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Adventures at the French Culinary Institute


manton
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A teacher that inspires you to hustle is invaluable.

that is so true! Sadly they are spread very thin, but there were a couple that I still remember very fondly from way back when. Most I would rather forget though.

Looking forward to the next post!

"And don't forget music - music in the kitchen is an essential ingredient!"

- Thomas Keller

Diablo Kitchen, my food blog

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Day 5: Preserves

The good news: I finally remembered my camera. The bad news: I broke my ceramic honing rod when I accidentally knocked it off my station cleaning up. The not-so-bad news: it only cost $20, so it could be worse.

Anyway, today was “preserves” day. It was sort of an odd class, one that did not follow obviously from the prior one, as they all have so far. I admit I was not that excited about it.

But it turned out to be more fun than I thought. Right off the bat, I have to say that the title was mildly misleading. Yes, we learned about preserves. The lecture was devoted to explaining the various methods. But we did not actually make any preserves of any kind. Instead, we made three recipes that used preserves that were already made. Which is just as well. I don’t foresee myself making preserves any time soon, if ever. My parents used to have a big party once a year, at which some family and friends would come and they would all jar green peppers all day, then the jars would go in our garage for … I don’t remember how long, but a long time. I really disliked this project and usually found a way to weasel out of it. The day was always preceded by complex negotiations among the participants about how many jars of the finished product each would get. Inventory was taken as if the jars were the warheads counted by the START Treaty. People seemed to think that my dad might be the cause of some “leakage.” So all the jars were strictly accounted for. The process was long and brutal, and the worst job by far was peeling a million cloves of garlic (they went into the jars whole but peeled). Well, little we morons knew how easy that could be. You take two metal bows, or two metal pots of equal size, put the cloves in one, cover with the other, and shake, ramming the garlic repeatedly against the interior surfaces. The skin pops right off. Easy. But we did them all by hand, one by one. An FCI education could have spared us that.

Anyway, Chef X. is big into preserves. He makes a lot of preserves at home, using all the methods, and every type of food. Once again, I benefited from arriving early. Chef spontaneously started to discourse on curing, and then asked, “Do you wanna go see my prosciutto?”

At this point, it was just me and another student, the manager of a prominent Midtown steakhouse. He is a business guy, not a chef, but since he is in the food business, he wants to get more familiar with the business of cooking. I wish at this point that I had not named Restaurant Guy Restaurant Guy, because in reality there are two. Restaurant Guy is really Line Cook Guy, and the other one is Manager Guy. Anyway, it’s too late to change the first name.

Manager Guy, Chef X. and me went down to a large kitchen on the second floor. As it happens, this was where one of the “Essentials of Fine Cooking,” the 8 week classes, was being held. It was a huge kitchen – there must have been 40 stations – and there were a lot of students. We weren’t there long, but I felt very fortunate to be in the class I was in. With so many fewer students, and a smaller kitchen all to ourselves, and a teacher of the caliber of Chef X., well, it seemed like a great deal. And I am convinced that it is.

Anyway, Chef X. led us through the chaos of that class (just beginning) to a closet. The intended purpose of that closet is to house huge tanks of fire retardant liquid that feed the extinguisher nozzles that point down from the ceilings over every station in the school. But there are also pipes in that closet, and from those pipes hang varies items curing.

“The school, they had a test that called for whole pork – you know, a full pig – and they had these legs left over. They said ‘We don’t know what to do with them.’ I am from the South of France, near Spain, so I know what to do. I said, ‘Give them to me.’ And I make prosciutto. I use a dry rub – salt and spices – and then wrap in a cheese cloth. And hang here.”

“What spices?”

“Ah, that is a family secret. It has to cure for a long time. 24 months is best. These legs have been here since November, a long way to go.”

And, indeed, there were two pork legs wrapped in cheesecloth hanging from the pipes. Hooves and all.

“I leave the bone in. Some people, they de-bone before they cure. That makes it much easier to cut later, but it weakens the flavor. I used to do this at home, but this room is perfect. The pipes give off just the right amount of humidity, and the temperature is always 45 degrees. Any colder, and it will not cure; nothing will happen inside the mean. Any warmer and it will rot.

“After 18 months I will take these home. I save the ash from my fireplace all year. When they are ready, I will put them in a wine barrel and bury them in ash for the last six months.”

“What does that do?”

“Helps them completely dry out and adds a smoky flavor. You know, prosciutto this good, cured this long, is rare. I can sell one of these legs for six or seven hundred dollars. I won’t, though. I will keep some and give the rest to the school and the students.”

Also In the closet were other chefs’ prosciutto – already boned, the lazy bastards – and some pancetta. “Pancetta takes much less time, four or six months at most.”

Manager Guy wanted to know if he could use the dry aging locker at his restaurant to cure meats.

“What’s the temperature?”

“35.”

“No, too cold. Nothing will happen. The meat won’t cure.”

Chef brought three jars from home of preserves he had prepared himself. One was green beans, one was tomato sauce, the other was pâté. What he does is, once the food is prepared and jarred, he submerges the jar in a pot of water, brings the water up to 180°, then “cooks” the jar, depending on its size, for 30 to 90 minutes. That kills whatever pathogen might be in there, but also gently depletes the oxygen. Then – he insisted that this is very important – when the cooking time is over, you take the pot off the heat, but you DON’T take the jar out of the pot. You wait for the water to cool. It has to be slow. If you shock the jar with a sudden temperature change, you will not get a perfect seal. To demonstrate the latter, he used one of those jars with a central disk and a threaded rim that are separate. He unscrewed the rim and removed it, leaving only that central disk, held in place only by the vacuum seal He tipped the jar upside down and shook it. Despite having no physical anchor, the disk did not budge.

