Discussion in 'Social Life, Food & Drink, Travel' started by Manton, Jan 4, 2009.
Does slap-chop come in handy?
Interesting. For gratin dauphinois, I've always combined the cream and potatos in a pot, reduced the cream slightly, and then transferred it to a casserole-like dish before putting the cheese on top. I'll have to get your recipe and try it that way.
You know, refreshing this page ever hour or so at work isn't as much fun as reading the next post... Looking forward to it!
I am, I know, a week late with this. I am really running out of time to write these. It's all I can do to go to class, and then keep up with everything else I have to do. Writing these takes up a surprising amount of time, which I really don't have enough of any more. I will try to keep doing them, but shorter.
Anyway, last week was chicken. We only did two dishes - roast chicken, and fricassee, hunter style, but they were complete meals with garnish and sauce. We had to really hustle to get it all done. There are few pics because I really had no time to stop. When you see how few, and that there are only two plates at the end result, you will think we dogged it all day. But I can assure you that such is not the case.
I am not going to spend a lot of time describing these techniques, because A) I would like to get this done fast, and B) I find them hard to put into words that are easy to follow later in a practical attempt to replicate them. Frankly, when it comes to cutting and trussing, even pictures don't help a great deal. You have to see it done in 3-D and then do it yourself to really learn how.
This lesson was about chicken. No shortage of things to learn. But, as noted, we only did two: a classic whole roasted chicken, and a chicken quartered and then sautÃed on the bone and finished in the oven.
The first lesson was trussing, followed by quartering. These are things I learned in knife skills, but Chef X did them both a little differently. One trick: always remove the wishbone of a chicken before you cook it, however you plan to cook it. It gets in the way of carving later, and trying to work the knife around it will result in leaving meat on the carcass. To remove the wish bone, first expose it by scraping with the non-blade edge of your boning knife, then use your fingers to work the meat off the bone and just pull the bone out.
Another fancy froggy thing we did was remove the joints from the legs and wings. This had a French name, which I forgot. The point is strictly for appearances, I gather, though Chef said it made eating the bird easier, for reasons I will try to explain.
A chicken wing has three sections; only one is supposed to remain. You cut off the first two, then cut round the end of the third, through the skin and the tendons. Then scrape like mad until the cartilage at the tip starts to loosen. Then cut that off. The tendons will shrink up inside the skin, and the meat will plump into a ball as the chicken cooks. Supposedly it will be juicier, and easier to cut into bites. But mostly, it's all for show. Do the same thing to the end of the legs, for the same reason.
Season the cavity BEFORE you truss. This is important because once the bird is tied up, you will not have access anymore. Also, there are often big flaps of fat attached to the skin on either side of the cavity. Pull them off and discard (or save if you have some use for chicken fat). Remove whatever guts are inside and save for your sauce.
Time to truss. This is something that I learned from a book, after making chickens for years without trussing. Then I started trussing, then I got sick of it and concluded it made no difference, and I stopped again. All the good books by the star chefs say that you MUST truss. If you don't, the bird will not cook evenly. Well, that is not true in my case. But the reason, I eventually concluded, is that my typical roast chicken is stuffed (old family recipe). Stuffed chickens take longer to cook, especially at the thigh, because there is no hot air in the cavity cooking the meat from the inside. So, after much experimentation, my conclusion was: no stuffing, truss. Stuffing, truss or not, I don't think it matters.
It mattered for us in class, however, because we browned this chicken in a pan first. Doing that with the limbs flailing everywhere would have been hard. Trussing made it a lot easier to brown the bird evenly. But I am getting ahead of myself.
We salted and peppered the cavity (rather generously) and then added a whole head of garlic, skin on, chopped in half.
Without trying to explain what we did, for the reasons given above, I will say that Chef's trussing method is the best I have thus far encountered. Really effective. The best trick of all was the last. I always found it hard to tie the bird tight. You can pull the string tight, but as soon as you try to make the knot, it slackens. I always ask for help, someone to hold the string tight while I make the knot. Well - I don't need to do that anymore! The trick is, take both ends of the string, one in each hand, and lift the bird off the cutting board. Gravity will keep the string tight as you tie the knot. Try it. Foolproof.
