Tuesday, 25 March 2014

A case of crabs

We had Rob Dawe back today, unexpectedly but gladly. Today promised to be a little calmer than yesterday, with a shorter prep list, but with some brand new skills I was looking forward to picking up.

We started off with lots of pork! We prepped pork belly in pairs by scoring the skin with very sharp knives, not to cut through to the flesh but to create a lovely crackling for when we roast the meat later in the week. We sprinkled this liberally with salt, rested the meat in a roasting tin on top of a bed of chunks of carrot, celery, onion and leek, along with thyme, smashed cloves of garlic and broken up star anise. We topped the tin up with water up to the top of the vegetables, covered the meat with baking parchment and foil before putting the meat into the oven at 150°C for 5 hours. Belly pork is an economical cut - 800g will cost about £4 - but it is worth remembering that it will lose about 1/3 of its volume in the cooking process, so a piece this size would make two portions. The meat can also be cooked as a confit to make pork rillettes. Once the meat had cooked, we removed rib bones, cartilage and excess fat layers underneath before wrapping the meat in portions in clingfilm. It will be pressed overnight in the fridge by placing a tray on top of it with a pestle and mortar, and we will roast it for lunch tomorrow.

Pork tenderloin, before.
Next we prepped pork tenderloin. The tenderloin is pork's equivalent of a fillet of beef, found nestled underneath the cannon, below the spine and within the ribs. A whole tenderloin weighs about 800g and would serve about 4 people at a cost of around £8. We removed fat and sinews, and those who had a 'chain' strip of meat attached to their piece of tenderloin removed it. We made a cut about halfway down the meat along its length before making secondary cuts a quarter of the way down this first cut in order to open up the meat. We spread chopped sage, lemon zest, salt and pepper into the opened-up meat before tying the meat three times and browning it in a hot pan with a little rapeseed oil and butter.

The tenderloin was laid on top of a bed of sliced shallot, garlic and fennel, small wedges of apple and sprinkled with thyme. We were making parcels with our meat so this all happened atop a square of parchment and a big piece of foil. We folded out parchment over the meat, then the foil and sealed two of the three ends of the parcel. After pouring away any excess fat, we deglazed our meat-sealing pans with a little cider before pouring this into the parcel and sealing the remaining edge. The parcels would be put into the oven when the accompaniments were ready. Cooking food in a bag is a great way to retain a lot of flavour and moisture, and can easily be prepared in advance, ready to go in the oven and be served with a bit of theatre at the table for your guests. This can be done with a lot of meats, such as chicken, and fish, particularly non-oily fish that take on flavours well, and all sorts of aromatics, such as lemongrass, chilli, lime and a variety of vegetables can be used.

One of the accompaniments for the tenderloin was potato dauphinoise, which is one of our assessment dishes. King Edward or Maris Piper potatoes are used and sliced very thinly (this could be done using a mandolin or even a peeler, but we are being tested on our knife skills!) before being layered up in a small buttered dish with a little seasoning in between each layer. Meanwhile, we heated cream and milk with a smashed clove of garlic until it boiled before taking it off the heat and allowing it to infuse. We were making individual portions to practise for our assessment, but this could be done in a large dish, with portions cut out later. The large dish would also have to be buttered, and if it is also lined with parchment the finished dauphinoise can be lifted out when cold to cut and reheat. The dish can also have the addition of cheese or be adapted by substituting 40% of the potato for other vegetables such as sweet potatoes, parsnips or butternut squash. Once the layers had been built up, we strained enough of the infused cream over them to cover before baking for 45 minutes, pressing the potatoes down into the cream every 15 minutes. Once the dauphinoise had cooled, we used a cutter to cut a tower out of the dish and put it on the same baking tray as our pork parcel to cook in the oven for 10 minutes at 200°C.

Once the pork had had its time in the oven, we snipped a corner of the bag, poured the cooking juices into a pan and started to reduce it vigorously. Earlier in the day we had blanched and refreshed broccoli and now we reheated it in a little water before adding spinach to the pan to wilt in the heat. When the sauce had reduced, we added cream and took it off the heat before adding butter to 'monter au beurre'. The tenderloin had its strings removed before being carved and presented with its accompaniments. I kept the spare bits aside from my presented plate but decided once I had tasted it that it was too delicious to last until the journey home!