“That is a tight, tight seal. It will last forever. There is nothing inside that can react with the food, so it will stay safe. You know, sometimes I see people do this in restaurants, which is good. But then I see them open a jar, and not use all of it, say, a sauce. Now, it will keep in the fridge for maybe three or four days. Longer if you boil it. If you boil a sauce every three days, it will keep for a long time, though of course you always lose a little. But sometimes I see people get lazy. They preserve their sauce, then open it when they need it but they don’t use all of it. And they don’t boil it. Instead, when they see the mold start to grow at the top, they just scoop that out. When I see that, I can’t believe it. When there is mold anywhere the WHOLE THING is contaminated. You cannot serve it. You will make people sick. Seriously.”

I am not going to list all the methods he described. I’d rather just get to the actual work.

We made three recipes:

• Potage St. Germain (a/k/a split pea soup; using dried preserved peas)

• Salad Niçoise (using tuna and anchovies preserved in brine)

• Brandade de morue (using cod salted on the fishing boat to preserve the meat)

I had never heard of this last recipe before. It sounded dreadful, but was not bad.

I am also not much of a fancy salad eater. Simple greens with a vinaigrette is good enough for me. So the Salad Niçoise was not that appetizing, but it was interesting to make.

Chef paired Restaurant guy and me today on two grounds: first, we didn’t have enough ingredients for us to work alone. Second, he said there was no way that we could get everything done on time if we had to do it all individually. We would still each plate our own salad, bowl of soup, and plate of Brandade, but we would prep everything as a team.

First we got the soup ready. Small mirepoix of carrot and onion, emancer of leeks, lardon of bacon, a little butter, some smashed garlic, chicken stock and a lot of dried peas. I was a bit more precise about getting everything in place, but RG was lightning quick about getting stuff done. At one point I reached for the leek, only to find that he had already trimmed and washed it and was motoring through the emancer like a pro. Which, I suppose, he is.

Then you melt the butter over low heat, sweat the bacon, then the veggies. “No color! I don’t want to see any color. If you brown your vegetables, you will have brown soup, and pea soup should be green, not brown.”

Just like last week with the chasseur sauce, my veg began to get a little brown. I panicked. Before I did anything though, RG was standing next to me with a clean Russe saying “Change pots, change pots!” That we did, and it saved the day. I showed Chef the veg and asked if they were OK. “Yes, they are fine. [Restaurant Guy] saved you in the nick of time.”

Whew!

When the onions are translucent, you add the peas and coat with the fat for a few minutes. After that, you add the stock. At the station behind us, Waitress Girl and her partner asked us, “Is it time to put in the peas yet?”

We looked. Their stock was already in the pot. “Yeah, go ahead,” I said. RG and I exchanged a knowing look.

Then you bring to a boil, add a cartouche, then add the metal lid, and put the pot in a 350 oven. “If you cook on the stove, your starch is gonna sink, stick and burn. You have to stir constantly. Even then you might burn it. In the oven, the heat is not just from below, it’s from all around. The soup cooks more evenly.”

While that cooked, it was on to the salad. First we had to hard boil some eggs. Just start the eggs in cold water, boil the water, let the eggs boil for 10 minutes, take them out and put them in cold water. Well, I made the mistake of timing my eggs on a stopped clock. By the time I figured out it was stopped I had no idea how long they had been in there, but had to guess. My second mistake was to put the cooked eggs into an ice bath, not just cold water. “You don’t want to do that. Because if the egg is a little undercooked anywhere, it will still cook in the water. But the ice will shock it, and stop that last little bit of cooking.”

Then we had to cook green beans a l’Anglais, boil some red potatoes, and peel some tomatoes. Now, at this point, Chef had pulled down the view screen for Chef TV, covering the dry erase board on which was written the day’s recipes. So when RG asked me if we were peeling the potatoes, I guessed. And guessed wrong.

“Why are you peeling those potatoes? Do you see me peeling my potatoes?”

No, because I didn’t have time to watch what you were doing. Of course, I didn’t say that. The ladies behind us were in worse shape because they had peeled all of theirs, whereas we still had several unpeeled left.

Another element of the salad is green peppers. These had to peeled – a first for me – then cored, then cut into segments along the natural grooves, then peeled again on those spots that the peeler missed the first time because of those grooves, then seeded and trimmed of all the white parts. I did all that. RG then cut them into perfect macedoine.

Tomato peeling was something we learned in Knife Skills. You cut a little x at the base, and remove the stem base with your paring knife. Drop in boiling water for 15-30 seconds. Shock. The skin comes right off.

Then we cut them into “petals.” That is, you quarter the tomatoes and use the paring knife to shave off the ribs inside. You also need to get all the seeds out.

When the beans are done cooking, shock them, pull the root ends off, then cut them into equal lengths.

Also, wash some Boston lettuce, dry, and trim out the rib.

Pit some olives.

Chop some parsley.

Use the back of your paring knife to debone the anchovies.

Make vinaigrette. RG did this. He used some smashed garlic cloves to flavor it. Other people chopped theirs. “No, no, no. You just want a little flavor from the garlic. You don’t want any pieces in the salad. When you chop it you can’t avoid that.”

RG and I went back and forth tasting it. We were like two chemists. “Needs salt. You?”

“Yeah. A little more. One half turn of the pepper grinder, too.”