Then we browned the bird on the stovetop, in a pan with oil. I have never done this with a chicken, ever. The way I was taught is, you turn the oven up really high at first (450 or so) to brown the bird for (at most) a quarter of total cooking time, or until brown, then turn it down to 350 to finish. Chef was adamant that this is WRONG. "It's not roasting unless the meat cooks in the fat, high heat." Keller, in the Bouchon book, also says to roast chicken in a skillet in a 450 oven, but he does not brown the bird first.
I have to add, also, that the size of the bird is important. Those gigantic mini-turkeys are no good for this method. By the time the interior is cooked, the outside will be burned. 3 pounds is about right, and certainly no larger than four.
Anyway, you brown the bird in oil, in a sautoir, over m-high heat. Brown it on three sides: each leg side, then the breast. No need to brown the back since that will be in contact with the skillet as the bird roasts.
Once it is browned (this takes at most 2-3 minutes per side), transfer to another pan, add some butter to that pan, and put in the oven. The butter is for basting. The bird will cook in the oven for 45 minutes to an hour (about the same as Keller's timing) and should be basted at least twice; 3 or four times is better, Chef said. Basting was not a fancy operation, you just take the pan out, tilt it, let the butter collect, and then spoon it over the bird.
OK, while your chicken is cooking in the oven, there is a lot of work to do. First, we had to make a jus. Chef insisted that roast chicken without a jus is not roast chicken. It is sacrilegious. If you have brown chicken stock, use that. If not, use brown veal stock. White stock will be too weak and will not have the correct color.
Take the pan in which you browned the chicken. Take the wing parts and the joints that you hacked off the bird, plus the neck parts in the cavity (chopped into smaller pieces) and brown them in that pan. When they are brown, add the organs (these will brown fast). Then add some mirepoix. When that is browned, tip out as much fat as you can, add some white wine and deglaze the bottom of the pan, scrape up that suc (fond). Then add your stock ( we used a half liter per team as I recall, but then added more because Chef thought it did not look like enough). Also add a bouquet garni. Let that simmer until your bird is cooked.
The rest of the garnish was pommes rissole (potatoes tournÃ cut, blanched, sautÃed, then roasted; described in an earlier post); bacon lardon blanched (to reduce the salty flavor) then sautÃed until crisp; quartered (and peeled) mushrooms sautÃed in bacon fat; and finally pearl onions glacÃ a brun (also described in a prior post). Here it all is, awaiting plating:
Ever hear that old saw, "You know the chicken is done when the juices run clear"? Not so useful, I have found, because the only way to see the juices is to cut the bird open. Well, that is true with a stuffed bird. But not with an unstuffed bird. All you have to do is take your meat fork (a fork with long prongs that looks like a tuning fork), stick that into the opening of the cavity, and lift the bird. Juice will run out the back. If it's clear, the bird is done. Works like a charm.
Here is the birdy:
The bird must rest. This is good because at this point you have to strain your sauce. It should be slightly thick, nappÃ. If not, add a slurry to thicken it a bit. Chef also suggested a montÃ au berre.
Carving is another thing you have to really see to understand; once you learn the "correct" way you will be amazed at how efficient it is. Chef insisted that we remove the bone from the thighs, which is not something I ever do at home, but it is more "elegant." He also said that we had to cut the breast pieces in two. The chicken is properly served with one piece with a bone (either a leg or the side of the breast with the wing bone) and one without (thigh or breast tip). One quarter chicken per diner. Personally, I can eat a lot more than that, and thankfully, I got to this time.
All the carcasses were saved for making brown chicken stock later. Since this is something I typically do at home, I felt gratified.
Plate the chicken in the center, add the sauce around it in a ring, then add the garnish and some chopped herbs. Here is my plate:
Here is Chef's:
His is prettier and less crowded, but mine is not bad.
I have to say, no credit to me, this was absolutely delicious. Juicy. Flavorful. Fantastic. Terrific technique. I will definitely try it at home.
The second recipe was Hunter's chicken. We had made this sauce on one of the sauce days previous. This time, we were not told how to make it. We were just expected to know. I got Chef X on one point, however. I recalled that last time, we used some tomato sauce (also made on that day) in the mix. This time we were expected just to use finely diced tomato. At first he denied that we had used tomato sauce, but then he looked it up in the book and conceded that I was right. A rare moment of triumph.
Breaking down a chicken is a lot like carving it, only more difficult, as there are more cuts and the meat is harder to work with. One very important thing is not to leave the "oyster," a small morsel of meat (considered to be the best part of a chicken) in it's little nest under the thigh. You need to work the knife around it and take if off with the thigh. You also have to completely remove the backs. Those should then be hacked into little pieces and used in your sauce.
