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In Superior Cuisine there are 3 Ateliers or workshops where we are given a list of ingredients, some we must use and others are optional, where we must cook an entrée and a main course.  The workshops are 6 hours in length and although that seems like a long time, we all seem to use it all.

In this atelier I choose to use the pigeon as the entrée and the salmon as the main.  Not a common choice but that pigeon was just not appealing and I wanted to spend as little time as possible with it.  When Chef Lesourd asked me why I said I didn’t like pigeon but I like salmon so prefer to focus on it.  He replied “me too”.  Goes to show not all French people eat all things French!

Le Pigeon

Le Pigeon

For the pigeon I decided to portion it and serve the breasts and create little “Ballantine’s” with the legs.  The Ballantine idea was my way of avoiding serving the leg with the claw on as we did in the practical lesson.  It was very unappealing to see that burnt claw on the plate.

For the main, salmon, the theme was Mediterranean.  Salmon “tournedos“ with Red Pepper Sabayon and Tian of vegetables.   In fact, it wasn’t “tournedos” at the start but rather just a salmon filet.  After a “petit conseil” avec Chef Lesourd, I learned to create a lovely tournedos from one filet which really made the plating much lovelier.

Le Saumon

Le Saumon

Although the dish seemed rather simple, it required the making of a vegetable broth for the sauce then cook a red pepper in the completed stock,  sauté all the vegetables separately and assemble in a mold.   Finally, to finish the sauce the red pepper is pureed, and whisked together with egg yolks and cream to finish the sabayon.  The salmon was simply sautéed in vegetable oil in a non stick pan for 5 min then placed in the oven for finish.

The sauce is the star of this dish and comes from Michel Roux’s cookbook of Sauces, a treasured gift from friends.  A little work, but really not that much for the gorgeous combination with the salmon.   The first atelier was a little stressful; trying to figure out how to time an entrée and a main.  Not sure why – I do it at home all the time?  Hmm….perhaps I just need to channel being at home while I cook here.  That might take the edge off.

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SC Lesson 12In Europe, filet of beef on a menu is recognized as tournedos, and veal filet in France has a special name, Grenadin.  Not to be confused with the awful sugary liquid used to make Shirley Temples!

New techniques with this recipe included creating a gastrique for the sauce and working with poivrade artichokes.   A gastrique is made by blending a caramel with vinegar or sour element, in this case citrus juice.  The poivrade artichoke is a different varietal with purple leaves at the end.  It is much smaller and has less of a choke to worry about.

Poivrade artichoke

The sauce is fairly simple to make with ingredients that are readily available.

Veal Filet trimmed and tied with kitchen twine then cut into small steaks.  Save trimmings for the sauce.

To make the gastrique sauce:

Ingredients:

  • Brown veal trimmings in canola or peanut oil as olive is too strong; degrease
  • Prep the citrus – grate a lemon and lime & juice both
  • Caramel
    • Heat equal parts sugar and honey until blond about 30 g each.
    • Add lemon and lime juice, continue on heat
    • Now this is called a “gastrique”
    • Deglaze the pan with veal stock
    • Add the veal trimmings to the caramel
    • Add the fresh grated ginger, a little water and the zest (add gradually as it can be quite strong)
    • Skim the sauce of impurities while continuing to reduce and thicken
    • To finish; pass through a strainer and continue to reduce and skim

Sauté the veal steaks or grenadin in vegetable oil and butter to brown each side.  Place in a 200C oven until the internal temperature of the veal is 53C.  Take out and rest until temperature reaches 55C.

Serve with polenta, cooked, cooled, cut and pan fried; or simply with mashed potatoes if you don’t fancy all the work.  A lovely cabernet franc will do nicely here!

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SP11 Sole Stuffed w mushroomsI have now had the pleasure of fileting a sole for presentation whole.  Not an easy feat, I must share with you, as the sole must still resemble his former self but without his bones.  You may not even open the belly to remove the “guts” as this is a serious operation.

I will endeavor to describe how we did this but likely diagrams would be better than words.

