Friday, 28 March 2014

Chef hands

It's an age-old dilemma. Countless workers in the hospitality and restaurant industries suffer variations of the same affliction, with little attention being paid to their plight. If you come into contact with someone suffering in this way, you will know about it soon enough, often without them even having to say a word. And you will likely make a judgement about their suffering, decide that it is self-inflicted, and let me tell you, this is unfair.

I write, of course, of the problem of going home after a hard day's work smelling like your job.

As I sit here and write this, I cannot remove the smell of fish from my hands. I have scrubbed. I have used a variety of antibacterial handwashes. I am pretty sure by now that I have found all of the errant fish scales seemingly growing from me, but I may stand corrected tomorrow, Sunday even. And I consider myself a rather clean person in general.

This is to say nothing of the pork grease that seems to have permeated from my hair to my underclothes. We made carrot cakes and lemon tarts today as well as the various piscatory and porcine delights, but to go home smelling of cinnamon and zesty citrus would be illogical, of course. Even the richly fragrant tomato, herby, garlicky bean stew would have been better, but no.

Anyway, I digress before I've even started. Today was the last day of week four, and marks the point at which we are two thirds through our course. From here, things start to get really tasty. On Monday we have a mock assessment, the first time that we will be left fully to our own devices to work our way through a three-course meal demonstrating our skills and our time management. Or areas where either need to be sharpened. A few more dishes to learn and skills to pick up and before we know it we will be in our final, assessment week and then thrust into the big wide professional cookery world. What happens when I get there, nobody knows.

We started today blitzing through a carrot cake. I have made a fair few of these in my life and until I have a piece of today's one, my favourite remains an Ottolenghi recipe from his first cookbook, with hints of coconut and a lightness from carefully folded meringue in the batter. Chef Rob is proud of his recipe, which has produced a beautiful-smelling cake and is the result of coarsely-grated carrot and wholemeal flour for texture, a moist sponge resulting from a dousing in citrus syrup and a good hit of cinnamon in the cream cheese frosting.

As soon as the cake was in the oven, we got onto making a tomato and bean stew, by deskinning and deseeding lots of tomatoes before getting them in a pan with some softened onion, garlic and herbs and letting them stew away for an hour or so with some chopped sundried tomatoes. Once this was bubbling away, we rolled out some lemon sweet pastry we had made yesterday, much in the same way as before, but with the addition of lemon zest, and lined a tart case ready for a lemon tart.
We also made the tart filling, by whisking together lemon juice and zest, eggs, caster sugar and cream. We let this sit for a while so that the lemon oils could infuse, and the cream could react with the acidity. Later, once it had reacted, we skimmed the surface to remove any scum and near-curdled cream, tasted how lemony it was before pouring into the tart cases which had been blind baked and trimmed. This was a tense moment, as the cases needed to be as watertight as possible, and the filling needed to be as clear as possible and filled as far up the case as we dared. We poured the filling into the cases while they were in the oven and baked them on a low temperature until they were set but had a good wobble. I am looking forward to my dessert after dinner tonight!

No peeking...
For lunch today, we had a surf and turf of sorts. We had A bit of pork belly left from Wednesday's roast that we reheated in a pan to give it a good edge of crackling, and served with it some of our tomato and bean stew, a panfried sardine and a couple of panfried scallops. When we prepared scallops earlier in the week they had not been delivered in their shell and today we had the chance to try preparing them again from scratch. It was quite an experience to have a scallop shell try to close on my fingers as I prised it open, and chef claims he could feel the scallop twitching in his hand once I had removed it.
We started by sawing a knife as close to the inside of the flat shell as possible. This releases the scallop from the shell, and this side becomes the presentation side. Once the shell is open any grit can be washed away if the scallop is a product of bycatch, as ours were today due to weather conditions making hand diving difficult. Then the whole of the inside of the shell can be removed with a spoon scraping from the outer edge of the shell inwards. The stomach sac, roe and 'skirt' around the scallop can be pulled away from the scallop along with any membrane. We cooked the scallops like yesterday, only today we also had a sardine in the pan!

I have never eaten sardines, so today was a bit of an experience. First, the head is removed, then the body cavity is opened, the guts removed and the cavity rinsed. Once the cut has been extended to the tail, the sardine can be butterflied by opening it on a board and pressing down along the spine to flatten it. The bones inside can largely be pulled away in one go, with the ribs needing to be cut out separately before the fillet is tidied up. The fin on the back of the fish needs to be cut out by removing a little keyhole of flesh from inside the fillet. We seasoned it, dusted it with flour and panfried it skinside down first before flipping over one the flesh had started to cook. As I discovered, sardines taste a little like mackerel, but they will still need a little getting used to! We served our lunch with a mustard sauce made be reducing a little fish stock before heating cream through it, along with a little mustard, chopped chives and seasoning. An obligatory 'monter au beurre' to thicken, and it became a delicious accompaniment to an already lovely lunch.

After lunch, we filleted a lemon sole. This was very similar to the plaice we had filleted earlier in the course, and as we were all so full, chef demonstrated how to finish the dish before letting us take the completed fillets home. We will brown pine nuts in a pan before adding butter and allowing it to cook to a beurre noisette - a nice, toasted nutty stage once the milk solids have sizzled. Then we will stir through brown shrimp, rosemary, seasoning and lemon juice before serving it over the lemon sole which will have been oven roasted back in it's fishy shape.

That, however, will be a meal for another day. I need to wait for my hands to smell normal again before I tackle that one!

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