Monday, 17 March 2014

Chest pains

Today's menu seemed fairly simple, which was a good thing after an exhausting weekend full of amazing food, such as an obligatory award-winning Friday Fish & Chips, and a delicious veg-fest on Sunday.

However, how foolish that was. Our first job of the day was to marinade some diced lamb shoulder in a mixture of garlic, ginger and ground cinnamon that had been turned to a paste in a pestle and mortar ready for a tajine tomorrow. Then we had to prepare a breast of lamb. Now, I have done this before so thought I might be ok. What I didn't reckon on was our lamb breasts today being from young lambs which hadn't been hung for very long and so the flesh was more tender than it could be. We started by cutting the ribs away from the meat, and then had to peel off the layer of fat and the silvery membrane each side of the meat. This was nigh-on impossible as the meat hadn't dried out much, and a lot of it had to be painstakingly cut away bit by bit so that it wouldn't burn on cooking. After a while, it became a bit of a game of 'hunt the piece of meat' on our micro-lamb breasts, which we eventually patch-worked into a fairly tidy square and rolled up into a cylinder before tying with string along the length. The breast can be stuffed before rolling, with lemon zest, garlic, anchovies, capers, chicken mousseline or any other complementary flavours.

We browned the meat after seasoning with salt in a very hot pan before adding a mirepoix (chopped carrot, onion, celery and leek), cooking this through, removing the lamb to a large clean pan and deglazing the pan with a little beef (or veal) stock. All the vegetables and stock then went into the pan before being covered with a cartouche of baking parchment and a lid and being cooked at 200°C for about three hours. After this point the lamb was very tender and we rolled it tightly in a double layer of clingfilm to give it a consistent round shape before cooling. The vegetables and stock were strained and forced through a sieve before any excess fat was removed, and this was also stored ready for tomorrow. This dish will definitely represent a labour of love but chef was sure we will see it as worthwhile, especially considering the meat cost £1.50 - £3 to start with!

By now many of us had pretty much lost the will to live, but gained a growing hunger as we were already close to lunchtime. Lunch today was the mackerel escabeche we had prepared on Friday. To serve with this we made a warm potato, bacon and shallot salad. We cut potato into small, even dice and brought this to the boil from cold with a little salt for about three minutes before draining. We prepared lardons from a trimmed rasher of smoked streaky bacon and fried this from cold so that the fat would render from it. Once the lardons had started to cook a little we added finely chopped shallot, softened this and mixed with the potato cubes. We made a vinaigrette by whisking a little white wine vinegar with mustard and finely chopped shallot and garlic before whisking in a slow drizzle of both rapeseed and olive oils. The vinaigrette becomes quite thick this way and can be loosened with a little water. Salt, sugar, pepper and lemon juice are added to season and adjust the consistency. Some of this vinaigrette was used to mix through the warm potato salad and a little was used to dress some salad leaves. The mackerel had cured beautifully over the weekend and could be broken down into chunks for presentation. We also used some edible flowers to make the dish beautiful to both eyes and palate.

After lunch we made shortbread biscuits by creaming softened butter with icing sugar before sifting in a mixture of plain flour and cornflour and combining this gently. This dough was then wrapped up in a double layer of clingfilm into a roll before chilling for an hour. After this time we removed the clingfilm, cut the dough into centimetre slices and baked the slices at 200°C for about 11 minutes. The biscuits should be removed from the oven before they gain too much colour and sprinkled with sugar to add texture. While the biscuits cool, they harden. These will form part of a dessert dish tomorrow.

Chef commended my quenelle but did point out
that it was a bit of a behemoth.
After breaking down our ham knuckles on Friday, we had ham ends leftover which we used today to make pea and ham soup. We sweated onion and garlic in butter and oil until soft before adding flour to make a roux, and loosening little by little this with ham stock (chicken stock can be used if the ham stock proves to salty but ours was fine). At this stage, defrosted frozen peas can be added and cooked through for a couple of minutes before thoroughly blending in a food processor, straining to remove any pea fibres and keeping warm in a clean pan, seasoning to taste. We presented this dish by placing a mound of shredded ham in the centre of a soup plate before surrounding with the soup, adding some finely chopped fresh mint and a quenelle of lightly whipped, peppered double cream on top.

Chef liked my presentation,
but next time I will use a round plate!
Today we learnt how to make a cointreau sabayon, one of our assessment dishes. This is similar to an Italian zbaglione and is essentially a lightly cooked, highly whisked custard. We whisked eggs, sugar, orange zest and cointreau in a bowl over a pan of simmering water until it thickened - but before it turned to scrambled eggs! This took a little while. We had diced a mixture of fruit so that we had a combination of pineapple, blueberries, orange segments (cut off the peel around the fruit and cut out segments between the fibrous segment divisions), raspberries and passion fruit. The mixture of fruit should change with the seasons. I plated my fruit in a chef ring on a plate and the sabayon was spooned on top before browning with a blowtorch. I'm not sure how much I enjoyed this dish to eat but the execution was fun as was decorating the plate! We learned that the temperature of the plate should reflect the focus of the dish - in this case, the sabayon, therefore a warm plate. However, this presents problems as it encourages the fruit to release its juice, so I drained mine to prevent this.

Tomorrow we tackle a personal challenge - hollandaise. I want to really nail this one. And I will get to tell you whether that lamb was worth all the hassle!


  1. Edible flowers! Please tell us you got some lesson time and then which ones you used?

    1. The flowers were supplied by a farm near the school but can be ordered from any reputable deli -
      Or grown! We used nasturtiums and borage predominantly.

  2. Btw lovely bright green soup! How did u strain it sieve or muslin. My last pea soup was brown as I had over coloured the onions (red too -mistake!)

    1. We strained with a sieve - the trick is to leave the food processor running longer than you'd think - and definitely no red onions! ;)

  3. The orange segments so clean, the sabayon smooth n tasty - could use Grand Marnier?