Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Meat sweats

Today we were taken through our paces by the inimitable Chef Phil, who we duly got stuck in with for group tasks like making a stock, having a go at large-scale butchery and helping make staff lunch for the next day. Yesterday's mock, as well as the fact we are now a month into the course, has got us working well as a team together so all in all, it was a good day.

Fred the fillet steak. 1/4/14 - 1/4/14. RIP.
We started the day with an enormous, beautiful and expensive beef fillet, ready for Steak Day. Phil explained that the fillet is an underused muscle, found underneath the sirloin ribs across the back of the animal. He pointed out that the muscle is particularly underused in castrated bulls, for obvious reasons.... The various cuts from the fillet were then explained - the chateaubriand at the wider end, the centre cut, used for fillet steak, beef wellington or steak tartare, the filet mignon towards the tapered end, and meat at the end of the fillet that can be used for stroganoff. Other cuts were mentioned too; the ribeye being the last cut from the forequarter before the sirloin (best eaten medium rare to medium due to its higher fat content), the sirloin, which is removed from the rib unless it is called a porterhouse, where it is left on the bone, and a T-bone having the sirloin on one side and the fillet on the other. The 'rump' is fairly self-explanatory; a rump steak is cut thinner than a fillet, as is a sirloin and should be cooked medium as the meat is tougher, but arguably more flavoursome due to its fat content.
We all took turns in trimming sinew from the fillet to get a feel for it and chef rolled it in clingfilm to give it a consistent shape before cutting it into fillets about 180g each and allowing us to pick our own steak. I called mine Fred. Fred had beautiful marbling and I felt very optimistic about our relationship.
We were to come back to making our amazing steak lunch later, so keep dribbling for just a little longer...

Next, we got onto a bit of venison butchery. Venison is a very lean meat with a gamier flavour than beef, only available during hunting seasons and shot in the head or heart at around 18 months old. Phil described good hunting practises and rationales and presented us with a venison saddle before demonstrating how to cut the meat from the carcass by cutting down the spine and carefully cutting the meat away from the ribs, allowing us each to have a go. Once the saddle meat had been removed, it was separated from the skin, trimmed of any sinew and the large cuts of meat were marinaded in a mix of red wine, crushed juniper berries, coriander seeds and peppercorns, chopped shallot and garlic and bruised bay and thyme. Smaller pieces were trimmed and tightly wrapped in clingfilm to give it a consistent shape, ready for use in canapes. The carcass bones were hacked into smaller pieces, roasted with a little oil to colour before honey and tomato puree were spread on the bones and roasted a little longer. Meanwhile we roasted a mirepoix (chunky cuts of celery, carrot, onion, leeks and parsley stalks) in one oven, and halved onions in another. The bones were covered in a good quantity of water, brought to a simmer and skimmed before the vegetables and aromats were added to make a stock that would carry on simmering throughout the day. It smelled amazing, and it was great to all take turns keeping an eye on it, skimming the surface to remove any impurities, adding water if necessary and sieving it at the end of the day. All being well, we will make a consomme with it tomorrow, which I am very much looking forward to!

Tomorrow we will make a soufflé (oh dear God! Soufflé!! The potential for catastrophic failure is HUGE!) and the base of this soufflé will be praline, which we made next. We toasted some hazelnuts in the oven before shaking vigorously in a closed tub to rub off their skins and finishing this process with a clean cloth. Then we melted some sugar in a pan until it began to caramelise and turn golden, at which point we added the hazelnuts and some almonds which we coated in the caramel, poured the praline out onto a baking sheet and allowed to cool. When the praline had hardened, we blitzed it to a crumb in a food processor. I may have had a cheeky taste *just to check* and found it delicious. So, what with marinaded venison saddle and praline soufflé, tomorrow is shaping up nicely.