Say what you will, we jointly seasoned every dish we made, and we got it right every time. No other team could claim that.

When the potatoes were cooked, we put cold water on top of the hot water and then let them rest in the same pot. After a few minutes, dry them, peel them and slice them. It was very hard to slice cooked potatoes consistently without breaking the slices, and I lost a few.

Peel your eggs, another delicate operation. Tap it lightly on your cutting board, when you have a crack, roll the egg with slight pressure at its equator. Then peel. Not so easy, as the shell breaks into a million little parts.

So, a lot of prep.

Finally, it was time to plate the salad. “There are three kinds of salads: simple, mixed, and composé. Simple salads have one ingredient. Mixed have several, but they are all mixed together and dressed together. Composé means that all the parts are kept separate on the plate and dressed individually. First we are gonna dress the potatoes and let them marinate. Every time you dress, make sure you whisk your vinaigrette. Remember, vinegar sinks, oil floats, so it’s not mixed if you let it rest.”

After that we plated the lettuce. The “plates” we were using were square shaped bowls with sloped sides. We laid a piece of lettuce on the bottom, and then one piece against each corner. The tomato petals came next, in another corner.

“Where we gonna put the beans and the peppers?”

No answer.

“Do we want them next to each other? No, because green next to green looks boring. We want something to be between them. That means they go opposite. And the potatoes go opposite the tomato.”

One egg is quartered and goes between the four other items. Then the tuna in the center. The anchovy just gets dropped on the plate, as do the olives – “Five or six per plate at most.”

Then sprinkle the parsley, and add a leaf in the middle. Voila. Here is mine:

p1050588oe0.jpg

Could have been better. The eggs should form more of an “X”.

“I am not gonna taste your salads, those are for you to eat. But I want to test a green bean, and I want to taste your vinaigrettes.”

Ours was perfect. Some others were not. “Too much oil. You can’t taste the acid,” he said of one. “Correct seasoning. Not enough salt, not enough pepper,” he said of another.

Several people had undercooked their eggs. It was obvious at a glance. A cooked hard boiled yoke is pale yellow and totally opaque. Not quite cooked is a golden, translucent yellow. “How long did you cook that?”

“15 minutes.”

“15 minutes? No way. That is not 15 minutes. Maybe 15 minutes from when you turned on the flame, but not 15 minutes from when the water boiled. Remember, you time the cooking from the time when the water starts to boil.”

I didn’t want my salad, so I went with Chef and gave it to the ladies in the pastry class next door. They seemed grateful.

After lunch, we took the pea soup out of the oven and got ready to puree it. You can do this in a food mill or a blender. A blender is less traditional, but results in a smoother soup.

“Your soup is gonna be too thick. Boil some chicken stock and add it in.”

Then we made croutons. This is another think I had learned in Knife Skills. You take a frozen slice of white bread. Trim the crust. Cut into batonnets, then dice. Melt some butter on medium heat. Add the bread cubes. Toss frequently. This was important.

“You have to brown them evenly. You can’t do that with a spatula or tongs or anything. You have to learn to toss.” And Chef demonstrated the time-honored professional wrist flip. Jolt the pan forward and slightly upward, causing the contents to race up the curve of the pan. Then pull the pan back to catch the falling foodstuffs. Happily, I have some experience at this. But RG has much more. I gave the pan a few flips. But RG mostly did the croutons. Chef proclaimed them perfect:

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After they are cooked, deposit on a paper towel and salt immediately.

The soup is pureed in a blender. You start the blender on low and gradually turn it up. “If you start it on high, the soup will shoot out. You can burn yourself. And make a mess. It is VERY IMPORTANT to take out the sachet” – that is, the bouquet garni in the cheesecloth. “If you don’t, you will ruin your soup, and much worse, destroy this machine, and maybe hurt yourself.”

I started to blend. “So start on low and gradually crank up, right?”

“Right.” Chef watched patiently. Then a fear gripped him as the hum grew louder and higher. “You took out the sachet, right?!?!” he asked, with genuine horror on his face. Now, I knew that RG had, or at least I thought I knew, so I said, emphatically, “Yes!” But I still furtively looked behind me to make sure it was in the waste bowl. And there it was. Whew!

After it’s blended some, open the top, add some butter and blend again. Put back in a rinsed out Russe and reheat. Season.

p1050591vj6.jpg

Note the color. The correct color looks like this:

exorcist_vomit.jpg

Several others ended up with brown soup because they browned their mirepoix rather than sweating it. Also, I was rather proud that RG and I were the only two who got the seasoning right on the first try. We seem to make a good team.

Then add some cream. You can do this two ways. The easy way is to just whisk it into the soup. The hard way is to make crème fraîche – heavy cream left at room temperature and then whisked heavily – and swirl it into the soup. Or you can do it the hard way.

You make a little cone out of parchment paper. “You could use a pastry bag, it’s easier, but you need to learn this.” It took me three tries to get this right. Meanwhile, RG was whipping the hell out of the cream. When it was nice and frothy, we put it into the paper cone, and then folded the opening shut. Then – and only then – do you snip off a little opening at the pointy end. I almost did that after making the cone, but Chef stopped me. “Not now! All the cream will spill out when you fill it!” Anyway, here is our filled cone:

p1050594ql6.jpg

Then we each plated our own soup and made the pattern. You start in the center and make a spiral outward. When that is done you take your paring knife and make little lines. “Spider web pattern,” Chef called it. And indeed, that is what it looks like. Still, the terminology should probably not be used in front of diners, who don’t want to imagine spiders in their soup.

