Monday, 10 March 2014

How to totally butcher a chicken.

Week two, day one. Already!

Today we were tutored by Phil Oram, who knows his chickens. Which is just as well as he talked us through how to butcher one.

There are nine people in our group and this means that there will always be one person working solo in the kitchen. Today, it was me, and as I learnt very quickly, this is hard work! A large proportion of what we do is in pairs, meaning that the tasks can be shared, whereas a solo worker has to cover all the same tasks in the same amount of time.

Our first job was to make pasta dough ready for later, so that it could rest and chill, allowing the glutens to develop. I've made pasta a few times and have a pasta machine at home, which gets far from enough use and I am always on the lookout for more tips and practise. We used, type 00 flour, an egg and egg yolk for 110g, a little nutmeg, salt and olive oil. The liquid was added gradually in a bowl until the dough resembled damp breadcrumbs, at which point it was brought together and kneaded for five minutes. Much less mess this was than I am used to! The dough was pressed into a disc, wrapped in clingfilm and chilled for later.

Next was tomato sauce, ready for our ragu. This is where solo working was the biggest challenge - I cored, deseeded, deskinned and chopped a kilo of tomatoes, chopped an onion and some garlic and sweated them off with herbs whilst others did this in pairs. But I kept up! Huzzah. Sauce-enhancing substances and techniques included bruising the tomato stalks with a rolling pin to cook with the sauce, and straining the discarded seeds and skins for extra cooking liquid.

While that was left to 'talk to itself' as Phil would say, we prepped some lovely wild mushrooms by giving them a quick dunk in salted water before leaving them to dry on paper while we cleaned and trimmed them. We had chanterelles, hedgehog fungus, and some cluster mushrooms similar to enoki. Some needed gentle de-gritting with a little paper towel, the hedgehog fungus needed the underside of the cap scraped to remove gills that would otherwise burn. Once clean, these were cut into slices that would still look appealing on the finished dish. We also prepared other ingredients for the risotto we would have for lunch, such as chopped onion and grated parmesan.

Once everything was ready for making our lunch, we got on to butchering chicken. Our chickens came from Sladesdown farm, and Phil described the great care that goes into the husbandry of each free range, organic bird. This included what to look for when buying a good chicken - such as not having visible red hock burns on their leg joints, which would indicate that their bedding was not changed frequently and they spent time nesting in their own waste. Visible fat lines on the bird's legs and breasts indicate that they spent a good deal of time freely roaming.

When it came to breaking down my chicken into its component parts, safe to say that a) I did not replicate Phil's skills exactly and b) I will need to buy and portion a good few chickens before I am formally assessed on how to do it properly in a few weeks time.

It should have been easy enough.

  1. Remove legs, including the 'oysters' just about the thigh joint (I managed to leave them on the carcass)
  2. Remove wings (just about got this one)
  3. Turn the chicken breast down and carefully remove the intact wishbone - assessed element (I called chef over when I couldn't find the wishbone. Which was evidently due to the fact I was rummaging around in its arse end instead of the neck end)
  4. Cut the breasts out by cutting down either side of the breastbone and between the wing and shoulderblade (somehow managed to chop up one end instead of leaving it in one nice presentable section)
  5. Divide thigh and drumstick (think I managed this by luck)
  6. French trim the knuckle by scoring the skin and scraping towards the end before cutting off the knuckle after scoring the bone all the way round (by this point everything was covered in raw slippery chicken juice so rather than risk chopping off my finger I instead shattered the chicken bone)
  7. Remove the chicken fillets, trim the fat, french trim the knuckle and choose the best breast to present (this posed a significant problem)
We made saffron, pear and wild mushroom risotto for lunch. The stock was infused with saffron, the pear was peeled, cored and cubed before adding towards the end of cooking and the mushroom was fried in olive oil and butter to top the finished dish with grated parmesan. It was so good that I ate the dish I presented and everything that was left over as well. Oops. 

After lunch we made shortcrust pastry, which I was very pleased my usually hot hands managed not to overwork and melt. We shall see tomorrow, however, whether or not the pastry was too short!

We finished the ragu by browning a mixture of beef and pork mince, draining this before adding it to sweated onion garlic and dried herbs and mixing it with what was by now a delicious-smelling tomato sauce (stalks removed!). We left this again to 'talk to itself' while we rolled and cut our pasta. I learnt an obvious tip for keeping the strips of pasta square, by rolling the dough with a rolling pin first, doing a book fold in the dough, turning 90 degrees and rolling again before using the pasta machine. The cut pasta was tossed in semolina before cooking in salted boiling waster for a couple of minutes, mixing with some of the ragu and presenting in a bowl with parmesan shavings. I need to keep an eye on my seasoning, and also need to tone down my portion sizes!

Tomorrow will be coq au vin and baguettes from scratch. Can't wait. Come back to read about it!

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