The other difference with the sauce this time was that last time we used fond de veau liÃ, that is, bound (or thickened) veal stock. We did not have that this time. Instead, we made reinforced stock. That is, we browned the chicken bones and some mirepoix, and then simmered it in the stock. Then that gets strained and it acts as your stock.
The chicken parts are seasoned (S&P only) and sautÃed in a pan. I messed up and used a 10" rather than a 12" pan; as a result, my pieces were too crowded and the steamed a little at the edges and didn't burn evenly. I could tell that they were crowded, I just had this notion that we only had two sizes of sauteuse in the kitchen, small (8") and large (12"); since the one I was using was obviously not small, I assumed it was "large." As it happens, the kitchen has all three sizes. I should have known, because I have the 8", the 10", the 12" and the 14" at home.
Anyway, after that they go in the oven. Supposedly, they will cook fast - 10 or 15 min, but mine took more like 20.
The sauce has been described in an earlier post. The differences are: reinforced stock (with chicken bones) rather than bound stock, and tomato concassÃe rather than tomato sauce. It tasted basically the same. It's an extremely rich sauce.
We also made mashed potatoes (technically, pommes purÃe) using the trimmings from our pommes rissole. Boil in salted water, strain, then pass through a food mill. Fork mashing is for lazy people. Then heat some milk or cream, and whip it into the potatoes. Add butter. Season to taste.
Plating of this one was more complicated. We were supposed to make a pile of potato off to one side, not in the middle, not really at the edge either. Place a thigh on top of the pile, then slice the breast and arrange the pieces like a fan around the potato pile. Chef's looked beautiful.
Mine, not so much.
Taste was excellent, however. Though I liked the roasted chicken better.
The big problem with making either of these recipes at home is getting veal stock. I sometimes make my own, but it's hard to get enough veal bones, so I typically make beef or beef/veal stock. (It's cheaper, too.) However, I will try this with brown chicken stock.
Your Chausser is very ugly, but I think your roast looks better than his. If you took away a couple of onions and mushrooms, it would be no contest. I am sure both tasted fantastic. Roast chicken is always so disappointing when you don't make it yourself. Both are great dinner party dishes.
I think your roast looks better than his.
I thought so too.
I think that just this would make pretty good bar food, if you made it in a large enough quantity.
if you have some use for chicken fat
Last Sunday was meat day, part one. Once again, we did more than just the thing under consideration (i.e., there were side dishes and sauces, more or less complete meals), so just getting these two plates done took all our time.
We grilled steaks, and we made blanquette de veau (veal stew). The purpose was to teach the two principle methods of cooking meat: concentration, and extraction. Concentration uses dry heat to sear the meat and seal the juices inside. Now, I know it is a fraught question about whether searing actually seals in juices or not, and current wisdom believes that, in fact, it does not. But I don't want to get into that. Tradition holds that searing locks in juices, and we are learning the tradition. Whether it is scientifically true or not is beside the point at this stage.
Extraction is cooking slowly in liquid to draw out its natural juices to flavor the cooking liquid, which in turn cooks the meat and tenderizes it.
Chef had a huge, full strip loin (that is, a row of uncut New York steaks) which he butchered into individual steaks and trimmed of excess fat. I wish I had gotten a picture of that, but I did not think of it. Our task was to make a classic steak frites: grill the meat, make a bÃarnaise, make some fries, and add a little watercress salad.
But first we had to get the veal going because it takes longer to cook. We had some veal shoulder that we trimmed of excess fat (at least the part that we could get at with a knife) and then cut into even-sized chunks. This was blanched in water to boil off the fat and get rid of as much of the scum and impurities as you can. Then the meant is strained, washed in cold water to stop the cooking, and then slowly simmered in stock. We used chicken stock because we only had brown veal stock; white veal stock would have been better, but the school does not always have that on hand.
We also added some mirepoix (not browned), and barely cut. Indeed, the carrots, leeks and celery were just cut lengthwise and then tied together. The onion was halved, and then a bay leaf was secured to each half by sticking a whole clove through it; this is called oignon cloutÃ, and is a classic technique. All that gets dropped in the pot. Also add a bouquet garni, in the sachet to make it easier to remove. It takes a long time to cook. The meat should be almost dissolved; not chewy at all.