Put a little pile of croutons in the center, sprinkle minced parsley, and done:

p1050589cp5.jpg

Last recipe was brandade de morue. I had never heard of this. The rationale, Chef said, was that commercial fishing boats have to stay out for a long time – months – to make a trip profitable. In the old days, there was no refrigeration. So they salted the fish. The preserved it, but also made it unsuitable for cooking as a centerpiece filet. So other ideas were created. This is one of them.

To prep this dish, Chef had the fish in a ban marie with running cold water overnight. “This is very important. It gets a lot of the salt off. If you don’t do this, all you will taste is salt. That’s it.” By the time we got the fish, that process was over, however.

“Cut the fish into chunks but make sure to trim away the bloodlines. See that brown? You don’t want that.” The brown was a thin layer at the top of the fleshy side, in the center. It was tricky to get that off and not waste ant fish, but I did ok.

Then you poach the fish in water till it flakes. Meanwhile, RG peeled some russets, cut them into chunks, and was boiling them. When fork tender, he drained and mashed them. Then he put some heavy cream in a small sauteuse and boil, off heat when the boiling is achieved.

Meanwhile, we had to chop garlic. The recipe said 3 cloves, but Chef said to use as many as six. “I am from the South of France, we love garlic. It’s hard to use too much. You can, but we are nowhere close.”

He chopped his the simple way: smash with the flat of the knife, then mince. (FCI abhors a garlic press. “Just mashes and bruises the garlic. All the water comes out and dilutes the flavor.) In Knife Skills, I had been taught to ciseler garlic. I asked about that. “You mean like this?” And Chef took his paring knife and whizzed through a clove.

“Yeah.”

“Sure, if you want. It’s a little neater, but it takes more time.”

I am comfortable with that, so that’s what I did. One of the ladies behind us looked over my shoulder and said, disconsolately, “That’s small!” I looked at her garlic. It was more like small mirepoix, not ciseler.

The garlic went into a small sauteuse with olive oil, medium low heat. “Guys, cook your garlic slowly, just some bubble sin the oil. As soon as the outer edges start to brown, take it off the flame.” Meanwhile, Chef was shaking not pan constantly. Not flipping the garlic; that would just send oil flying everywhere. “Just keep the garlic moving. Prevents burning.”

Then it was time to drain the fish and start mashing it with a fork over low heat. Add the potatoes, combine with a fork. Add the garlic – oil and all – to the mix and keep mashing. Then take off the heat and begin streaming in the cream, slowly. The correct consistency looks like very creamy mashed potatoes. Which, I suppose, is what this is. Season with salt (amazingly, you do need to salt the salt cod) and white pepper.

p1050597xa4.jpg

Chef had us make some ironic croutons. “For Valentine's Day.” We cut a piece of bread in two in the diagonal, and then used shears to make a heart shape. Toast that in butter. Drain on a paper towel and salt.

Plate the brandade by making a little pile, leaning the croutons against the pile, and adding parsley. Here is mine:

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Taste-wise, I have to say, it didn’t suck. I expected to hate it. I didn’t. I don’t expect to make it myself, ever, but who knows. Seasoning was perfect, again. I had a good day.

“Next week you guys are gonna work on your own,” Chef said to RG and me. We probably looked rather smug at that point.

I helped him break everything down again, and when it was finally time to leave he gave me the jar of preserved pâté. Like the reverse of giving an apple to the teacher. Give pâté to the teacher’s pet. I’ll take it.

Edited by manton (log)
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Wow. You've made two of my favorite classics, the salade nicoise and the brandade. But seasonally, they are at odds, imho.

I serve the nicoise often during the summer months when beans and tomatoes are in season. And btw, it is perfectly acceptable with good canned tuna. A big platter for a crowd, rather than individually plated, is the way to go and the components can be made well in advance. A very easy dish for casual entertaining.

As for the brandade, you do need to know your audience. Not everyone loves salt cod. I think of it as a cold weather dish, but I'd eat it any time of year or day. When I was kid, I'd eat leftover branade cold for breakfast.

Keep posting, please!


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Chef did say several times that canned tuna was proper for this recipe. Now that I think about it, I wish I had put this in. When we were done, he said, "At a restaurant I would charge $8, $9 for this. Nine dollars. There is maybe one dollar worth of ingredients in one salad. One dollar. The rest is profit."

"After overhead and work."

"Yes, especially the work. But that is your salary, eh?

"At some places they use fresh tuna, sear small piece, less than this, and charge $15 to $20. That is ... not right. You make more money, but it cheats the customer."

As to RG, we were never wary of each other, we just preferred to work alone because it is harder, and you get to do more stuff. But there is no way either one of us could have finished this lesson alone. Too much prep.

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That soup really calls out to me, and the oven technique is one I don't know. Can you share the exact recipe? I'd love to make it while the weather is still cool.

I live in the land of brandade de morue: it's somewhere on almost every restaurant menu, tons of jarred stuff (mostly yuck) in the supermarket, it's even available as a pizza topping, with or without chorizo, to which it's a natural partner (ask your chef). Yours looks very nice, especially with the croutons. I've never seen it served that way.

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Here is the soup recipe:

350 g dried split green peas

40 g bacon cut into lardons

20 g butter

40 g leeks emincer

40 carrot small mirepoix

80 g onion small mirepoix

1.5 liters white chicken stock, white veal stock, veg stock or water

2 smashed garlic cloves (recipe says one, but Chef loves garlic)

bouquet garni tied in sache

60 mil heavy cream

Chopped chervil and/or parsley

Salt & Pepper

For the croutons:

One slice frozen white bread, edges trimmed, cut into medium dice

50 g butter.

