The work we do this week fits into the kitchen category of the larder or garde-manger, which more or less translates as "keep to eat". In a large kitchen this is usually everything cold except pastry and desserts, i.e. salads, dressings, hors d'oeuvres, canapés, charcuterie, pâtés, terrines and so on. We create some things you know you will never see, let alone do again - ever! and some things that you know you will do when you want to impress the pants off your dinner guests (not literally - well, I'm not one to judge, maybe you do).
Falling into the first category is the Eggplant and Capsicum Terrine. Imagine, if you will, beautifully fresh vegetables tenderly cooked and layered artistically, then served cold in jelly.
Yes, aspic work, also known as aspic gelée or aspic jelly. Aspic can be used to protect food from the air, give food more flavour, or as a decoration. We practise using blanched, thinly cut vegetables, herbs and vegetable peelings. I create a little work I call "Snakes in the garden of Eden". As you can readily see, I am bereft of artistic talent.
Our Kenyan boy has studied design and shows more talent with his "Setting Sun". The techniques we use are those only seen on a cold buffet table, circa 1970something. Or perhaps in Julia Childs' The Art of French Cooking.
That is one of the wonderful things about doing the London City and Guilds course - learning redundant skills. A little harsh, but while it is not hard to imagine using aspic in many ways in the future, for example in meat terrines, pork pies and the like, I struggle to imagine any circumstance where I would be moved to make a cold vegetable terrine, or to smother a stuffed chicken leg with aspic and decorate it with flowers cut out of vegetables. However I stand to be corrected, as per the Prawn Cocktail, and am ready for Something under Aspic to be the height of elegant dining in the near future. Answers on a postcard please.
On the other hand boning out is a worthwhile skill and one of the things I came on the course hoping to learn. We tunnel bone a chicken leg and thigh so it stays intact, then stuff it with a mousseline made from the chicken breast. This is Chicken Ballotine, and a little tricky, but a technique I will use, potentially to impress someone's pants off. Mind you, I probably won't poach the ballotine in chicken stock, cool it, cover it with a thick velouté (a chaud froid, literally warm cold), cool it again, cover with aspic and chill before serving. Rather, I can imagine it seared to crisp the skin. As we are required to do the whole aspic thing for class I opt for simplicity, refusing to insult the chicken with decoration I adorn the plate with a simple cabbage tree. Restrained and classy I feel!
Pork pies meet with great enthusiasm, particularly from pony tail guy, our Englishman. To prepare the pastry we use lard and butter melted in hot water - rather different from other pastries to date. We hand raise the pastry, rather than roll it - another new technique. We press the pastry into the wooden moulds you see in the picture below. Unlike other pies, the filling is uncooked. Once the filling is in and the pastry firm, we ease the pies from the mould, put a little funnel in to allow the steam to escape, and cook slowly at a lowish temperature. This is necessary as the meat needs to cook thoroughly but without burning the pastry. Once out of the oven, the same wee funnel serves to convey the aspic, the idea being the aspic fills the gap created as the cooked meat shrinks away from the pastry. My pie should have more aspic in it, however the hunter gatherer pronounces it the best pork pie he has ever had. Then again, until he knew better he used to heat them up when they are designed to be eaten cold. It may be of interest to some of you to know that, in Yorkshire, a pork pie is sometimes referred to as a growler. True.
What else do we do? Caesar Salad, Warm Chicken Liver Salad, Chicken Liver Paté, russian Salad - which is simply cubed, lightly cooked veg in mayonnaise. I ask you.