Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Show me yer mussels!

Today's cookery had a lot of the sublime, as well as a little of the ridiculous. We welcomed back Chef Rob Dawe to teach us today and covered a broad spectrum of deliciousness with him. We started with stage three in our duck confit, having butchered the duck and marinaded the legs yesterday. Today we wiped off the dry marinade (our marinade had brandy as well as herbs, but any marinade where the item is not pretty much submerged is a dry marinade) and cooked them in duck fat at 140°C in the oven - now they were submerged! The kitchen smelled like Christmas all morning to me, so I was a very happy girl. We turned the legs every hour or so and left them cooking for around four hours before storing them in the fridge, where they can keep like this for weeks - but we will dig them out of the fat on Monday to use for pasta filling. Chef informed us that we could have kept back the excess fat from the ducks yesterday and rendered this down slowly rather than using bought-in duck fat, and demonstrated the rendering technique just with the fat trimmings we had today, tidying up the legs before cooking. Cheekily, we also got to have some duck scratchings, made from the leftover skin after rendering, dried out in the oven. Delish!

Next chef showed us how to make boulangere potatoes. This is a dish that started life when the housewives of France would take a pot of onion and potato slices, with stock, to the bakers once the bread for the day had been made, to make use of the residual heat in the oven. Tom Kerridge does a beautiful version with shoulder of lamb sitting atop the potatoes (see how here, watching the dish in action from 2min to 5min). Chef had already sweated down the onions for our version, and demonstrated how to use a mandolin before getting us to layer potato slices with cooked onion and seasoning, finishing with chicken stock. We cooked our dish (enough for about 16 portions) at 190°C for almost two hours, pushing the top layer of potatoes down every once in a while to stop them curling and burning. Once they were cooked, we chilled the dish with a weighted-down tin on top, to compress the potatoes, which by now had absorbed all the chicken stock.

Rack of lamb, 'before'. Check back tomorrow for the 'after'!
Next up was some more butchery. We were presented with a beautiful best end of lamb, which comes from the lower neck of the animal and costs about the same as a fillet steak at £1.40 per bone. We then watched how to prepare it into a rack. First we had to remove the chine bone (topmost triangular strip of bone on picture); this is the part of the spine that the ribs meet. We kept this for a sauce later. Those who had a shoulder blade as part of their cut had to remove this from between the skin and meat at the end of their rack. The most important part of the rack to maintain is the cannon, the oval strip of meat running through the base of the strip. If you cut this out, it would be a noisette of lamb. We scored a line on the skin side of the rack just above the cannon and cut away meat and skin from this point to the tip of the ribs, before cutting out the meat in between the ribs. Any decent pieces of meat were kept back for the sauce, while fat and skin were discarded. Once the bones were mostly clear of meat, we used the knife, angled towards us, to scrape meat clean from the bones before giving them a final wipe clean, scoring the skin and wrapping the ribs in foil to stop them burning when they cook. You will get to see the finished product tomorrow!

Darker mussels are girls, lighter ones are boys!
Thanks to Rob Dawe for letting me photo his work.
Lunch today was a two-part affair, starting with moules mariniere. Our mussels had come from the River Exe, the best of three rivers in the area for mussels. We checked them for barnacles, which we removed, for holes in the shell, in which case we discarded them, and for a beard, which we removed. We tapped any mussels that were partially open to check that they then closed, and if not these were also discarded as this means they were dead and therefore harmful to eat. We melted butter, fried off finely chopped shallots and garlic with a little salt until softened before raising the heat and tipping the cleaned mussels into the pan, followed by some white wine. We put a lid on the pan, gave the mussels a good shake and left them to cook for about three minutes. Then we removed the mussels to a bowl, added chopped parsely and cream, a little pepper and lemon juice to the sauce and let this bubble away while we made sure each shell had a corresponding mussel and that the plate looked attractive, before pouring over the sauce and serving with warm slices of the granary bread we made yesterday to dunk with. I got so quickly engrossed in my own plate I forgot to picture it and had to photograph chef's! Now that I know how to make this properly, without overcooking the mussels or stewing them in too much wine, I will give it a go more often, perhaps trying with cider instead of wine, and perhaps adding some other flavours such as curry or lemongrass.

Part two of our lunch was jelly and ice cream! Only this is a professional course, so it was posh. We made the ice cream by making a custard almost the same way as our vanilla custard last week - with slightly less cream (to stop the ice cream from crystallising too much or feeling 'chalky' in the mouth) and slightly more milk and sugar, and instead of adding vanilla, we used a little rosewater. This was then chilled and churned in a pacojet, which makes ice cream in 8 minutes. To go with our ice cream we made an elderflower and champagne jelly. First we rehydrated sheets of gelatin then we dissolved this in a mix of elderflower cordial and water. We used a blowtorch to lightly eliminate any surface bubbles before adding in a little champagne (sparkling water is the cheap's cheat's version). We half-filled a chef ring sealed at the bottom with a triple layer of clingfilm with chopped fruit and topped this up halfway with the jelly mix before allowing to set in the fridge and repeating the process. We used freeze-dried raspberries, glass sugar and macarons to decorate our plates, kindly donated by Rob Spencer!

For dinner this evening we practised one of our assessment dishes - a madeira jus - to accompany our breast of lamb from Monday. We browned the chine bone and bits of meat from our lamb rack butchery before adding a chopped shallot and some chopped garlic. This was deglazed with madeira before the cooking juices from the breast of lamb were added, followed by beef stock. We left this merrily bubbling away during the day. We made a mint sauce by finely chopping fresh mint with caster sugar and leaving this to infuse in sherry vinegar. Once the sauce had reduced we strained it and kept it warm after removing some of the surface grease by placing clingfilm right onto the surface of the liquid and removing it. Meanwhile we cooked some trimmed green beans and kept these to one side while we griddled slices of courgette and kept these warm in the oven with a portion of boulanger potatoes. Keeping up? We unwrapped, de-tied and sliced our rolled, cooked breast of lamb and seared these with a little oil in a pan before adding some of our jus and finishing them in the oven. Just before serving, we warmed the beans in simmering water with butter and finished our jus by a 'monter au beurre' technique, where cold butter is whisked into the warm sauce, off the heat, to make it glossy.

I would love to have shown you my plate, but it was hilarious. What in my head looked quite nice, turned out looking like the very hungry caterpillar, with a courgette and bean flower, a boulangere potato sun and a very grumpy and soggy looking lamb caterpillar crawling across a slate, juice dribbling everywhere. Key learnings? Don't use slate for dark food. Don't use slate for food with sauces. Don't space food miles apart on the plate. Start again if it looks rubbish! At least I have a couple of weeks to work on that before I get assessed on it, hey?

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