Now, what I am going to write is what we actually did not what the recipe says.

In a medium Russe (we used a 4 qt. saucepan) melt butter over m-low heat, then sweat bacon to render fat. No color.

Add leeks, carrots & onions, and garlic and sweat until onions are translucent, again, no color.

Add peas and coat quickly in the fat and liquid.

Add stock and bouquet garni and bring to a near boil (but not a rolling boil). Add parchment lid (cartouche) and then the metal lid. Put pot in 350 oven for at least an hour.

Check doneness. Veg bits should fall apart easily. If the liquid looks low, add more stock. Best is to boil the stock, then add. Lazy way is to add it cold, then bring the whole pot to a boil.

You can either blend it, or run it through a food mill. If the latter, you will need to run through a chinois after. If the former, it should be plenty smooth. Start the blender on low, then gradually crank up to high. Blend for a few seconds. Stop, add a chunk of butter, repeat.

Meanwhile, clean your russe. When the soup is blended, pour it back into the russe, bring to a simmer, and season with salt and white pepper. (Black is fine too, but white is "correct.")

For the croutons, melt some butter in a small saute pan (a poele) and toss the bread cubes frequently. This is essential. They should be golden on all sides. There is really no way to achieve that with tongs. While you are scrambling to turn them evenly, they will burn. You just have to flip and toss, flip and toss, flip and toss ...

When golden all over, pour them out onto a paper towel and salt immediately.

Now, you can either just whisk some cream into the soup, or do what we did. If the latter, you should whip the cream vigorously in a bowl, then put it into the parchment cone and make the design.

Add croutons, sprinkle garnish, and voila!

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Dumb questions ... I should already know the answers to these, but I gotta ask.

What's a russe?

Why a cartouche?

What is the benefit of coating the peas in the fat?

There's no mention of seasoning for the croutons - do you ever season the bread to make up croutons?

Wonderful info you are presenting! Thanks for taking all the time to record it.

C

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A russe is bascially a saucepan, that is, an deep pot with a straight handle. It can have sloped or straight sides.

A cartouche is a parchment lid.

I don't know why we put in the peas and stirred them in the fat, I should have asked.

Yes, look again, and you will see that I said we salted the croutons as soon as they hit the paper towel.

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well, talk about a timely recipe! I literally just bought split peas and have just about exactly that amount of self made bacon in the fridge! Thanks!

And thanks for the continued read! Do you think you could post a photo of just the kitchen? Would be interesting to see.

"And don't forget music - music in the kitchen is an essential ingredient!"

- Thomas Keller

Diablo Kitchen, my food blog

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Oops, duhhhh, I missed the salting of the croutons...

I'm wondering what the cartouche does that a lid on a pan doesn't.

It keeps the surface moist, no risk of drying out. Although using both a cartouche and a lid might seem a tad obsessive. But this might well be the correct french way of doing things.

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... I'm wondering what the cartouche does that a lid on a pan doesn't.

It keeps the surface moist, no risk of drying out. Although using both a cartouche and a lid might seem a tad obsessive. But this might well be the correct french way of doing things.

That's exactly what I was wondering about - cartouche and lid? Yet, there must be a reason. Maybe lids, in past were not, or now, are not, tight enough to do the job? I have also recently run across recipes where a towel is supposed to go over the pan before the lid. presumably to do much the same. These different methods are fascinating.
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I'm wondering what the cartouche does that a lid on a pan doesn't.

if i recall correctly, what the cartouche does is hold the steam more directly atop the soup, rather than circulating all through the empty area between the surface of the soup and the bottom of the lid. it's not a perfect seal, by any means, but i think the parchment's role is to provide a first level of containment, and the lid does the rest.

"Laughter is brightest where food is best."

www.chezcherie.com

Author of The I Love Trader Joe's Cookbook ,The I Love Trader Joe's Party Cookbook and The I Love Trader Joe's Around the World Cookbook

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I'm wondering what the cartouche does that a lid on a pan doesn't.

if i recall correctly, what the cartouche does is hold the steam more directly atop the soup, rather than circulating all through the empty area between the surface of the soup and the bottom of the lid. it's not a perfect seal, by any means, but i think the parchment's role is to provide a first level of containment, and the lid does the rest.

This is exactly what Chef said. The lid keeps all the liquid in, and hence the overall liquid level high. The cartouche slows the evaporation and condensation of water on the bottom of the lid, and protects the surface from the hot, dry air in the pot.

BTW, there was no school yesterday, so no entry for this week.

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BTW, I've never done a tourne before (not even really in school). I don't know why they still teach that knife cut--it was essentially invented to occupy the time of the apprentices that those types of kitchens had back in the day. Essentially they had to give them something to do to occupy their time because otherwise they would just be standing around doing nothing. Not too many places do that knife cut anymore--and if I ever run my own kitchen I certainly wouldn't ask my cooks to do that.

I am coming late to this thread..

That isn't my understanding from what I have read. That cut is supposed to promote even browning. When potatoes or anything else is cut that way, they just roll around in the pan very easily...and thus cook more evenly.

I could be wrong on that though, but that was the impression I got from my own reading.

Edited by artisan02 (log)
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Day 6: Eggs

Students enter the building from Broome Street. From there, you wind your way through family kitchen to a large service elevator, and go up to the locker room floor. The elevator was full. Two professional students were chatting. One of them said, offhandedly, “Time to go up and get yelled at by Xavier.” He pronounced it “Eggs-avier.” Which was oddly appropriate.