While that is cooking, make a white roux and set aside. Peel and quarter a bunch of mushrooms and sautÃ on very low heat, with a parchment lid, until they release their liquid. Make pearl onions, glacÃ a blanc. Everything is supposed to be white, or just barely blond. Color is bad for this recipe. Several people had to do some things over because they put too much color on their onions and/or mushrooms.
Meanwhile, we had to get going on our steaks. First up was to get the elements of the bÃarnaise ready. Actually, this was not a bÃarnaise, rather it was a sauce choron, a bÃarnaise derivative. The extra element is tomato fondue. This is finely diced tomatoes, cooked slowly with shallots and garlic, then set under a cartouche until they are mushy and the liquid is gone. You can peel the tomatoes the surefire way - boil, shock, peel - or simply quarter them and then press them flat and carefully remove the skin with your knife. I tried the latter way. The first effort was not so great; I lost a lot of tomato flesh. But I got better at it.
Otherwise, the sauce is the same as described in a long ago post. Make the bÃarnaise and when it is thick, add the tomato fondue. The sauce looks pink.
For the steak, we used the kitchen's indoor grill. We seasoned them first, then coated with a little oil to prevent sticking and give a little flavor boost. Now, in Knife Skills they told is (rather emphatically) that you should wait to season any meat until the last possible minute. Salt draws out water, which makes meat stick to grills and pans, and causes it to steam rather than brown. So we were told.
So season at the last minute. Either that or season well in advance, overnight, and let the salt really penetrate and flavor the meat. I knew this latter technique from a book. I can't remember where I first read it but I am certain that it is something Keller says to do as well. And I have done it many times. And it really works. Indeed, it mimics (in a small way) the dry aging process. The salt breaks down fiber and also tenderizes the meat. It draws out water, which is also something that dry aging does. I always leave the steak on a paper towel, and put another paper towel on top, when I do this. The towels absorbs the water drawn out by the salt.
People have asked me in the past, Doesn't that dry out the steak and make it less juicy? You might think so, but not in my experience. The water that is lost is basically useless, or worse than useless. It dilutes the flavor. Dry aging - which goes on for a month, not just overnight, or a couple of nights - removes quite a bit more liquid. Yet all steak lovers believe that a dry aged steak is superior to a non-aged steak. And I can tell you from experience that a steak treated with this method is still plenty juicy.
Anyway, we seasoned our steaks a good 20 minutes before they hit the grill. Chef did not seem to care at all. I should have asked him about it, but in the rush to get everything done, I did not. Next time.
I could see the water coming out and pooling on the steak however. Normally, I would daub it up with a paper towel, but there were two problems. First, that would rub off the oil. Second, it would rub off the salt and pepper. One virtue of the overnight method is that the seasoning breaks down and penetrates into the meat. It's not just resting there on the surface. So A) the flavor is more distributed through the meat, and B) the seasoning is not apt to being rubbed off.
OK. Chef was after two things from this method. First was the proper degree of doneness. We could cook ours to any temp we wanted, but there was a game show element to it. We had to bring him the steak when it was done, announce the temp we shot for, and then let him cut the steak open and judge how well we did. He was quite adamant that we were not to use our meat thermometer to check (then what do we have them for?) because piercing the meat results in lost juices. Learning to cook steaks is a matter of sight and touch. You get a good idea of how long it takes based on how thick the steak is, how hot the grill is, and how it looks on the surface. Then you press down on the meat with your finger. The softer it is, the less it is cooked.
I have to say, I am not so great at this. Not bad, but not infallible. I am infallible with lamb. I don't even need to touch it. I know from looking at lamb whether and to what extent it is cooked. I don't know why, but it has long been so. Maybe I should open a lamb restaurant. With beef, however, I am hit or miss. This time I got lucky.
OK, as I noted, we were using the kitchen's indoor grills. They were H-O-T! I mean, extremely hot. If you have ever read one of those restaurant memoirs like Bourdain et al in which they describe the grill station as the 9th circle of hell, I can only say they may have understated the case. I cannot imagine standing over one of these things for hours on end. Reaching your hand over it to flip a steak was agony. Fully 12 inches from the surface of the grill, I could feel my skin cooking. Had I cooked ten steaks instead of two, I bet my skin would have been tanned like a piece of shoe leather by the time I was done.