  • Prepare the sole by first scaling both sides of the fish.  The white skin will be left on the on fish to stabilize it while cooking.  The grey skin will be removed.
  • Remove the fins and gills with scissors.
  • Wash the exterior of the fish to remove any remaining scales.
  • Make an incision near the “chin” (do fish have chins?) of the fish.  Remove the pocket of blood and internal organs with tweezers.
  • At the tail end of the sole, make an incision in the grey skin, hold the tail with a towel and use your hand to pull the skin off.  It won’t come off gently as the sole was very much attached to his skin.  So yank!
  • Make an incision down the center of spin;
  • At the head make a second incision to form a T, from the center incision to the outside of the fish.
  • Filet from the inside towards the outside of the fish but stop short of releasing the filet.
  • Repeat on side two; essentially open like a wallet.
  • With scissors, clip the pin bones near the outer edge of the fish on both sides.
  • Flip over the sole and follow the cut bones to filet through the other side.
  • Clip the bone at the tail and head
  •  Pull out the spine and clip where still attached.
  • Voila!

Not so easy but not so hard.  Once the fish is prepared we stuff with a simple mushroom duxelle which is finely chopped shallots and mushrooms cooked in butter until soft with a bit of cream thrown in at the end and reduced.  The flaps of the filets are then folded back over the stuffing.

To cook, place fish in a baking tray with a piece of parchment over the top cut to fit the size of the fish.  Bake in the oven at 160C for 8 minutes.  Remove from the oven and cover with a glazy French sauce, L’ancienne (i.e. ancient sauce – perhaps from the 1970’s?).

The sauce is made from fish fumet or stock, reduced from 125 ml to 75 to which a few tablespoons of cold butter are added and then the finale; 50 ml of whipped cream.  You must whip the cream not just add it in its liquid state.  Season it a little then coat the fish in the sauce and place it under the broiler until a lovely browned color appears.

The tricky part is moving it from the pan to the plate.  I’ll leave this to your imagination or you can simply eat it from the baking tray.  How practical is that?

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Not sure about those greens on the bone?

Not sure about those greens on the bone?

Our Superior practical cooking sessions are a maximum of 3 hours which presents a challenge to the concept of slow cooking.   It’s impossible to do justice to many of the recipes that require braising as we simply do not have time to keep the oven low to allow the meat or poultry to cook properly.

This is a great lamb shank recipe with a sweet and spicy kick.  We braised the trimmed and trussed lamb shanks in a liquid of honey, balsamic, white wine, garlic, tomato and onions complimented by spices such as Szechuan pepper, cilantro, cumin seeds, cinnamon and star anise.

Braising is very straight forward – brown the meat, place it in a flavored liquid, cover and place in the oven for several hours.  In this case, 1.5 hours was all we had after preparing the braising liquid and preparing then browning the meat.

We also presented a vegetable called salsify, which is similar to a white carrot in looks.  It has a dark peel but then shows up white on the inside.  Very strange!  It must be cooked in a “blanc”, a mixture of water, flour and lemon, to prevent it from discoloring.  It is very hard and takes an astounding 30 minutes to cook.  Then to make it palatable it is fried in butter before serving.

Herb gnocchi was the second garnish and I think I need a lot of practice.  I figured out the texture but the rolling and presenting of lovely little bundles escaped me.  Mine were golf ball size rather than walnut size so the effect wasn’t particularly appealing on my plate.  I vow to perfect gluten free gnocchi in 2013!

When the shank came out of the oven exactly 1.5 hours later it was braised enough to serve.  I liked the look of the shank standing up on the plate, which will become my new standard.  After the chef provided some critic, I had a small bite of the shank.  The combinations of the flavors were fantastic!   Now … where is my a glass of spicy Syrah to pair with this delicious meaty creation?

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SP9 Fish with potato scalesThis is the sweetest recipe!  Fish scales are mimicked with thinly (mandolin thin) potato rounds that are crisp and delicate and paired with a delicious orange beurre blanc.   A little bit of work, but I just loved the presentation of this dish as it gives you so many ideas that can be applied elsewhere.

Our little red mullet was scaled and fileted whereupon we applied potato scales.  How you ask?  The potatoes were peeled then slices were taken using an apple corer.  The cored slices where then thinly sliced on a mandolin and placed in water to prevent discoloration.  To apply the scales, the potato rounds are drained and dried then a tsp. or two of potato starch is added to coat the wee slices.

Add the scales to the fish by brushing the skin side with egg white.  Then, starting at the tail, apply the scales as would Mother Nature in an overlapping pattern until you reach the top of the filet.  Place a piece of parchment paper over each filet cut to size.