Chef X’s reputation really does fill those halls. He has never yelled at us, but I suppose it is different for the real students. In any event, I later saw that same guy and Chef X., and no yelling took place. They seemed to get along fine.

The egg. L’oeuf.

Chefs take eggs very seriously. If I may quote from a sermon by Marco Pierre White, a famous British chef: “An egg is very important. Give a chef an egg and you’ll know what kind of cook he is. It takes a lot to cook an egg. You have to understand the egg too cook an egg, especially if it’s one you want to eat.”

Chef X. was not quite so rhapsodic, but it was clear that he takes eggs just as seriously.

Lecture was devoted to an anatomy lecture on the egg. You think there is just shell, white and yolk? Think again. There are no fewer than ten components to an egg. I am not going to run through them all, as only one new discovery (to me) really played much of a part from a cooking perspective. This is the difference between the thin albumen and thick albumen (the whites). I will get to that later.

Eggs are sorted by size – from jumbo to pee wee – and quality: only those from AA to B are suitable for a kitchen, chef said. “Also, the size is important because of your recipes. If you use the wrong size egg, it can throw off the recipe. This is most important for pastries, where proportion must be exact. Most cookbooks assume size extra large, so if you use those you will be fine.”

Chef cracked several eggs onto plates to demonstrate quality. AA eggs had very firm yolks that stood high on the plate. The whites were thick and did not spread out. Grade B had a flatter yolk and the whites were very runny. Grade A was in the middle.

“Grade B is fine for scrambling or omelets or using in pasta or boiling. But any recipe where you are going to see the yolk, use A or AA. AA is best for sunny side up because you can really see the yolk stand out. It’s also great for poaching.”

“We are gonna cook a lot of eggs today. First we have to do some prep. Then we will make Oeufs farçis Chimay” – that is eggs stuffed with mushrooms – “then lunch, then you will learn all the other ways. We are going to do things over and over because practice is the only way to learn.”

We had to prep two things. The first was the mushroom duxelles, the filling for our stuffed eggs. This is finely diced mushrooms, cooked with ciseler shallots and crushed garlic, some herbs and a cartouche until all the liquid evaporates. “You will know it is done when your mushrooms are dry – no liquid in the pan. Keep checking often, because once the liquid goes, the mushrooms will start to burn, and you have to start over.”

That would be a pain, because finely dicing 250 g of mushrooms was not easy. Trimming, peeling and thinly slicing them was easy enough. Cutting the thin slices into battonets and then fine dice was also easy – if you did it to one slice at a time. But that took forever. Restaurant guy did that, and he ended up with very fine, uniform dice.

Chef held the sides of his mushrooms in place with his forefinger and thumb, then sliced with the tip of his knife between is fingers, then placed the slices stacked on their sides and cut into battonets the same way, then cut the blocks of battonets into dice. Worked great for him. For me, not so much. I did finish more quickly than RG, but my dice were not nearly as uniform as his, nor as good as Chef’s.

To cook, first sweat a ciseler of shallot and a crushed garlic clove in butter. When translucent, add the mushrooms and cook until the start to release their liquid. Throw in bay leaf, some thyme, add the cartouche, and turn the heat down – way down. The liquid probably took 30 minutes to evaporate.

Meanwhile, we had to have four eggs per person boiling to the hard boiled state. Chef explained soft boiling and medium boiling, but we did not do these.

The other thing we had to prep was the filling for an omelette Basquaise. This is sweated green pepper, onion, and tomato. Drop the tomatoes in boiling water, boil for a few seconds (Chef says 10-15, but I find that it takes longer), then shock, then peel. Quarter. Remove seeds and core, julienne. The recipe says to coarsely chop the tomatoes, but Chef finds that inelegant. You use 2x as much tomato as onion and pepper; once they are trimmed and cooked (and the water evaporated) the yield will be about the same for all three.

For the peppers, core with a paring knife, cut of the top and bottom rounded part. Cut pepper open with a paring knife along one of the “valleys” and then lay it flat. It should be a long rectangle. Use the chef’s knife to shave off the white ribs and any silvery skin. Julienne.

Onion was a simple emincer, slice along the lines.

Sweat the onions and peppers slowly in oil, adding a crushed garlic clove. (Chef adds a crushed garlic clove to virtually ever sauté or sweated thing he does.) “No color! The finished product should clearly look red, white and green.”

Once the onions are translucent, add the tomatoes – “Not before, or they will overcook” – add the cartouche, turn heat way, way down, and wait. This one needed some attention, though. Every few minutes, you need to lift the cartouche and give it a stir, otherwise things will start to brown. Here is the finished product:

p1050627.jpg

Next, we had to make a Mornay. “Everyone remembers what this is, right? We learned this when we did sauces. So what is it?”

“Béchamel with egg yolks and cheese.”

“Correct. And even though we didn’t make it, you know how. Because you know how to make a béchamel. You don’t need me to tell you, and you don’t need to look it up.”

Well, that was wishful thinking on Chef’s part. I did OK, the only thing I forgot was that the milk had to be hot, but I remembered before I poured any cold milk over my white roux. Most everyone else, however, kept barking out pleading questions. This did not please Chef X. Most of the questions he answered with more questions. Only when someone took a positive step in the wrong direction did he intervene.

Separating egg yolks reminded me of when I first did that. I was making a hollandaise from the Julia Child book back in my college days. She calls for egg yolks, but does not say how to separate them. So I called my mother and asked. “You break the shell in half and then transfer the yolk back and forth between each half. The whites will all run out.”