The second thing Chef wanted to see was the correct grill mark pattern. He took this very seriously. We were to create diamonds, not squares. The steaks were to hit the grill at a 30 degree angle (that is, imagine an axis line down the center of the steak lengthwise; that line should be 30 degrees offset from the grill bars. Check to see if the lines are nice and seared in by lifting the steak with tongs, but WIHTOUT moving it. You don't want to make new marks. If the grill marks are pale, let the steak back down and let it cook longer in exactly the same position. If they are done, then move the steak, same side still down, to another part of the grill, but at a 30 degree angle the other way. The reason you move to another part of the grill is that the part it has been cooking on gets cooler while the steak cooks. You want a freshly hot part every time. Repeat this twice for the other side of the steak
It took about a minute, if that, to make one set of grill marks. So my steak was on the grill for maybe four minutes. It was already looking a little charred. I could tell by the finger test that it was not cooked, not even to rare, much less medium rare. So I put it in a 350 oven for about three minutes then let it rest. It felt correct, but since I was not allowed to cut it or use the thermometer, I had no way of knowing.
While it rested, I finished the fries. Now, much of this work had already been done. Chef cut his fries on a mandoline, but Restaurant Guy cut ours by hand, and he did a fine job - they were every bit as neat as the machine cut fries. Then Chef had us blanche the fries in water, something we did not do when we made frites in the potato class two weeks prior. I asked why. "It will make the inside softer and the outside crispier. The water draws off a lot of the external starch." Unlike a lot of the blanching we do in this class, in which food is started in cold water and then removed when the water boils, we boiled the water first, then dumped the fries in for three minutes. After that we dried them thoroughly, then blanched them in 300 degree oil for three minutes. They sat in that state while the steaks were cooked, then at the end when the steak was resting, I did the last step: fry to golden in 375 degree oil. These fries were excellent, I must say.
We were to put our sauce in a little side cup; we had nothing elegant, so we had to use the little plastic mis en place cups.
I presented my plate. Chef asked what temp I was going for. I said "Medium rare." He solemnly cut my steak in half. "Perfect! That is perfect medium rare."
Restaurant Guy wanted medium well, but I misunderstood him and cooked his to the same doneness of mine. He got a little lecture for that. I felt bad and owned that it was my fault. Chef X, by the way, cooked his steak well done. He said he always eats his meat that way. I was, frankly, shocked to read of a professional chef who likes well done. I though well done was for little kids and people without taste buds.
I have to say, I was not delighted with this meal. The fries were great, the sauce was great, the watercress was fresh, but the steak did not impress. It tasted charred on the outside, and rather flavorless on the inside. For a long time I have been doing a pan cook method that I learned from egullet (which got it from Ducasse) which makes an incredibly flavorful steak. The heat never goes above medium low. Yet the steak browns nicely without any charring, black marks, or carbony, coaly taste. There is no gray, overcooked layer under the surface from high heat searing. The meat is also intensely flavored.
Now, it could be that I buy a better kind of steak. That is possible. I tend to get the best that I can, and I have a local butcher who gets aged prime. I doubt what we had a school was either aged or prime. It does make a difference. Not long ago I did a cook-off at home between one of the butcher's steaks with one of the "quality" steaks from my grocery store, and the butcher's steak was far better. It could also have been that when I make a steak I always season it at least a day in advance, which we did not do. And there was the cooking method. Probably all of the above.
Anyway, I didn't love it.
Back to the veal. We had earlier gotten a rice pilaf started. Chef went on a little rant about how bad Uncle Ben's is. I have been eating this rice since I knew what rice is. I always thought it was fine. In fact, I like it. Not Chef X. But when I asked him what he liked, I expected to hear the name of some French brand I had never heard of. Instead he said, "Any jasmine or Basmati rice." Now, I have had these, too. They are fine for what they are. But I don't like them better than Uncle Ben's. I also think that they have flavor profiles that are conducive to some dishes and not to others. Uncle Ben's is a nice, neutral rice that takes on the flavor of whatever seasonings you use and that therefore can be adapted to just about any dish. But apparently, the cognoscenti hate it. I still like it.
The way I was taught to make rice was simple. You melt some butter (or fake butter, or you could use oil, or butter and oil), brown the rice, add liquid (two times the amount of rice, though the more rice you use, the less liquid you need; e.g., one cup of rice = 2 cups liquid but two cups rice = 3.5 cups liquid), bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat to low, simmer for 20 minutes or so. When I was a kid, we used water and a bouillon cube (basically a salt bomb that is supposed to make water into "broth"). Then we moved on to canned (or boxed) broth. For a really nice dish, we would use homemade stock. We always called this "rice pilaf" or just "rice." We would often add other things, sometimes onion, sometimes scallion, sometimes mushrooms, shallots, bacon, white wine for part of the liquid, or some combination.