Before we knew it, it was time to start pulling together our lovely steak lunch, the last of the dishes we had to learn for next week's assessments. We cut Maris Piper potatoes into even-sized chips which we triple cooked. Cook one is to bring them to a simmer for about 10 minutes, to the point where the edges are beginning to go a little translucent and the chips have a 'flop' developing. They are left to steam dry (not on paper, which will stick to them!) and cool a little before they are deep-fried at 120°C for cook two, drained on kitchen paper and reserved for 'go time', at which point they were deep-fried at 190°C (cook three) until golden for service with a sprinkle of salt. We peeled a large mushroom and removed the stalk (all trimmings going straight into that lovely stock), and roasted this on a bed of thyme stalks with some cherry tomatoes on the vine, having drizzled both with a little oil, salt and pepper and aged balsamic.

Fred went to a Very Good Place
To accompany our steak meal, we made a béarnaise sauce. Béarnaise sauce essentially has a hollandaise base, and for that reason it scared me. Note the past tense there. As of today, I can successfully make hollandaise and béarnaise! First, we reduced some tarragon vinegar (white wine vinegar with benefit!) with some very finely chopped shallot and peppercorns. We whisked egg yolks in a bowl over a pan of simmering water and added a little of the reduced vinegar before very slowly whisking in warm clarified butter until the sauce had thickened and was leaving ribbons. It is critical not to overheat the egg or it will scramble, not to add too much vinegar for the same reason and not to let it get too cool so that it doesn't solidify too much or fail to cook. Once the sauce is made, it should be kept warm until just before it is served, at which point chopped tarragon and chervil is stirred through.

Then, it was on to the steak! I oiled and salted Fred on both sides before placing him delicately in a rather hot pan and cooking him for two minutes on each side before adding butter to the pan and giving him a lovely bath. He then went onto a baking tray and into the oven for 3 minutes before a quick rest while the rest of the meal was pulled together. It. Was. Lush.

I might have had to finish this for dinner.
As if that wasn't enough, we had to drag our meat-sweaty, food-comatose selves in from the sunshine to make bread and butter pudding for dessert! We buttered thick slices of bread that had been left to dry overnight and cut it into rounds, which we halved and layered up in a cappuccino cup along with some sultanas. We then made a custard base of milk, cream, egg, egg yolks, sugar and vanilla seeds and poured this on top of the bread. Leaving the pudding to absorb the custard at this point is crucial, and something that I have neglected to do before. After ten minutes or so, the custard can be topped up as it will have been absorbed into the bread. We put it in a deep oven tray in the oven and poured boiling water halfway up the cups before baking for about 40 minutes at 180°C. They puffed up quite a bit as they cooked, so once they were out of the oven and had cooled and settled a little, we topped them with a dusting of cocoa, cinnamon and icing sugar and tried to eat them! The inside was a lovely hug of squidgyness, with just the right level of sweet warm egginess. Presenting such a comfort food staple in this new way was great, and has given me a few new ideas!

Now, no beef-and-venison-butchery-steak-and-chips-and-breadandbutterpudding day would be complete if it wasn't for also making a cake. Gluten free, of course. We creamed butter and sugar, added in ground almonds and vanilla seeds before slowly mixing in beaten egg to avoid causing the mixture to split. We had zested a lemon and let it sit in lemon juice to infuse the oils, and at this point we strained the zest out and added it to the mix, along with a couple of tablespoons of lemon juice to taste. Polenta was folded in, along with a small amount of baking powder and the cake batter was piped into rings that had been buttered and coated in caster sugar. The little cakes took about 15 minutes in the oven at 200°C and we served them with sultanas that had been soaking in warm marsala all day.

Last job of the day was frosted hazelnuts. Quite scary, but really easy and pretty cool. Mix equal amounts of sugar and water and dissolve over heat before adding an equal amount of skinned hazelnuts. Keep heating and keep stirring. Eventually the water will evaporate and the sugar will return to its crystallised form, at which point you will need to stir lots to get the hazelnuts coated, and take the pan from the heat before pouring the nuts onto a baking tray to cool. Try not to set fire to the teatowel holding your pan, like I did. When something I'm a bit nervous about turns out not to be all that scary, I have to make it frightening somehow!

Speaking of frightening times, check back tomorrow to find out how that soufflé goes!

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