Week 4 of Le Cordon Bleu was fun with staggered classes and loads of events city-wide leading up to Bastille Day on Sunday.
One of the things I was really excited about cooking was lobster. This was the first time I made lobster the size of a chopping board. As soon as we got to the practical class, I grabbed my lobster, and made that first cut on its head to kill it. I wanted to get the tough part of killing it out of my way so I could get on with the rest of the practical class. I didn’t like doing that, but you can’t be a chef if you get squeamish, can you? Also, did you know that if you stroke its head, it calms the lobster down?! After the big job was done, I twisted its tail off and went about cutting into down to smaller pieces, as required for the recipe. Even after the tail was detached from the body, it kept curling up sporadically and you’d hear that odd shriek in class.
The other thing that I learned about was the lobster corail (French) or tomalley – it’s the soft green paste in the cavity, which, as I learned from Wikipedia, serves as the lobster’s liver and pancreas. Seems like the French love it, and use it to add a stronger flavour to the sauces. Had I not known this, I’d just scoop it out and throw the green gunk into the bin. Although, it does have its fair share of drawbacks from a health perspective, being the glands that filter out the waste the lobster consumes. We passed the tomalley through the chinois (fine mesh conical sieve that is an indispensable part of a classical French kitchen) and then whisked it raw together with soft butter to make corail butter. We added this to finish off the sauce in the end to enhance flavour, making sure not to bring the sauce to a boil after it has been added.
While the lobster was a delicious dish to eat along with raisin rice, the other practical dish, a ballotine (foie gras inside minced pork shoulder inside chicken) wasn’t. It was great fun to make. We learned a new technique of deboning the whole chicken with only one cut down the back and then following the rib cage around the whole chicken without having any part of the skin pierced with the knife. This was then stuffed with more meat and cooked in a stock for an hour and kept submerged for another twenty four. The next day we had to slice it and glaze it with aspic made with the clarified stock it was cooked in. So classical, I wonder which restaurant in Paris actually serves this. Nobody wanted to take this home!
Pulling a leaf out of Basic Cuisine, we had to make hollandaise sauce in one of our classes. A hollandaise sauce is made by whisking egg yolks and water over a hot water bath until foamy and leaves a trail that holds up for a few seconds (much like how you beat the eggs for a sponge cake). After this, you take it off the heat, but keep in a warm spot and whisk in clarified butter slowly drizzled in until it emulsifies. I made a few mistakes: 1. I moved to the granite counter top which is cooler. 2. Just to counter that when the chef pointed it out, I put it back on pan of steaming water. 3. When it looked like it was coming together towards the end, I added a lot of the clarified butter in one go, after which the sauce split. Here’s a cool trick that the chef showed me: Start with a clean bowl, add two cubes of ice and begin whisking in the split sauce with one hand, as you slowly let the hollandaise trickle into the bowl with the other hand. Et voila – sauce fixed! The chef pointed out that this happened because I put it back on the double boil after I had begun adding the clarified the butter and I should never do that. Jamais! In general, all sauces that have split because of an imbalance in temperature can be fixed by countering with heat or the lack of it (with ice cubes).
And for our third practical, we made sausages! Recently, I’ve found myself increasingly interested in charcuterie and curing, so this one was exciting. We made fresh sausages – meat, cream, egg whites and seasoning ground together and piped into intestinal casing. The sausages were cooked very gently in a mixture of water, milk, thyme, garlic, bay leaf, orange blossom water and seasoning. Finally, they were finished off in a pan with a little butter to colour them slightly. Served with sautéed turned apples. While the texture was nothing to write home about, I was really excited to having finally tried my hand at sausage-making.
I also attended a guest lecture on Jamon Iberico where we learned about why the ham is so prized and that being a cortador (ham carver) is actually a full-time job. When buying this ham, always look for all the three words: Jamon (ham) Iberico (breed) and Bellota (acorn). The time spent curing the ham isn’t important – more time simple means that it took that long to cure (for the water content to evaporate) because it was a big piece of leg. Those who label their ham with an emphasis on the curing time might merely be trying to distract from the important aspects – the breed and that the pig should be acorn-fed. I tried my hand at carving the meat and turns out I was pretty good at it. Chef Poupard joked that I was ready for a job as a cortador. Ha!
Each term, we are allowed to bring in one guest with us to sit through a demo. This Saturday, I took Arjun along with me. Arjun loves his food and was really excited to finally be sitting in for a class after all these months that I’ve been at LCB. He was quite lucky that his day off matched with a demo on cuisine from the Alsace region, which has been known as a gastronomic region for several centuries. The region is also famous for having some of the best bakers – Pierre Hermé too, has made Alsace his base for making chocolates and macarons.
I was really excited because we had my favourite chef from Basic, Chef Vaca, demonstrating this class. We were shown how to make three dishes:
* Flammenküche – also known as “pizza” Alsacienne – very thinly rolled bread dough topped with bacon, onion and cream
* Trout stuffed with morels and braised in Riesling wine
* Choucroute (sauerkraut) Alsacienne, which is the most famous dish of the region
Everything we learned tasted great and wasn’t fussy to make. Although I doubt I’d ever be able to make the flammenküche without dieting for a week. After class, Arjun and I popped into Pierre Hermé for some macarons. I had my favourite dessert, the Ispahan, and Arjun tried the Carrément Chocolat. That, along with galettes from L’Avant Comptoir, ended up being our meal for little picnic at the Luxembourg gardens.