I first came across a "true" pilaf recipe in Cook's Illustrated. It called for washing the rice first in cold water, to get any excess starch off. This also made the color of the finished rice more white. They called also for lots of minced onion, sweated in butter. And then just water, and more butter. The taste was good, but strikingly different from my rice.
I asked Chef about washing the rice and he looked at me like I was crazy. That is just not done. OK. But we did use onion, ciceler, sweated in butter (no color), then we cooked the rice in the butter & onion, but WITHOUT letting it brown, then we added chicken stock (homemade, the only kind the school ever uses) and a bouquet garni. Bring the rice to a simmer (not a boil) and then put in a parchment lid, and add a metal lid, and cook in the oven, not on the stovetop. We did our pea soup the same way. The idea is that it cooks more evenly, and nothing burns or sticks to the bottom of the pan.
Back to the veal, for real. We could tell it was cooked when a piece just fell apart with the touch of a fork. I tasted it as well, and there was no hint of toughness or chewiness. Not a great deal of flavor, to be honest, but a some, from the stock and the mirepoix.
I strained the veal and set it aside. You save the liquid it cooked in; that becomes your sauce. Get that white roux you made earlier. Put it on the fire. Strain the liquid again through a fine Chinois into the pan with the roux. Whip into a blend. Don't use all the liquid; you may not need it. You want the sauce to be somewhat thick, not runny. Meanwhile heat some cream in another pot. Reduce it by half. Add that to the sauce. Add a little lemon juice. Season. Taste. Correct seasoning. The basic sauce - roux + stock - is a veloutÃ. Add the cream and it is a Sauce Surpreme.
Now add all the veal and the garnish into the same pot with the sauce and stir. At this point, your rice should be ready. Remove the sachet and take some butter and add it to the rice, taking a fork and fluffing the rice and breaking up the grains as you do so.
To plate, we used a mis en place cup to mold a little rice tower (more like a plateau). That went in the center of the plate. The meat and garnish went around it, with a liberal dousing of sauce and then chopped herbs (chervil and parsely).
Actually, that is the plate after Chef X. tasted from it. He said he liked it. I did too. It was better than the steak, I thought.
Since we finished early, we then had a "quiz." Make potato cocottes (i.e., more tournÃ). We were supposed to make four from one potato. I foolishly chose a too short potato, and as a result mine were the correct shape but too short (a cocotte is supposed to be 5 cm). So I got another one. These were OK. Still not great, but I am getting there.
Great job on the steak, my man. That is perfect quadrillage.
Great job on the steak, my man. That is perfect quadrillage.
Until you mentioned it, I had forgotten that word, and it was only three days ago!
For a long time I have been doing a pan cook method that I learned from egullet (which got it from Ducasse) which makes an incredibly flavorful steak. The heat never goes above medium low. Yet the steak browns nicely without any charring, black marks, or carbony, coaly taste. There is no gray, overcooked layer under the surface from high heat searing. The meat is also intensely flavored.
Manton, can you elaborate a little more on this pan cooked method for steak? I've tried it several times and have concluded the grill is the best option. I have never been able to make a decent pan cooked steak.
Manton, can you elaborate a little more on this pan cooked method for steak? I've tried it several times and have concluded the grill is the best option. I have never been able to make a decent pan cooked steak.
Thanks for the link. I will give this a try. Should the heat be medium or medium-low?
The class is already half over. Actually, it was half over last week, I just forgot to note the milestone. There are 22 sessions, and we have now done 12. I fretted a lot before signing up for this class about whether 22 weeks was too much, borderline crazy, and whether I would get sick of it quickly. Now as I realize that more than half of it is already behind me, I am almost sad.
Oh well, there are other classes, and I intend to take at least one more.
The class we just had was another entrÃe course. The last several have been like the "heart of the order" in that I most want to learn to cook dinners and such. These have therefore been very important to me.
Last time I explained the difference between concentration and extraction. This time we did "mixte" cooking, which uses both. You sear and/or brown something, and then cook it in liquid. Braising means that the liquid comes about halfway up the sides of the meat. Cover the meat with liquid, and you have stew.
