. This is not Chef X. I don't want to say yet that Tim is "too nice" but I sort of missed the edge today. I didn't get the impression that we are going to get pushed very hard. Maybe I am wrong about that. We shall see.
Tim has been a chef for a long time. He did not tell us of any notable restaurant stints; rather, I gather his career has been a combination of teaching, recipe testing for cookbooks and magazines (which he says is a lot of fun) and serving and personal chef for various celebrities. One notable stint was for Star Jones before the stomach staple.
OK, the point of this class is to enable us to stretch beyond recipes and apply all the techniques we have already learned. That is the ostensible purpose at any rate. Except there is a recipe binder, and we mostly followed it. Now, Chef emphasized that we should feel free to make changes, improvise, create on the fly, etc. But we didn't do much of that today. We pretty much stuck to the script.
However, that's not to say that the class was not good or a step beyond the last one. It does take for granted that you know and have honed a lot of techniques. You could not walk into this one with no training and do well. You might be able to make the dishes in the end, but it would take you forever, and the Chef would have to hold your hand in a way that Tim definitely did not.
The format of the class is, every week we do a four course meal. Three savories, one dessert. The savories are a progression from a very light first course, to a lightish fish course, to a meat or poultry course, and a dessert. Now, we are only going to learn six total meals, but twelve sessions. What they do is, half the class makes two of the courses one week the other half the other two. Then the following week we switch. Only every other week does the menu completely change. However, after doing the courses more or less by the book on day one, supposedly we will make changes on day two. Chef told us to think about what we might like to do differently next time, and said he would have some suggestions himself. So that is an interesting way to learn to improvise: do it by rote the first time, then make it again but change it up.
In addition, if the first day is any guide, there is a lot of opportunity for mixing and matching from the courses we are learning. So adding 24 courses to your repertoire (plus, potentially, 24 more variations on those courses) should give us a lot of opportunities to make good dinners without being too repetitive.
Today's menu was:
1)\tWarm Potato and Goat Cheese Salad with Thyme and NiÃ§oise Olives
2)\tPoached Skate Wing in Lemongrass Broth
3)\tBreaded Lamb Chops with Asparagus Tips
4)\tBanana CrÃ¨me BruleÃ©, Chocolate Madeline.
As noted, the class was divided into teams. My team (there were only two of us) made courses one and three. The other team (of three) made the others. I am only going to describe what we did; next week I will cover the other courses when we do them. I can, however, say that they were quite delicious, and that as a non-fish person I was surprised by how much I liked the skate.
One thing that I liked about Chef: the first thing he had us do was read the recipes we were going to do, and then write out a worksheet: what order were we going to do the work, estimated timing, etc. Then we would show those to him for approval or a critique and correction. That seems like a smart way to get us thinking about how to prep and manage time.
OK, I will go through the dishes in some detail because (no joke) I found that the prior blog posts have been useful as refreshers when cooking these dishes again. So it's good to get a record down while the memory is fresh.
For the potato salad, the first thing was to get the potatoes cooking. We used Yukon Golds, peeled them then boiled them whole in assertively salted water. There were two other elements to prepare: a vinaigrette for the greens (mÃ¢che), and the binding elements for the Petatou (potato salad).
We also had to get our sauce on. We had school-made veal stock and some racks of lamb. I manchonnez the lamb and browned the trimmings with some emincer shallots in a pan. The veal stock went on over that, to a high simmer or low boil. I added some rosemary sprigs, plus all the herb stems from potato salad mixture (see below). The recipe said mirepoix but Chef said not to bother.
My partner mostly made the vinaigrette. I did the ciselÃ©e of shallot, she did the rest. Chiffonade of basil, 2:1:5 balsamic/sherry vinager/EVOO, S&P. Reserve.
For the salad mix, ciselÃ©e four shallots, chop small amount of thyme, big amount of tarragon and parsley. We had to pit 50g of NiÃ§oise olives. This was a pain in the ass. Set aside.
Eventually, the potatoes were cooked. Drain, cool, slice into Â¼" rounds. Put in a big bowl, add 2 tbs of the vinaigrette, plus the other shallots and herbs and half the olives. Toss well.
Meanwhile, I skimmed the sauce with a vigilance which would have made Chef X. proud. Chef Tim never mentioned skimming. I don't know if he was simply pleased to see that I was doing it, or if he didn't care. Chef X. certainly would have barked orders to skim no matter what he saw.
I got some cream, added some coarsely chopped basil, S&P, and reduced that by half. Then whip in an egg yolk.
OK. We got some tall ring molds and put them on sizzle platters. Then we took soup spoons and bent them at about 90 degree angles. We used those to fill the molds with the potato mixture, about Â¾ of the way up. Press down with the bottom of the spoon to fill out the molds and smooth out the tops. Crumble some soft goat cheese on top and press that down too. There should be a nice Â¼" or so layer of the cheese. Let the mixture set a bit, then gently remove the molds to reveal a nice cylinder.
Spoon some of the cream/yolk mixture on top. Put under a salamander until you get some singing/browning. The rear ones browned faster so the plates had to be rotated 180 at least once.
Here's an example of improve: at some point, Chef said "This is going to look really too green and white. We need some other color." He grabbed some tomatoes and had me concassÃ© them raw. When it came time to plate the mÃ¢che, we pulled the leaves out of these little hydroponic dirt cubes the roots were stuffed into, cut of the hard stems, washed them and spun them. Then toss in the remaining vinaigrette, plate in a little pile, and add the tomato.
Throw some of the remaining olives around the sides, and then take one and spear it with a thyme sprig and plant that in the middle of the potato salad.
For the lamb: once trimmed, we sliced into single rib chops. At this point, I mentioned to Chef how I had done it for a recent dinner party: remove every second rib, french and tie like a little cÃ´te de bouef. He thought that would not work with a breadcrumb coating, and I agreed. So we just did them single.
This dish had no starch, an omission I thought. Chef said that you could make the potato salad larger and make that your starch. I suppose, but it worked very well as a first course. He asked us to think about next week, so I may suggest Pommes Maxim.
Anyway, the garnish was asparagus. Simple drill: break off and discard the woody part. We did not peel because the part that was left was tender enough. Cook a l'Anglaise, shock, dry, reserve.
Meanwhile, to bread the lamb, set up three bowls: flour, beaten egg (heavy on the S&P) and panko bread crumbs. Flour first, tap off excess, egg, let excess drip off, bread crumbs. Every plate was to get two.
The sauce meanwhile was strained through a chinois, then reheated in a sauteuse. It had been (I think) properly seasoned before, but it reduced to the point where it was too salty. We revived it with butter and lemon.
The lamb was cooked in a sautoir with canola oil. About three minutes a side, plus some time on the edges. Drain on paper towel.
Alas, all did not go perfectly well. There was some, if not burning, at last scorching. Some of the chops were undercooked even though the bread crumbs were quite dark. Probably needed lower heat and longer cooking time. But the taste was very, very good.
The asparagus was reheated with a small amount of butter in a sauteuse and then garnished with some tomato concassÃ©.
Here's the plate: