Culinary Arts Program – Week 10

I just typed the week in the title as a double digits, which freaked me out a bit. 10 weeks! How is the time passing by so quickly?!? I have learned so much over these past 10 weeks, and I truly have had the time of my life doing it. Week 10 (which should not come as a surprise by now) was fascinating and invigorating.

Do you remember when I wrote about butchering an entire lamb during butchery class? Well, we turned what we had left of the lamb into charcuterie. Yes, I just said we made charcuterie! This was by far the day that was the most outside of my comfort zone, as I had never made a single item of charcuterie in my life.

 

Charcuterie has become such a hot trend in the food scene. People will pay good money for charcuterie platters at restaurants, often leaving chefs with a good profit margin on these items. As Chef Chris Douglass says, charcuterie is spinning straw into gold. While not always the case, a lot of charcuterie involves meat scraps. It is a good way to use up everything you have when you buy whole animals or primal cuts.

So, what exactly is charcuterie? It is far more than just sausage and bacon, while those are two great examples. Charcuterie is the art of preserving meat through cooking or curing. Charcuterie can be cooked, smoked, salted, dehydrated, dried, brined, and more! For this class, we were taught again by Chef Kevin O’Donnell, who led us through butchering the lamb.

I found this to be our most difficult class thus far. The reason being is that for every other class, I had either experience working with the ingredients and techniques or had seen them done enough to be somewhat familiar with them. I really did not have any knowledge or experience on how to make charcuterie.

We also had a packed day. Chef Kevin demoed how to make a lamb terrine and lamb bacon. The lamb bacon was probably the best bacon I have ever had in my life. In groups, we then made a peasant pate, lamb merguez, mortadella, and a duck liver mousse. We had some rather involved processes to complete, so I tried to stay focus to push through all these recipes.

To put this further into context, we had to completely debone a peasant for the pate. Then, we put it in meat grinder with our seasonings and baked the pate in a terrine dish sitting in a water bath. The pate also had a panada incorporated in, which is a mixture of brandy, cream, flour, and eggs. The pate baked for at least an hour and a half, leaving time to work on other charcuterie items.

We also used the meat grinder for our lamb scraps for the merguez and pork butt for our mortadella. The merguez (which is a North African sausage) had a ton of spices we had to toast and grind up for our sausage. Mortadella is an emulsified sauasage, so after the meat was ground, we put it in the food processor with ice to make the emulsion. Both the merguez and mortadella are ideally cooked lightly poached, but due to timing, we only got to poach the mortadella. We roasted the merguez in the oven.

Making charcuterie is an involved process. We had to do some butchery, grind meat, toast spices, making fillings, use a sausage stuffer, among other things. This was my first time using a meat grinder, and it was one of those large industrial grinder attachments to the 20 quart stand mixer.

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We definitely had a few snags in the road. The sheep casing we were trying to use for the merguez was not working well, so we had to switch gears and use the much larger beef casing. The sausage was bigger than intended, but the flavor was still there.

I certainly found it challenging to get through all we had to do today. Because I felt so rushed, I don’t feel like I learned as much as I normally do. I learn best by analyzing and absorbing the technique. Writing about it has helped me understand it better. I guess that is why we have our journal assignments. In the moment though, I was just going through the motions without truly understanding what I was doing (or why).

In this class, we are constantly changing gears. After a day full of meaty charcuterie, we had a morning session with one of the co-founders of Effie’s Homemade. Irene Costello is a graduate of the Culinary Arts and Gastronomy programs at Boston University. She and her business partner started a company selling oat cakes, which has now expanded into a line of five different products. We got to try their biscuits and learn about starting a food business. I certainly found the presentation to be quite interesting. Their products are sold all over the country, and are a popular item in the specialty cheese section at Whole Foods.

We discussed topics like deciding to use co-packers and distributors; working on different product lines; and where to have your products placed in stores. As someone who has flirted with the idea of one day owning a business one day, I found this to be a fruitful discussion. Also, the “cakes” were delicious, and they do pair excellently with cheese.

In the afternoon session, we got more appetizer inspiration under the direction of Chef Jeremy Sewell. Chef Jeremy runs his classes a bit differently than most chefs. His “recipes” are list of ingredients, sometimes containing quantities. He gives us verbal instructions during class and typically splits the recipes among the groups.

For Tuesday’s class, we all pitched in to make some ricotta gnocchi. The gnocchi was served over an acorn squash puree and contained roasted cauliflower and browned butter sauce. These gnocchi were very different from the ricotta gnocchi I am used to making. I found them to be very dense and chewy instead of light and fluffy.  The dish had a good flavor profile though.

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One of the groups worked on a beat salad with whipped goat cheese and arugula oil. Goat cheese and beets are a classic combination. Whipping the goat cheese with creme fraiche brought this dish to the next level.

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Another group made crab beignets with a lemon pepper aioli. I couldn’t seem to stop popping these into my mouth. As a former Marylander, I appreciate a good crab dish. Plus, what is there not to love about a savory beignet? I certainly can’t think of any.

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Finally, my group made smoked trout. We hot smoked the trout in the oven using applewood chips. The end product was tender and lovely. We served this with a walnut pesto, orange slices, and cilantro over fried bread. Yes, I said fried bread! I had never heard of frying bread before, but Chef said Julia Child used to do this often. We took some slices of freshly baked rye bread from Chef Jeremy’s restaurant and dropped them into the fryer until golden brown on both sides. The bread is crispy all around, but still soft to bit into. Chef Jeremy said he was about to change my life by introducing me to fried bread, and I think he may be right.

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This class gave me some more great ideas for what I want to serve as an appetizer on my final project. I just wish we knew what ingredients are going to be available to us.

This next class is going to take some time to discuss, because it was Italy day! Oh how my Italian heart sang with glee when I was handed the recipe packet for this day. I was in near tears from happiness. Chef Jody Adams was teaching this day, and she normally packs in a ton of recipes.

Chef Jody chose to focus on the food from the region of Emilia-Romagna. Italian cuisine is incredibly regional. Emilia-Romagna did manage to gain the reputation as being the forefront of Italian cuisine. So, what is Emilia-Romagna known for? Bolognese, prosciutto, balsamic vinegar, parmigiano reggiano, mortadella, tortellini, and much, much more!

There would be so many dishes worth trying form Emilia-Romagna, and we barely got to touch the scope of what this region (let alone the country) has to offer with its cuisine. My desire to spend time in Italy was renewed with this class.

I love that this class gave me an opportunity to learn more about traditional Italian cuisine. My packet contained ingredients and dishes I had never even heard of before, like cipolline (little sweet onions) and cotecino (a type of sausage).

We prepared four courses. The first (the antipasti) featured of two types of bread: piadini (which is a flatbread grilled on the griddle) and gnoccho fritto (which is a fried yeasted bread). We built little sandwiches with these bread products with cured Italian meats and cheeses. We also had some tasty cipolline and and a cheese custard called sformato di squaquerone.

We then had our primi, which consisted of some pasta dishes: bolognese and tagliatelle; pumpkin cappellaci, and tortelloni with greens and ricotta. We also made the traditional dish from Emilia-Romagna of lentils and cotecino (sausage).

Our third course (called secondi) was a rabbit dish Chef Jody made. Secondi is the main course in an Italian meal, and typically consists of a meat dish accompanied by side dishes called contorni. Our contorni included fennel gratin and grilled radicchio.

Finally, our last course was dolce, or dessert. I took on the project of making the desserts while my classmates worked on other dishes. I baked two different recipes for flourless chocolate cake. I have gained the reputation of being the baker of the class, and I love that. I love getting the chance to try new baking techniques.

I was not overly fond with how the cakes turned out. I thought the flavors were okay, but they were awfully dense and dry. Part of this was probably due to not having the egg whites whipping technique down yet. In general though, I would prefer a light chocolate cake with flour over these cakes.

While I was not content with how the cakes turned out, I loved every other aspect of the meal. I would love to make those puffy gnocco fritto to eat with some Italian cured meats. The pasta dishes were sublime.  Everyone did such a good job with their pasta dishes. It was truly a collaborate effort amongst the teams trying to get pasta rolled and shaped and get the sauces going. I was so full of Italian goodness after this meal.

With my stomach and heart full, I had to say goodbye to Italy day, but the fun did not stop. On Thursday, we had our first night event. The chef and owner of Mei Mei in Brookline (not far from our classroom/kitchen) came to promote her new cookbook, written with her two siblings called Double Awesome Chinese Food. 

We spent the day learning the dishes Irene Li was going to demo during her public event. While she would be in the classroom demoing dishes from the cookbook for event attendees, we would be making the dishes for them to try.

The first item on the menu was scallion pancakes. Both scallion pancakes and the dumplings we would later make were made with the same hot water dough from the cookbook. Scallion pancakes were a lot of fun, since we rolled them into snake shapes, then snail shapes before rolling back into a thin, flat pancake. I love seeing all the scallions pop out when we rolled out the pancakes.

Scallion pancakes are a fun and easy treat. We served them with a soy vinegar dipping sauce. We used a very hot griddle to cook the pancakes (with a ton of oil) to ensure we’d get the right amount of browning on the pancakes.

Next, we made biang biang noodles. These were as fun to make as they are to say. We were getting a little silly by the end of the night, and my classmate and I came up with the biang biang noodle dance.

Biang biang noodles are named from the banging sound produced while making the noodles. You start with a very sticky dough (that takes 48 hours to ferment and rest!) We picked up the dough and banged it on the table until we have these long noodles, which got dropped right into the boiling water. Fresh noodles don’t need to cook for very long, so this dish can be done in the snap of a finger. We dressed the noodles with ginger scallion oil. I absolutely loved these noodles!

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Finally, we served our dumpling alongside smacked cucumber salad. Making dumplings was a lot of fun, but for most of us, it was our first time doing so. I would have to practice forming tons of dumplings before mine look anywhere are pretty as Irene’s. I got the basic shape down, but my crimping skills need much improvement.

My favorite part of this even was that we got to take home a signed copy of the cookbook. I loved learning from Irene, but the most valuable lesson I got from this class was learning that I could safely eat Chinese food again. I have been avoid Chinese food due to my sesame allergy. Now I have this whole cookbook full of Chinese creations that I can make in my own home without fear of being sick. Irene simply said that if something calls for sesame oil or seeds, just don’t use it. She said there is no need to replace it with something else (though you can).  I loved her philosophy of not being married to her recipes. If the end result is great food, you did your job. I cannot wait to dive into this cookbook after this class is over.

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This post is about a week behind (again). I just couldn’t muster up the energy to finish it this week. However, I will only be in class one day next week due to Thanksgiving, so I am going to do another combined post for weeks 11 and 12. I should also have some Thanksgiving posts, so stay tuned!

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