We made a lamb stew (Navarin printaniÃ¨r) and a braised chicken (FricasÃe de vollaille printaniÃ¨r). Once again, we had to make all the garnishes (the term "side dishes" is not used at this school) which meant that even though we only did two dishes, we worked hard. Restaurant Guy did not show up, so what was supposed to be a team job I had to do alone. I finished everything, but later than ever, and was the last one to leave.
I also did something really stupid. Before class, when we were setting up, Chef asked me to get the chicken stock out of the fridge and put it in a rondeau over medium heat. I saw a big plastic bin with a label that said "chicken stock" and did exactly that. Then I stated setting up my station. Eventually Chef made his way back there and barked out, "What is this?"
"No, it's not. It's duck fat. Did you taste it? But you don't need to taste it. Look at the color." The color was a very light golden.
"But the label said "˜chicken stock.'"
"It doesn't matter. People reuse containers all the time and they don't always change the label. You have to check."
I had seen three other containers marked "duck fat" so I just assumed that this, not marked duck fat, was not duck fat. Silly me. I also hadn't seen any chicken stock, but it was in there, way in the back, obscured by a tray. Sigh.
First, we had another "quiz." Two weeks ago, we had learned to truss and then quarter a chicken. Well, we had to do it again. We had to quarter the birds anyway for the fricassee and Chef figured that we might as well truss as well just to see if we could. I was very confident that I could do it well, because I remembered what we had done, and I had done a good job the last time. But when Chef "stress tested" my bird - by picking it up with one finger by the string and shaking it - the string under the back slipped. He said it wasn't my fault, that it was the shape of the bird, but I was annoyed. He showed me a trick.
"When you have a bird like this with a rounded back and the string won't stay, cut a little groove, and the string will settle into that and not move." I did that, re-trussed the bird, and passed that part of the quiz.
Next we had to quarter. I did fine on this part.
At that point our chickens went into the fridge for the time being while we worked on our lamb. Before class, Chef had taken a couple of whole legs of lamb and removed all of the meat. The bones he gave to another chef to use to make lamb stock for the restaurant. Lamb stock is not something they have at the school that often, and the restaurant always gets first dibs on any lamb bones. There is a fairly complex unofficial barter system at the school. As I have noted before, everything gets used by someone. But how the leavings, stems, trimmings, leftovers, unused stocks, etc., are allocated is all mysterious to the outsider, but the people who have been there for a while understand. Good chefs make alliances with other chefs that pay off down the road.
There is also a lot of food sharing between classrooms. For instance, a kitchen next to us made desert yesterday, and send us some of their mousses. We sent them entrees in return. This apparently goes on all the time, independently of family meal, and everyone plays the game.
Anyway, Chef gave us all our portion of lamb, and then explained how he wanted it trimmed and cut. There was a large layer of fat on the outside that he wanted removed. This should be removed no matter what recipe you are making. Some books say to leave it on if you roast the entire leg whole, so that the fat can moisten the leg, but Chef said not to do this. It has little positive effect on the meat and is hard to remove after cooking. As for the fat inside, he said to take out any big nodes, but don't be too thorough, because some of it will melt and flavor the meat.
To cook, we cut the lamb into chunks, seasoned with S&P, and browned. Chef was very insistent that the flames had to be on high. Several people didn't have their flames on high, and he scolded them. "You are not browning your mean, you are boiling it. On low heat the juices come one and then they cook the meat. You get no color, and dry meat. Mixte cooking! Concentration, then extraction. You are doing extraction without concentration." The other thing the corrected people for was the amount they put in the pan. You can't crowd a pan when browning anything. Overfill the pan, and you get the same problem: air does not circulated, the juices release, and then the mean steams.
After the meat, we added a mirepoix (just carrots and onions and a little garlic) and browned that. Then add the lamb back and singer (dust) with flour. The flour should be about the same amount as the amount of oil you started with. Cook the flour to get rid of the chalky taste, then add a big spoonful of tomato paste and cook that. Then deglaze the pan with white wine.
"Chef, why not use red wine?"
"You could, it just makes a darker sauce. I like white because I think they flavor is heavy enough as it is and the white does not intensify that."
When the wine has boiled for a minute or two add your veal stock. You could use lamb stock - actually, it would be ideal - but it is not typically something that anyone has on hand. Add bouquet garni, bring to a boil, then add a parchment lid, a metal lid, and put in the oven.
