Did you get it?   OK, here’s a hint:  absorbant, and yellow and porous is he.

Yeah, I didn’t know the answer either.   It was a question on my last quiz on Monday, in case you were wondering what the hell this has to do with cooking school.   Turns out all the people with kids figured it out right away.

The answer: Sponge Bob Square Pants.

Monday was the final quiz and exam review.  Tuesday was the final – written exam and practical, which I passed.

So there you go.  I’m finished with my 5-week Intro to Professional Cookery class.  You may applaud now.

I thought I just might get through the thing without a single injury, but alas, during my practical final, I nearly sliced off the tip of my index finger.  Not pretty.  It took an eternity for the thing to stop bleeding.  It reminded me of a scene out of Kill Bill.  Many thanks to classmate Mavis for her assistance (who also has an awesome blog)

During our practical final we had some very specific and precise cuts we had to make with potatoes, carrots, and onions.  I was being way too paranoid about getting it exactly right, and I ended up sticking my finger exactly where it didn’t belong.  Lesson learned.

That said, I was able to finish my practical, and managed to get through the final with some decent scores.  At the end of the night, Chef DeWan asked, “Did you cut it enough?” referring to my finger.  Ha. Ha. Ha.

Now we move on to Stocks, Sauces, and Soups, which I’m seriously pumped about. Sauces are so important, especially in French cuisine.

But I would be remiss if I didn’t discuss some of the oh-so-fun tasks we performed over the past couple of weeks. And of course I will share some recipes, too.

After spending the first couple of weeks on vegetables, we finally got to start playing with birds.  Chicken and duck, specifically.  We sectioned, deboned chickens, airplaned chicken breasts, and we deboned and partially confited a duck.  I love duck. Eating it, that is. Deboning it is tough.  But when you debone either chickens or ducks, you can stuff it with filling of your choosing, truss it, and roast it, and when it’s done, you slice it, plate it, and eat it.  Totally yummy goodness.

We also made brown duck stock that evening, which made the entire kitchen smell amazing.

Next in line were fish.  We filleted lots of fish, both round and flat.  That was fun.  Unfortunately, we weren’t able to eat any of our fish that night, because we just aren’t cooking that much right now. So I got my practice over the weekend at a friend’s house . . . who happens to be vegetarian.  She was very gracious about lending her kitchen to me for the task.

In our final week, we worked with one of the most important ingredients in a restaurant kitchen:  butter.   It’s the stuff of gods, I’m tellin’ ya.  We clarified butter, though some of my classmates made ghee – commonly used in Indian cuisine. Instead of removing the butter from your heat source when it’s completely clear, you cook a little longer until the butter browns.

We also made compound – or flavored – butter.  Chef gave us lots of options with the compound butter.  We could make herb butter, garlic butter, anchovy butter, anything we wanted.

Luckily, there was some shrimp in the cooler and some cans of escargot hanging around the joint, so we cooked both in our compound butter and had a lovely snack late in the evening.  My comrades and I made a tarragon-garlic butter, and it was divine.

The only downside of working with butter all night is that I felt like I had a layer of the stuff coating my body after we were finished that evening.  On the long drive home, it wasn’t the most pleasant sensation, despite what you may think.

OK.  Enough chatter.  Here are some recipes.

Mushroom Duxelle

1 lb mushroom
1 T butter
2 T shallots, minced
1 tsp garlic, chopped
salt and pepper to taste
1 T parsley

  1. Mince mushrooms
  2. Sweat the shallots and garlic in butter until tender. Add the mushrooms, cover with parchment round,  and saute until dry.
  3. Season with salt and pepper and add the parsley.

The next time you debone a chicken (because I provided a link to an awesome Jacques Pepin video on how to do it above), stuff it with this, and maybe other herbs, or prosciutto, or cheese, shove it in the oven until it’s done, and voila, you don’t need to go to that overpriced restaurant anymore (unless you don’t feel like doing the dishes – totally valid!).

Compound butter

As I said, the variations are endless and can get very creative.  Chicken butter, anyone?

Here’s a basic recipe for garlic butter:

40 g parlsey leaves, minced
40 g shallots, minced
30 g garlic, minced
500 g butter
5 anchovy fillets, minced (optional)
2 T anise
salt and pepper
20 g hazelnut, chopped very finely (optional)

Instead of mincing all this stuff by hand, you can do it in a food processor.  Mix it with softened butter.  Drop the stuff on a piece of plastic wrap or parchment and shape into a log.  You can freeze it or refrigerate.

For the record, I would never make this recipe as is as a home cook. Just way too complicated, don’t you think?

For a great herb butter, use about a cup of minced herbs for every pound of butter. Add some minced garlic if you’re a garlic lover. Yum without the fuss.

I have made flavored butters before, and recently made this ancho honey butter. It is delicious!

Also, I like this site, and they have a good slideshow on compound butter that you should look at.

White or brown stock

After you debone your chicken or duck, save the bones for stock (but don’t use the organs, or your stock will be funky).

There’s a formula for stock, so I’m not going to actually give you a recipe.

  1. Weigh your bones.
  2. Your mirepoix  – 2 parts onion, 1 part celery, 1 part carrot – is 30-40% of the weight of the bones.
  3. Start with cold water.
  4. Sachet. The classic ingredients in a sachet are parsley stems, bay leaves and thyme.  You wrap them up in cheesecloth and tie it with kitchen twine. For every 5 pounds of bones, you’ll use 2-3 bay leaves, a couple sprigs of thyme (dry is acceptable), and a couple of parsley stems.  If you like a highly seasoned stock, use more.  If you like other herbs and spices, use them. Garlic – why not? What do I care? The only thing you should never do to a stock is add salt, unless you’re just planning to drink your stock straight up.  Weird, but whatever.

If you’re making white stock, all the ingredients are raw.  If you’re making brown stock, you roast the vegetables and bones first, then deglaze the pan with water or wine, and add the stuff to the pot.  That’s the only difference.

  1. Put your bones in your stockpot, and cover it with water. Bring to a boil, reduce to simmer, and skim off the scum that rises to the surface.
  2. Add the mirepoix and sachet.
  3. Continue simmering and skimming until stock is done:
  • 6-8 hours for veal stock, which is usually brown stock. Yeah, I know it’s a lot of hours, but you’re not going to make it at home anyway.  Puh-lease!  But hey, if you do, stick it in the oven overnight. Way easier that way. Also, add some tomato paste or puree when you add the mirepoix to the stock. Gives it good color and body.
  • 3-4 hours for chicken or duck stock.
  • less than 1 hour for fish stock

4. Strain stock through fine mesh, cool, and refrigerate or freeze.

Let me know if you try any of these recipes or technique!  The thing about being in class is I don’t have as much time to practice as I would like.  Would love to hear about your experience.

Bon Appetit!

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