Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Oh Gooberfish!

We started today by making granary bread, much in the same way as the other breads we have made and of course, we are now soon to be professionals so this was the easy bit. We used award-winning Cotswold Crunch flour, a mixture of strong white bread flour, malt flour, malted wheat flakes and rye flour, with added pinhead oatmeal and barley. We did a couple of things differently today - one of the benefits of being taught by a variety of chefs with different approaches. We didn't use flour on our surface today, only to dust our hands, and left the dough to prove in the oven set to 32°C as this was a surefire way of providing a stable proving environment. One the dough had doubled in size we knocked it back, shaped it, left it to prove again and dusted with flour before baking. Sadly time ran away with us a bit today due to the other tasks we had to get through (see below!) and when we very carefully slashed the loaves after dusting, and they all collapsed, there was little we could do other than put them into the oven at 275°C, before immediately dropping the temperature to 220°C, and hope for the best. You will have to take my word for it that the bread was delicious enough for me to smuggle some home for breakfast tomorrow.

Next we made poached eggs. Now, I thought I had cracked this (no pun intended) a few months ago, but I was wrong. I liked my poached eggs as a product of a very light simmer, encouraging the eggs to sink with minimal seepage and cooking in a fairly recognisably eggy shape. Chef, however, preambled the correct method by describing this product as 'comedy rubber eggs'. Ah well. Back to the drawing board then. A perfect poached egg is a pod, essentially. The water should be deep and in a large pan and on a fairly vigorous simmer, with a dash of white wine vinegar (I was about to get snobby about not bothering to make them if you only have malt vinegar before I remembered that chef talked about using red wine vinegar with a brunch including shallots and bacon!) If you can position the pan so that half of it is bubbling away and half isn't, all the better as the egg will be pushed from the hotter side of the pan - the entry point, to the cooler side to cook. Crack the egg into a ramekin and lower this into the water at an angle so that the egg is almost pulled out of the ramekin into the water. The egg will take about 3 minutes to cook, at which point the white is visibly cooked but the yolk still feels fairly squidgy (technical term!) to the touch. At this point remove the eggs to a bowl of iced water to stop the cooking process if you are not serving straight away; the eggs can be stored in the fridge and can be re-simmered for about 45 seconds to reheat later. When serving, the wispy pieces of egg white should be removed to leave your 'pod' of poached egg.

(Top-Bottom) A Gurnard, and Jar Jar Binks
Our next task was to fillet a gurnard. A gurnard is a large, catfish-like fish that resembles Jar Jar Binks. It is also, perhaps more commonly, known as 'poor man's red mullet' because of its delicate flavour. They cost about £7 each. It has a defined bone structure quite different from plaice or mackerel, and tough skin with sharp spines protruding from fins and tail. We removed these spines using scissors before cutting in behind the gill up towards the 'neck' before twisting off the head. Quite a lot of flesh below the gill can be removed through this stage as it is not of good quality. Laying the fish on its side, with the tail towards us, we then cut down to the side of the spine in a series of swipes to cut the flesh away towards the ribs, but not all the way to the base of the fish. Then, halfway down the fish, below the end of the ribs, we cut through from side of spine to belly and cut the fillet away to the tail. We then used scissors to free the fillet from the ribs, cut the ribs out of the fillet and used tweezers to remove the tough pin bones. Easy, huh? What was not quite so easy was the sight of (albeit harmless) worms that had worked their way into the belly flesh and needed to be removed. I thought I had a record of four, but a classmate found about 10 in hers. And they carried on wriggling on the board. Pretty grim.

We cut the fillet into three sections, scored the skin, oiled and salted and baked it at 200°C for four minutes, flesh-side down, before resting it on the hot tray under a lid so that the residual heat could continue cooking it to perfection. We served the fish with slices of our granary bread, griddled, some sauteed spinach with a little butter and our poached egg topped with hollandaise sauce (made by chef, we will get our turn next week!). We decorated the plate with garlic-infused basil oil made by warming olive oil with whole crushed garlic cloves, liquidising with a bunch of blanched and refreshed basil and straining through muslin for a couple of hours. All very delicious, as long as you put the worms thing far from your mind!

That duck leg is hiding because it is embarrassed at its state
After lunch we got on with duck butchery. A duck has a more defined bone structure than a chicken so this was decidely easier than last week's butchery exercise. The essential differences are that the breastplate is more defined and easier to cut against, there is a lot more, thicker, excess skin to remove, a tougher wishbone and a larger, longer breast. Once we had battled through the butchery, we kept the breasts in the fridge for later in the week and the legs were dotted with holes ready for confit. We made a marinade with black peppercorns, sea salt, whole unpeeled garlic cloves, thyme and bay leaves pounded in a pestle and mortar with some brandy and the confit process will continue tomorrow after the legs have spent the night skin-side down in this marinade.

For dinner this evening we took home lamb tagine with couscous. The diced lamb shoulder was stored in a marinade yesterday and today we browned it in a pan after sweating off sliced onion and a little salt. The lamb was seared at a high enough heat to begin to catch on the bottom of the pan, so the chicken stock we then added served to deglaze this. Once all of the chicken stock had been added, we brought the mix up to a simmer before adding a cinnamon stick and some saffron and leaving the meat to simmer, lidded, for a few hours until the meat was meltingly tender and the sauce had reduced. Towards the end of cooking, dried apricots were added so that they could absorb the liquid and rehydrate, and right at the end of cooking some chopped coriander was stirred through.

The tagine was served with couscous, made totally differently to how any of us had prepared before, but which made absolute sense. As chef pointed out, what other grain would we ever soak in hot water to cook? Instead, we laid muslin cloth inside a steamer basket and steamed our couscous inside this for about 10 minutes until it had swollen and become fluffy. We broke it up with olive oil as usual, and stirred through toasted almonds, chopped mint, lemon juice and seasoning. And I am off to eat it now!


  1. Apparently they are alright to eat! Looked it up online and it seems to depend on the feeding grounds, when some seasons the worms are more common.
    Trawlers accept it as normal within the industry. Mmmm not as in yum tho!

    1. Good to know! I will have to let a couple of my classmates know who were too disturbed by the whole thing to eat their lovely lunch! :(

    2. Have a look at this for an interesting read about fish parasites and why they're actually not a bad sign!

  2. ... And off to get some more muslin - throwing away the poacher - definitely sharpening the knives!

    1. The knife sharpeners we use are very similar to this: which works very well. Sharp knives are essential! I use this sharpener at home, which does the job beautifully too