Welcome to my tales of cookery school, food and travel

The first 30+ posts of this blog describe my experiences as I complete a nine month cooking course - the City and Guilds Diploma in Food Preparation and Culinary Art. I did this after I moved out of full time employment and it was purely selfish - I love food, cooking, eating and drinking. Subsequent posts are about, food, travel and adventures.

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Monday, 22 August 2011

Week 6: Cold weather and hot dishes

Not just cold weather, more your f - f  - f  - freezing weather. A distant memory as I write this at the weekend, but snow in downtown Wellie? Who'd've thought? It is very weird in the kitchen on Monday when someone pokes their head around the door to announce "It's snowing!"  Understand that the kitchens have no windows so we never know what time of day it is, let alone what the weather is doing. There is a small stampede of those who have never seen snow - yes there are some - and a slower saunter from those of us who have seen their fair share of of the soft white fluffy stuff, but never in Petone.

This wee flurry of both snow and activity interrupts our trussing and stuffing of chickens, for this week we roast, pot roast and stew. To roast, we truss and stuff and slather our chicken in - those of you who are regular readers know what comes next - BUTTER, before nestling the bird on a bed of mirepoix vegetables and popping it into the oven. 

The bird destined for pot roasting, which is something I have never done before, we truss and bard. Barding has little to do with Shakespeare or other poets and playrights - unless they enjoy rolling themselves in fat and jumping in a hot oven. Barding is the laying of fat over a joint for roasting. Ha! I just googled barding and wikipedia defines it as armour for horses! I'm not sure how effective a bacon wrapping would have been for the French when the English shot their horses (non-barded) at the Battle of Crecy. Barding is not be be confused with larding: threading strips of fat into a cut of meat that is naturally very lean, for example venison. There is a special larding needle for this - it has tweezer like grippers at one end. Nor should one confuse barding with basting, which is generally giving the joint a good old warm bath of fat while it is cooking.

Our chook has fat - in this case bacon - firmly strapped to its breasts and legs.  What!  No butter? you ask in astonishment. Patience my friends. First we place our bird in a pot on a bed of mirepoix and then we pour melted butter over the lot. Basting occurs during cooking, just to make sure plenty of that buttery juice is keeping the meat juicy.

What else do we do this week? White sauce stewing, suitable for chicken and other white meats such as veal, or seafood. More chicken is sacrificed so we can learn two different methods: blanquette and fricassée. A blanquette is thickened at the end of cooking, and a fricassee is cooked in a thickened sauce.

For our Chicken Blanquette we gently stew the boned chicken thighs in white (chicken) stock with onion, celery and a bouquet garni for about an hour.  We then strain the cooking liquid off, add it to a blond roux to make a velouté which we cook out for about 15 minutes before finishing with a liaison. 

For our Chicken Fricassée we lightly fry chicken pieces in butter, but do not allow them to brown (you do not want to add colour to the dish). We then sprinkle with flour, add white stock and a bouquet garni, cover and slowly stew. The flour added at the outset serves to thicken the sauce. Again, we finish with a liaison.

Now you might think a liaison involves a bottle of champagne and illicit sex. And well it might, however in the case of white stews it is egg yolk and cream whisked together and gently stirred in at the end of cooking to finish the sauce. It smooths the flavours, adds richness, and generally makes it unctuous and delicious. Which when you think about it is probably much like a bottle of champagne and illicit sex.

Brown sauce stewing methods see us cook Lamb Navarin and Goat Curry, which arguably isn't exactly brown. Our vegetable stew is Ratatouille and so assessment this week is Lamb Navarin, Ratatouille and Chateau Potatoes - turned potatoes which are then roasted - in fat. Remember assessment isn't so much what one would choose to plate up together as a meal, more that the assessment is of the week's cooking techniques.
Well, another Merit. You can see from the picture the Navarin sauce is a good consistency, and the Chateau  potatoes, if not perfectly turned, are evenly cooked. Feedback is that I need to make sure the pieces of lamb are more evenly cut and add more seasoning.

Seasoning is an interesting issue. The era in which I began cooking in earnest is concurrent with the era that salt was associated with high blood pressure and "hardening of the arteries". Belonging, as I do, to a family  of heart attacks, stents and bypass operations I have always held back on adding salt to cooking, preferring to add it at the table if it was needed.

Chefs take an entirely different view. Chefs season food in the cooking process. They send food to the customer correctly seasoned, according to the chef's palate, and do not expect customers to have to add salt. If you watch Masterchef - take your pick, there are enough versions - the same thing happens often: contestants are told their seasoning isn't right. It's tricky, as not everyone has the same palate and many people prefer less salt. Anyhoo, I resolve to add more salt from now on but I should probably check my blood pressure and double the dose of my cholesterol managing drugs!

The next two weeks are in the classroom: Food Safety followed by a First Aid course. Although one would think that if the former is attended to there would be less need for the latter! I'll try and find interesting content to blog about.