Believe me I was more impressed at the prospect than I look
After lunch we became CRAB KILLERS! I have long wanted to prepare crab from start to finish and today we began that process. Crabs cannot legally be removed from the sea until they have a shell span of 12cm, which takes them three to four years. Chef showed us how to identify boy and girl crabs and explained that for sale, the tendons of a crab's claws are often severed between them to make the crab easier to handle. Ours hadn't been through this process and chef recounted tales of students flailing round the room in past classes with a crab fervently attached to fingers. A crab's claws are strong enough to cut these off!

Trying not to get grabbed!
Our crabs were about 1.3kg and would have cost about £8-9. I called mine Dave. Ashburton has a special machine to kill crabs, lobsters, langoustines and Dublin Bay prawns in milliseconds by electrocution in a salt bath, which ensures optimal conduction of the current. The process also kills bacteria in the crab and tenderises the meat.
I have never held a live crab, and jumped out of my skin when I was tentatively reaching into the box of crabs and one of them had a shuffle. The trick is to stay well clear of the claws and to hold them upside down.
Checking that Dave had passed into crabby heaven
By the time my group had our turn with the stun-a-crab-omatic, they had been out of the fridge long enough to really wake up and mine was not impressed at being put into a machine. Tough, mate, sorry. I closed the lid and after a few seconds it was over. This is the most humane way to kill the crabs, the second best being to put them in the freezer for 30 minutes before putting them straight into boiling water.
Dave's demise
Apparently it is now trendy for chefs to cook crabs from cold water, as this is more likely to keep the claws intact, but this takes much longer to kill them and they suffer.

Once Dave had joined the crab king upstairs, he went into a pot of boiling water with his mates and sliced lemon, onion, fennel and celery with bay leaves, star anise and black peppercorns. We cooked them for 20 minutes before leaving them to cool in a sink full of cold water. Apparently it is not too much of a problem to cook crabs for a little too long, but lobster is very easy to overcook. The crabs were stored face down, vertically in the fridge so that water within their shells didn't sit inside and stagnate overnight.

In between our porky tasks earlier, chef had demonstrated how to make pannacotta by heating equal quantities of milk and cream before adding honey, then stirring through gelatine leaves that had been soaked in water. 1g of gelatine is enough to set 100ml of liquid and our recipe called for just short of these proportions because, as chef said, we needed 'to live on the edge' and our pannacotta had to have a good amount of wobble. Once the mixture had cooled, we stirred through greek yoghurt and poured the mixture into mini plastic pudding basins, otherwise known as dariole moulds. These were set in the fridge for as long as we could during the day, and chef moved them to the freezer for a little additional chill as he was concerned that they needed a little longer to set properly than we actually had. We glazed fig pieces in a reduction of orange juice, sugar, orange blossom water and orange zest before roasting for five minutes at 200°C. We reduced the remaining glaze down to a syrup to decorate the plate. Getting the pannacottas out of their moulds was tricky! We carefully used knives to loosen the edges and then very gently used fingers to try to create an air pocket before inverting them over the plate and letting them slowly release themselves.

We served the pannacotta and the figs with tuille biscuits. After seeing them on The Great British Bakeoff so many times I was very much looking forward to having a go and am pleased to report that they are not as tricky as the contestants made it seem! We made the batter by creaming equal quantities of everything - first egg whites and sugar before mixing in sifted flour and then slowly trickling in melted and cooled butter. We added vanilla seeds to our mix but other flavours could be used, such as lime zest or by substituting 10g of flour for cocoa powder or ground nuts. We chilled the batter for a while before piping long strips of it onto a baking sheet and using the back of a wet spoon to create a circle of batter. The batter was cooked in batches for five minutes at 180°C until lightly golden. Once they are taken out of the oven you have 15 seconds at most to use asbestos fingers to shape strips around wooden spoon handles and to squeeze the circles between two pastry tins to make cups. They set very quickly but if you are too slow they can be popped back into the oven for a few moments to re-soften.
Templates can be made using ice cream tub lids and batter can be spread in the cut out area using a palate knife. The biscuits can be kept for one day before they will go soggy, and are best stored in an airtight tin with rice to absorb moisture. Savoury versions can be made by using glucose instead of sugar and including parmesan. I ate this before I left school today, which means having yesterday's tiramisu for dessert after my leftover pizza for dinner tonight is fine, right? Right?

No comments:

Post a Comment