“No way. That sounds stupid.”

“How long have I been cooking, and how long have you been cooking? Just do it. It will work.”

And I did. And it did. I called her back to apologize. My mother loves to tell this story.

But I had some trouble with it in class. The shell was not breaking into even halves, and a few yolks got away from me.

“Michael, why are you breaking your eggs like that on the rim of the bowl? You could break the yolk, and push pieces of shell into the liquid. Plus the shells are not breaking evenly. Tap the side of the egg on your cutting board or countertop, and then gently pull the shell in half with your fingers. It works much better.”

And, indeed, it did.

The cheese and egg yolks make the mornay super creamy; the yolks also make it yellow. Manager Guy undercooked his. “I taste flour” Chef said. “You don’t wanna taste any flour, and you don’t want any lumpiness. Keep cooking and whisk, whisk, whisk.”

I did not remember having this problem when we made béchamel before, but this time when I was whisking the mornay, I found the heat from the burner nearly unbearable on my hands. I felt like my whisk hand was burning just being 8 inches above the flame. Here is the completed Sauce Mornay:

p1050623.jpg

Next we peeled the hard boiled eggs and cut them in half lengthwise. It’s very important to wet your knife before every cut – “Otherwise the blade will stick to the yolk and you will not get a clean cut.” The yolks slid out easily. By this time the mushrooms were cooked and in a bowl. We pressed the yolks through a drum sieve into that bowl. This ground them almost to dust. Then add a pretty good heap of mornay, and some minced parsely. Mix. That is your stuffing.

p1050624.jpg

Fill the yolk cavity of the eggs with the stuffing, and then pile it up on top of the eggs. Pour a healthy spoonful of mornay over each half-egg. Sprinkle cheese (we used gruyere). Set under a salamander until the cheese melts and browns. Done.

(Interestingly, this is the same recipe that Sokolov uses to illustrate the Sauce Mornay in his book The Saucier’s Apprentice.)

Plate in a circle surrounding chiffonade of Boston lettuce. I was not too happy with my plating. Chef’s is on the left, mine on the right.

p1050622.jpg

I left my eggs too close together under the salamander, so the sauce and cheese layer blended together and I had to break it to plate the eggs. See how Chef’s are nice and distinctly separate? Also, he said that I should have used tongs and not a spoon to take them off the sizzle platter and put them on the plate. But he said the taste was perfect. “I love this dish. You can’t have too much egg.”

After lunch, chef demoed six ways to cook eggs: poached, sunny side up, over easy, scrambled, rolled omelet, flat omelet.

To me, poached eggs are cooked in this metal steamer my parents have had since before I was born. The idea of dropping all the liquid in an egg into boiling water was something I learned about on television. I had never done it.

It is sort of fun. You pour white vinegar into the water first. “Why?”

“Because it helps the egg close up,” said Manager Guy.

“Correct. You want the water boiling, but not like this” – Chef gesticulated wildly – “a moderate boil.” He was demoing this as we all crowded around. “When you have a moderate boil, have your egg ready in a mis en place cup. If you are really good, you can crack the egg with one hand and drop it in. That is faster, but riskier. You might break the yolk or get some shell in the water. Give the water a little swirl with your slotted spoon. I call this ‘tornado effect.’ But not too fast. Gentle. Too fast, and when you drop the egg in, you will have a comet with a tail and not a poached egg.”

The first thing he did was cook an egg for three minutes. “This is what restaurants do. You have a brunch service, you can expect … oh … 85% of customers will order something that has poached eggs. Eggs Benedict of course, but lots of things. Now, you can’t cook all those to order. There is no way. First, there are too many. Second, you will lose track of which egg is which, which is done and which just went in. When you have a lot of orders, you can’t risk that.

“So what they do is, they undercook a lot of eggs the night before, put them in the refrigerator, and then boil them for a minute or two to order.

“So what I am showing you now is an undercooked poached egg.” He scooped it out of the water and shocked it, then put it onto a plate and cut it open. “See how the white is still runny a clear a little bit? It’s not cooked. When you are ready to serve it, you throw it back into the water and cook for a minute or two.”

Then he demonstrated the full procedure: undercook, shock, re-cook, serve. A proper poached egg is snow white, no trace of clear anywhere, but very soft.

We were then sent back to our stations to make eggs – lots of eggs. The look of a poaching egg is mesmerizing. At first, when you drop it in, it looks like a sea creature. It starts out like a jellyfish, then coagulates into some many tentacled cephalopod, then as it closes (IF it closes), it looks sort of like an anemone.

I had some problems getting my water temperature stabilized. At first it was too hot, then too cool. A few eggs were sacrificed. Once I stirred the water too fast and got exactly the comet effect Chef warned about. It looked cool. But it was not servable. Compost!

I started to get the hang of it. The first egg, the undercooked one, was cut open and pronounced perfect. Then I had to do that again, shock it, recook it and represent. That one was good to. Then it was time to do the one to order. Also fine. Here are the last two:

p1050630.jpg

Yes, I see now the hair on the plate, and no, I didn’t notice it then, and no, no one was served that plate.

Next up was frying eggs: oeufs poule (named after the pan, incidentally). This was done in a regular (i.e., not non-stick) very small fry pan. Sort of scary to me, who has always cooked eggs in a non-stick pan. “Guys, if your pan is hot enough, and you used the right amount of fat, the eggs will not stick. They won’t. Trust me.”

