Saturday, 15 March 2014

One third full!

We spent the first hour of yesterday going over key points from what we'd learnt, having the opportunity to ask questions over anything that we wanted clarified or expanded upon. Rob Dawe gave us yet more tips as we went along, such as getting beef bones from the butcher for free to make stock, but that veal bones make a better stock and should cost about £1.30/kg, that meat or fish stock, once made, can be reduced to a tenth of its volume and frozen in cubes for later use - but that fish stock ice cubes don't go well in a gin and tonic! We learned that a number of top restaurants will make sauces up to the stage before butter is used to finish them before they are frozen so that they can be easily stored and portioned with minimal wastage for the time that has gone into making them.

Having made goujons from our filleted plaice on Thursday, on Friday we learned to fillet mackerel. Mackerel are currently further out to sea, making them more expensive than at the height of Summer, when they cost as little as £1.50 each. Rob told us of his horror last week when some fish were delivered to the school that cost a legitimate £10 each due to being further out to sea - their massive size doing little to allay the sting at this sharp increase in price. As with other fish, they should be checked to ensure they have bright, shining eyes and clear gills upon purchase, and farmed fish, such as some seabass, will have bite marks on their tails where their high density in the pools means they attack each other.

Having been shown how to fillet mackerel at River Cottage, I have practised my skills on a fishing trip to Cornwall. Ashburton showed us a different way, by first making a cut at the top of their 'neck' before removing the head, but then, rather than gutting the fish - which makes quite a mess of both knife and board - instead removing each fillet by cutting from tail to head, keeping the knife as close to the bones either side of the spine as possible and using a smooth sawing motion. Fish filleting is a job where it is clearer than ever just how important it is to have a very sharp knife which is appropriate for the task in hand. The ribcage should then be removed from each fillet by cutting from its middle towards the underside of the fish and cutting this off. The fillets can then be tidied up before the central pinbones are removed either by using a pair of tweezers or be cutting a V-shaped 'trench' in the middle of the fish - without cutting through the skin, of course! Mackerel fillets should have the skin scored before panfrying, and the seethrough membrane on the skin should be removed if the fish is to be used as sashimi or sushi.

The mackerel fillets were liberally salted and left to cure for about an hour while we prepared a sousing liquor. We finely sliced shallots and garlic and softened these in olive and corn oil before adding bay leaf, saffron, peppercorns and cloves, shortly followed by white wine, sherry and white wine vinegar. We then julienned some carrot (very fine strips) before adding these, cooking them slightly while we wiped most of the salt from the fillets and submerged them in this fragrant pickling liquor. They will be for lunch on Monday as mackerel escabeche - a popular tapas dish possibly from Portugal. The liquor can be personalised with different alcohols and aromatics and this works well with oily fish because they hold their shape well.

Boiled ham knuckles.
Not quite so appetising at this stage.
Having boiled some ham knuckles on Thursday, it was time to turn them into something beautiful. This was messy! We peeled away the skin and then spent time basically tidying them into hocks for lunch. This meant removing a fair bit of fat and gristly material, the large central bone and a nice amount of lovely meltingly tender ham trimmings for soup on Monday. The aim was to be left with something beautiful to look at and so we wlso French trimmed the remaining presentation bon. We made a glaze by mixing honey, demerera sugar and mustard and warming through to dissolve the sugar. This was poured on the ham to glaze it before roasting it for 15 minutes at 220°C, basting the meat with the melted glaze every five minutes.

Meanwhile, we made a parsley sauce by cooking out a roux - a mix of melted butter and flour - before loosening little by little with ham stock until a smooth and glossy sauce was achieved. We chopped some parsley to add at the last minute and tasted the sauce for seasoning before leaving it warming while we fried some chopped garlic in butter, cooked through finely shredded savoy cabbage and a little water and seasoning.
Glazed ham hock with parsley sauce, sauteed cabbage
and piccalilli. Delicious Defined.

To present our lunch, we painted a little glaze on a slate, created a bed for the ham hock with the cabbage and stirred the parsley through our sauce and pouring it into a jug. We also got to have some of the piccalilli we made earlier in the week. Despite having eaten very well all week, being vocal about having to cut this back, and members of our group professing small appetites, we ALL cleaned our plates thoroughly in a silent lunch of unabated bliss. Considering a ham knuckle costs about £3.50, and we have plenty of ham left over, as well as lovely ham stock and jelly for terrines, this is well worth trying at home!

Last job of the day was bakewell tarts. We made sweet pastry earlier in the day in a way I'd never tried - but which makes total sense. We mixed the softened butter with icing sugar with our (cold, hopefully) hands, before adding sifted flour and a little egg yolk / water mix at a time until a soft dough was achieved. It was important not to overwork the dough so that the butter melted and split. Chef informed us that we could use frozen butter grated into the mix and chill all other ingredients - and that he had even seen chefs making sweet pastry inside walk-in fridges! The dough was rested in the fridge while we got on with other cooking, and later in the day we rolled it out, lined deep tart cases with it and blind baked it as we had the shortcrust pastry. This time, towards the end of cooking, chef demonstrated how we could use an egg wash to 'laminate' the tart case and prevent leaks. Once the cases were baked we removed the excess pastry overhang with a sharp knife and brushed out crumbs - to blow them away as you might at home is obviously a big professional kitchen no-no!

We made the frangipane filling by hand too - manually "whisking" softened butter and caster sugar before slowly adding beaten egg mix to avoid curdling the mixture. Then sifted flour was mixed through, as well as ground almonds. We spread a layer of seedless raspberry jam in the bottom of each case before loading the cases almost full of the frangipane mix and topping with flaked almonds. We started baking the tarts at 200°C for 17 minutes before lowering the temperature to 170°C for a further 8 minutes.

Reaching the point at which we have completed one third of our course was a bittersweet moment. I have learnt so much already, gained so much confidence in my cooking and there is so much more to come, but to only have four weeks left seems so little. It was a little relief to learn that we have all passed our Food Safety level Three qualification, and will find out in our final week whether or not we achieved a merit. I am celebrating my achievements so far this weekend with a food festival tomorrow - and a nice long run to counteract some of this wonderful food!

1 comment:

  1. Amazing that there was any left to try! Place your cake orders now - mouthwateringly good! Oh for tastavision to share ... But just not yet :)