Chef kept getting asked "How long does it take to cook?" Actually, he was asked that about a lot of things, and not just today. He really hates the question. "I tell you this every week. It takes as long as it takes. There is no set answer. You have to check. That's it. Check until it's done. You are here to learn to cook and that is part of it. If everything took the same time every time and you could learn that from a book, none of us would be here."
For what it's worth, mine took about 45 minutes in the oven. You know it's done when the lamb is perfectly tender, not a trace of chewiness.
In the meantime, we had to prep our garnishes for both dishes. Lots of tournÃ: carrots, turnips and potatoes. Red potatoes this time, which Chef said are better for stews. We also cooked a l'Anglaise some pearl onions, green beans and peas. The potatoes were simply boiled until not quite tender and then added to the stew at the very end, along with the greens. The pearl onions, carrots and turnips were blanched al dente and added when the stew came out of the oven.
Or they should have been. When my lamb was done, Chef said I had too much liquid left. I had to take out the lamb, piece by piece, with tongs and then reduce the liquid (with the mirepoix and bouquet garni still inside) by about half. That took at least 20 minutes, I would say.
Then pass the sauce through a fine chinois directly onto the lamb (in another pan). Heat up a bit, then add the carrots and turnips. Let those absorb some of the sauce. Add the greens (beans and peas) and potatoes at the very end. If you leave the greens in too long, they will lose all their flavor. The potatoes will just disintegrate.
Here is Chef's plate:
Here is my plate:
A key principle of plating, which Chef always stresses, is that you don't overload the plate. I suppose I knew this intuitively from seeing plates in restaurants but I am so used to just haphazardly piling up food at home that it is still hard to do this right. Chef's #1 critique of all our plates is that there was too much food. Fair enough, but I was hungry.
Also, my sauce got away from me a bit, as you can see. I tried to wipe off the excess, but was not really that successful.
I ate my entire plate and then some. I also gave a plate to the dishwasher. This is considered "good manners" in cooking school, and they really do appreciate it, so Chef said.
Next was the chicken. We cooked this in clarified butter, no oil, very low heat to give minimal color to the bird. Browning is bad for this dish. Light sautÃing is calls "raider."
Chef said that he doesn't really like this dish because he doesn't see the point of a light sautÃ with bone-in, skin-on chicken. He also said that the skin would end up chewy and bad, not crisp as with a roast, so no one would eat it. But it's in the curriculum, and it's a classic technique, so we were going to do it.
After the bird is lightly cooked on both sides, take the pieces out and sautÃ a large amount of onion ciseler. Sweat, don't brown. Then singer with flour. Cook until you have white (or blond, but not brown) roux. Add chicken stock. Now you have a veloutÃ. Add the chicken back with the juices from the plate it was sitting on. Cook uncovered on low or m-low heat until done. You can easily see if it's done by flipping back the tenderloin on the underside of the breasts. The leg parts tend to take a bit longer. Chef said 8 min for the breasts and 12 for the legs, but mine was more like 10 and 15. The good news is, with all that liquid it is hard to really dry out the chicken (but no doubt possible).
Meanwhile you should have some cream reducing in another pot. Once the chicken is out, add that and whip. Now you have sauce Supreme. Strain into another pan with the chicken inside.
We had ready and waiting carrot, pearl onions, turnips, glace a blanc (mine got slightly overdone) and green beans and peas. These were to be plated on the side, and on top. Here is Chef's:
Here is mine:
Now, what he had done (which you can't really see) is use a metal ring to mold the rice, then put the chicken (sliced on the bias) on top of that. I tried to do the same thing, but did not do it nearly as well. I was trying to be clever by arranging the vegetables the way I did, but Chef didn't like it.
The protein, he said, should always be at 6 o'clock, near the diner. The veg should be on the other side at 12. Any bone should point away from the diner. Slices should be neatly fanned. Sauce should be carefully spooned in a little moat off the edge of the meat, and then just barely drizzled on top. Don't douse the entrÃe. Any part of the plate that does not have food should be spotlessly clean.
So I tried again. I ate everything on the plate from the first attempt, washed the dish, then tried again with the other chicken breast. Here was the result:
Chef pronounced this one "perfect"; "You could serve this in a restaurant." But I think he really meant "Perfect for you," that is, "No visible hairs, fingernail cuttings, or human blood. Food no more than six inches from where it should be."
The taste was good. Actually, I rather liked this dish. So did the dishwasher.
Separate names with a comma.