To cook, heat vegetable oil in a sauté pan on med high heat.  Flip the filet potato side down, onto the parchment and place the parchment into the oil.  Make certain that oil flows over the top of the parchment to reach the potatoes.  Add more oil to your pan if necessary.  Cook the “scales” until golden brown (up to 5 minutes), then flip the fish with a spatula to “kiss” the other side.  Remove from the pan and drain potato side up on a piece of parchment and dab up and excess oil.  Season the potato side with salt.  Don’t whatever you do, place bits of chopped parsley on lovely cooked scales – Chef Clergue was not impressed!

To go along with this delicious little fish, serve a citrus beurre blanc.  Sweat a finely chopped shallot in butter.  Add 75 ml white wine and 50 ml orange juice and reduce until liquid is almost evaporated.  Add 50 ml cream and reduce until cream is ½ and then begin to add butter, 100 g, one knob or tablespoon at a time on gentle heat.  Incorporate the butter, strain through a fine mesh sieve and then season with salt and pepper.

A simple vegetable garnish, like the basic carrot, will do bathed in butter of course.   Serve your lovely fish with a dollop of beurre blanc on the side and a glass of Chablis.  Who knew faking it, scales I mean, could be so wonderful.

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SP8 Pigeon w mushroom tartI am not sure of the attraction the French have for pigeon.  Although we dressed Monsieur Pigonneau up with foie gras I am still not convinced it’s edible.    In fact, we even served with the feet attached to the leg which is hardly an appetizing presentation.

Although working with pigeon is new, the anatomy of the bird is much the same.  The new factor is that pigeon is served “rose”.  I realize duck is also served pink but the flavor of pigeon is quite gamely or herbatious.   Not a meat I find pleasant.

In this recipe the breast are removed from the carcass and small legs are deboned .  The breasts are enrobed in cabbage with a slice of foie gras and the legs are stuffed with a farce and then trussed.  Both are steamed and equally unappealing when presented.

The redeeming element on the dish is a mushroom tart.  A lovely seasonal sauté of mushrooms and served in light tart shell of brique pastry.  In the end, my dish was fine, presentation a pass and I didn’t eat a thing on the plate.  Quel surprise!

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SP7 Pan Fried Sea BreamOne of the hallmarks of French cooking is extracting as much flavor out the ingredients as is possible which ensures every bone, trimming or shell is used in the preparation of a dish.  In this lesson, the fish is gutted and fileted, the langoustines shelled and the squid removed of its ink, all in the quest of ensuring there will be no mistaking the seafood flavor on the plate.

There are a number of elements on the plate in this recipe, a sautéed fish filet, langoustine and calamari tentacle, a squid tube stuffed with risotto and crispy risotto cakes.   From my perspective, a bit over the top, but I appreciate the techniques needed to be taught.   So on with the show!

Preparation of squid tubes is generally not a task most faces in the kitchen as they are usually cleaned by the fish monger before being sold.   Cleaning is not that difficult, in fact as squid are simple creatures, the head is pulled away from the body the tentacles cut off and the “beak” or mouth situated in the center of the tentacles is removed.  The skin comes off very easily by submerging the body in cold water and rubbing gently with fingers.  The last bit of business is the “quill” or spine of the squid, which can be pulled out with relative ease.

The main need for the fish in this recipe is unclear as we made a shellfish broth with aromatic vegetables along with the langoustine heads, claws and shells from the body.  In this recipe we used a sea bream but today’s varietal was pink.  I’d never seen a pink sea bream and have to say it was a lovely color.  The fish bones were sent down to the sous sol or basement kitchen to be used for other purposes so it seems superfluous to have added a fish filet to the dish.

The stock was used to flavor the risotto, which is a very comforting Italian staple.   The langoustine’s taste comes through from the broth but is not overpowering.  This risotto would be great with grilled langoustines as an entrée.  The risotto is used in two ways, to stuff the squid cavity and to create croquettes or arancini as the Italians say.

One or the other would have been enough for the dish but adding both seemed too heavy and clumsy.   Or perhaps my plating flaw is that I believe each plate should contain a whole element rather than a half?  Probably the latter – I need to get away from the “my eyes are bigger than my stomach” plating, as they say, “less is more”.

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