Today’s lesson was the final in ‘Basic Methods of Cookery, next week will be a six hour practical assessment in which I will need to reproduce several of the dishes taught over the last six weeks. The methods we covered today were steaming, where we made Mussels in White Wine Cream, Sous Vide, where we made Salmon with Citrus Salad, and pastry baking, of which the end product was Mini Apple Crumbles in sweet pastry cases & Chantilly cream.
We started on the sweet pastry to ensure it would have enough time to rest in the fridge before use. All pastry is rested and chilled before being rolled to ensure the glutens relax; this makes the pastry not only easier to roll out but it also reduces shrinkage during baking (don’t you just hate shrinkage?!). There are so many different types of pastry and many methods of making it. Today we made an unenriched sweet pastry (one without egg) by hand. The ingredients were plain flour, unsalted butter, caster sugar, salt, water and vanilla. When making pastry always add the butter to the flour and other dry ingredients before adding any wet ingredients. When making by hand use your fingertips to rub the butter through the dry ingeridients until you have achieved a mixture similar to breadcrumbs. Try to avoid using the palms of your hands as being warmer than your fingertips you may over heat the butter. Add the wet ingredients and work quickly to bring the dough into a ball, wrap and chill for later use. Tip…I always flatten my pastry ball into a disk as this makes it easier to roll once chilled.
Rather than being told what to do next there now seems to be an expectation that we just move along with our preparation without instruction. It is important to read the recipe in full and determine what needs to be prepared to make each dish…I think this is the equivalent of being ‘pushed out of the nest’. I tell myself to slow down and take care and break my terrible habit of not reading through the whole recipe before I launch into action. One of the more challenging tasks for me today was segmenting the citrus fruit (lime, orange and grapefruit) for the citrus salad which accompanied the salmon. Where as I have done this many times in the past, I have always started with a whole piece of fruit., having only half a piece made this more difficult – especially the lime. Good lesson though….learn to adapt and go with what you have! That done I prepared the tomatoes for the salad (seeded and sliced into strips) and for the mussels (small dice), the fennel and onion for the citrus salad and parsley and garlic for the garlic bread and mussels.
Next was the sous vide salmon. Sous vide is a relatively new way of cooking in which food is vacuum sealed in plastic pouches (with various added flavours) and cooked at a constant temperature for a set period. It is not only energy efficient but food cooked in this manner is moist, tender and retains most of the natural flavours. The sous vide salmon was cooked in the sealed bags for 40 mins at 43 celsius (low and slow). Chef prepared these in bulk, adding oil, seasoning and some fennel fronds to the bag before vacuum sealing. I was introduced to sous vide cooking by a lovely friend of mine who shares my love of cooking and is an amazing chocolatier. Below is a cookbook she recommended to me when I bought a sous vide machine, it is a fantastic guide for anyone interested in exploring this style of cooking – Dale Prentice is a master. I have now made several sous vide dishes, including salmon, 72 hour beef short rib and lamb rack to name a few. The meat is always melt in the mouth tender and pink. Some cuts benefit from a quick pan fry after being cooked in the sous vide & to my taste this offers the best result – tenderness and a nice crust.
I love mussels and there are so many flavour combinations you can use with them. Chef mentioned one which I will definitely be trying; to the onion & garlic (and dried crushed chilli) add lemon grass and ginger and instead of cream use coconut milk…sounds good huh? I think a sprinkling of coriander leaves would be a nice touch to this version. However, without any doubt I have to say that Mussels in white wine and cream sauce is my favourite and it’s how I make my favourite mussel dish, Moules and Frites. I usually add a little crushed chilli to mine so that is what I did today. Before starting, debeard the mussels and ensure all are closed and none are broken. Sauté the onion & garlic until translucent & add the chilli flakes (if using). Add the white wine and cream and tip in the mussels, cover the pan and cook for several minutes (3 – 5) until open and infused with the winey liquid. Remove the mussels from the cooking liquid and add a small amount of beurre manie (‘kneaded butter’ in French). This dough, made of equal parts soft butter and flour, is used in French cooking to thicken soups and sauces and results in a thick creamy sauce with a silky texture (don’t you just love butter!). Return the mussels to the thickened sauce and add some parsley leaves. Plate with a liberal coating of the liquid, sprinkle a small amount of diced deseeded tomato and serve with a piece of garlic bread (and a glass of chilled white wine). Hearty and delicious I assure you!
Whilst the salmon was cooking, we rolled out the pastry and assembled the tarts. We didn’t blind bake the tarts which seemed to cause some concern amongst the students. Chef assured the class that the tarts would be cooked low and slow (seems to be a theme) & the bottoms would be crispy – and indeed they were!. He did mention that toward the end of the bake he turned up … maybe a tip!
In quick succession we plated the salmon and the tart. The salmon went on the salad, surrounded with the citrus segments. A frisee lettuce garnish topped the salmon and a whole-grain mustard and olive oil dressing (with a dash of white wine vinegar) was spooned on top. The tart had a filling of cooked diced apple, sultanas, cinnamon and lemon zest and was topped with a crumble mixture of sugar, flour butter, rolled oats and desiccated coconut. It was served hot, sprinkled with icing sugar with Chantilly Cream (cream whisked with icing sugar) on the side. A fabulous tip from our lovely teachers assistant Stella was use a warm spoon to make a quenelle shape with the cream… it took me a few goes but I got close!
So there we are – the final lesson in ‘Basic Methods of Cookery’…. I hope you tune in next week for the highs and lows of the assessment practical after which I move onto a block of lessons covering ‘Appetisers and Salads’.