Culinary School Week 5: More knife cuts, and we cook more stuff!

Wow, where does the time go. When I last posted (more than a week ago) I promised a post or 2 over the weekend.  That was 4 days ago!

But better late than never. We’ll pick up where we left off with our intrepid hero of the culinary student world.

The last couple of days of the week 5 there was on vegetables, beans, pasta, and grains. Most of it was things I sort of knew, having worked with and eaten this stuff most of my life. One thing we studied is what happens to bean and veggies when you cook them with acids and alkali. In the case of fiber, the alkali will break it down, making the food softer. This is why many recipes say to add bicarbonate of soda to cook beans. Who knew!?  Likewise, acids will make fiber firmer.

But acids and alkali can also affect nutrients and color. If you cook red cabbage with alkali, it turns them blue or blue-green. Not very appetizing.

The basic takeaway is that with vegetables, cooking is a balancing act between maintaining color, texture, and nutrients while making them palatable. The less cooking the better. The text emphasizes what I’ve found out in the past decade or so, that steaming is the best way to cook many vegetables. When we have broccoli at home, I wouldn’t cook it any other way.

In Thursday after lecture, we went into the kitchen to practice the knife cuts we’d seen before, specifically fluting mushrooms and doing Tomato concassé (pronounced “kon-kah-SAY”). You cut the bottom of the tomato with an X, boil it briefly to loosen the skin, then shock it in an ice bath to stop it from cooking. After that, you insert the knife and cut around the core to separate it from the skin. You then cut planks off, and then do a medium dice. The idea is to have small neat cuts of tomato without seeds and gunk. The pics below show the steps:

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This doesn’t actually accomplish anything, other than to raise the bar as to the quality of the presentation. You give your customer nice pieces of tomato without the goo.

Next we did some more mushroom fluting. I covered that in my last post here.

WP_20141030_012[1]Then we actually cooked a bit. One group made sautéed Brussel Sprouts with walnuts, while the other group peeled some potatoes and boiled them to make Duchesse Potatoes. The Brussel Sprouts were pretty good. I never liked them growing up, but they were usually just boiled, which makes any sort of cabbage taste bad. (Brussel Sprouts are tiny cabbages, BTW). In recent years, I’ve roasted them with a bit of olive oil and S&P. Basically, drying them out and caramelizing them a bit really make them tasty. In this case, we added walnuts and they were very good. This is what passes for lunch in our 11-2pm class, M-F.

WP_20141030_015[1]Oh, and all those mushrooms we fluted? We sauteed them and let them sit and brown a bit before moving them around in the pan. Amazing what a bit of caramelization will do for the flavor. As one of my favorite TV chefs, Anne Burrell says, “Brown food tastes GOOD!”. We ate most of those too.

The Duchesse Potatoes were the tastiest. We tried out a food mill, and ultimately ran them through a ricer. You are basically making mashed potatoes with only butter and no extra liquid, except for some egg yolks. The combination egg yolks and no milk or cream makes these a very firm. This mixture is put in a piping bag, and you pipe out little designs, then bake them and it gives them a brown top. This is a great alternative to a spoon of mashed potatoes on a plate, and is yet another French way of “kicking it up a notch”. You can see the sequence here:

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This about does it for week 5. Week six was a busy one, and I’ll tell you about this in the next day or two. I PROMISE!

 


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