His certainly didn’t. It was very tricky. You wanted a hot pan so that they didn’t stick, but also minimal browning. Hard balance to strike. He also insisted that the salt and pepper be added to the pan into the fat, BEFORE the eggs. “I don’t want to see any spots on the surface, do you understand?”

Then he showed us something that surprised me. All the thin whites were to be removed. What? I always just ate those. Why not? “Not elegant on the plate.” Oh.

You sort of picked away at the thin albumen as it cooked and composted it.

“Guys, if your eggs brown, before you make more, clean your poule, or get a new one. Even if you have the temperature correct the second time, the brown bits in the pan will discolor your eggs.”

Check.

I broke a few yolks taking out the thin white; compost. My first decent shaped ones were pronounced too brown. I tried again:

p1050625y.jpg

This one was OK, but could be whiter. Next up was over easy. My next pair of eggs was perfect for sunnyside up – “Really beautiful” – but I broke the yolks trying to flip them. No picture, sorry.

“Michael, why are you using your offset spatula? Use the rubber spatula, you won’t break your yolks.”

Good advice. Here is over easy:

p1050629.jpg

I don’t see a way to brown the underside less than that, and Chef’s were about that color too.

Next was omelets. The school owns a handful of nonstick omelet pans, we were told. They are kept locked up in a downstairs kitchen. We had access to them for that day. But Chef did not use one. “I learned to make an omelet on a regular pan. I don’t need nonstick. If you want to use them, you can use them.”

As it happens, earlier that week I had seen a show on the Food Network on which Andre Soltner, formerly chef/owner of Lutece, now at the FCI, demonstrated how to make an omelet in a regular pan. He said that the pan had to be seasoned especially for the purpose, and that one was typically set aside and not used for other tasks. Our text binder says the same thing.

But Chef X. used a regular poele and his omelets came out fine. Mine did not. It stuck at the first get-go. “That’s OK, add some cream and make scrambled eggs with that, don’t throw it out.”

Cream in scrambled eggs … a new one for me. Milk, I have done but not cream. Now, the “correct” French way to make scrambled eggs is to whip and whip and whip continuously with a fork – never stop – and plate just as the eggs are still wet. In other words, the way most Americans learned to do it at home is WRONG. At least, the way I learned to do it is wrong.

Omelets, by the way, we cooked in clarified butter only. The other eggs were cooked in half whole butter, half oil. I am not sure why we didn’t just use clarified butter for that. Cost issue? We certainly had a ton of it.

I was pretty good at omelets. I have loved to make them for a long time. But I only got good recently. I credit “America’s Test Kitchen,” which showed the proper technique on one episode. While I sort of cheated by using only the non-stick pan, I did make several good omelets. In fact, the only one I screwed up was the first one I tried in the regular pan.

They way I used to do omelets was half-moon style. Cook, fill, fold in half. This is not the French way. The French way is “rolled” or “flat.” Flat is very easy, it’s just a disk. Add the eggs, stir with a rubber spatula, then put in a 350 oven when the surface is still we. Remove when it the surface is dry and has some golden brown patches. For our version, we added some of the basquaise as a garnish.

p1050638.jpg

You can also use a salamander to finish the topside or – this is tricky – flip the omelet with your wrist. Chef did it flawlessly, needless to say. None of the rest of us did.

Rolled are the tricky ones. Chef recommended adding some water to make it ligher and fluffier. “You can add water, milk, or cream. Personally, I do not use cream; it’s too thick.” You beat the eggs in a bowl (three extra large is perfect for an 8” pan) with a fork, add salt & pepper, then beat some more. Heat the clarified butter, then add the eggs. Stir constantly with a rubber spatula. “Guys, I don’t want to see any metal touch those pans. You will scratch the surface. Those pans are expensive.”

The eggs will look they are beginning to scramble, and indeed they are. Tip the pan this way and that, to let the surface liquid of the uncooked egg spread out evenly. Pull back the edges with the spatula to help them set.

“A proper omelet has not color at all. None. It is also totally smooth. Stir your eggs well to make them smooth.”

You stop cooking when the surface is still wet. Once the omelet is folded, residual heat will cook through what is left.

Folding is fun. Off heat, and use your spatula to fold one-third of the way. Then tip and shake the pan so that the omelet slides down into the curved part. Slide the unfolded two-thirds onto the plate, and using the pan and the spatula, fold the final way. Voila:

p1050632.jpg

That's my first one; Chef cut it to check for doneness. It should be just ever so slightly runny inside.

Chef also said to use a clean towel to shape the omelet, which in all the madness I forgot to do.

I made several omelets, some filled, some unfilled, some with water, some with milk, some with just cream. They all came out well, and were highly praised. The one on the left is just eggs; on the right also has water:

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Filled:

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Took a bite of the filled (it was good!); scrambled on the right:

p1050636.jpg

I was feeling good about my effort until I saw one of Restaurant Guy’s. Its surface was perfectly smooth and light yellow. Really dead on, like what you would get in the best restaurant. I wish I had snapped a picture of that.

And, finally, the compost bowl:

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I wish I could say that was all I had to compost, but I actually filled and emptied the bowl twice. I believe the class went through at least six flats of 30 eggs. It was at least that much, actually. Maybe more.

Hey, at least they weren't chickens!

Edited by manton (log)
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Wow, that's a lotta eggs!

Thanks so much for sharing your experience. I'm enjoying it greatly.

...I wish at this point that I had not named Restaurant Guy Restaurant Guy, because in reality there are two.  Restaurant Guy is really Line Cook Guy, and the other one is Manager Guy.  Anyway, it’s too late to change the first name.

Not to worry, you can go back and change it when you write the book!

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