Friday, April 22, 2011

Tony, Round Two, Into the TARDIS

I will take a moment for the Sci-fi Who-vians among us, to mourn the passing of our beloved Sarah Jane Smith. Plucky, Intrepid reporter and companion of nearly every Doctor Who from the 70’s to present, Sarah Jane continued on her own with the mechanical dog K9 in two spin-offs.

In the recent Doctor Who series, an alternate reality came to pass where in the final moments of humanity several past companions banded together to fight the evil and interminable Daleks, Sarah Jane and her son had a hidden-room global command center with a HUGE multi-screen lights-buzzers-bells-whistles-GPS tracking-communications-station--everything your modern military operation could want, in her house. Sarah Jane, you were Hot, you were Smart, you were Brave, you were and ever will be everything a girl could aspire to be.

To Business: I now present the belated review of Sur La Table’s Anthony Bourdain Cooking Basics Series, Sessions Two and Three--Session Three having concluded the series on Thursday, 21 April 2011. I realise my review of Session One was dismal. The next two were FABULOUS.

Yes, we hit the ground running again on night two, jumping straight into stocks. The class packet spends the first two pages on Veal Stock, it’s virtues, how every French-trained chef knows it blind and has a pot, fridge and freezer full of it. Due to time, we didn’t make the veal but with the completion of the chicken and fish stocks, I now feel pretty confident it’s just a matter of tweaking.

Kitchen Assistants bring over a sheet pan of skin-on chicken parts and basic aromatic vegetables which had been, necessarily, pre-roasted low and slow according to directions. We stuck it in a large pot, covered with H2O, and allowed to simmer happily. We hopped over to fish stock and Chef Marianne covered some good basics regarding the choice and treatment of the fish, then we got the pot going and moved on (in Session Three we used the fish stock for a beautiful fish soup with aioli).

From here, we started Mushroom Soup with some previously made chicken stock of the same recipe. In Session One I was chomping at the bit for Knife Technique. In Session Two, Chef took *several* opportunities to demonstrate knife work, starting on the shrooms before sautéing them; explaining how to deal with veggies slowly and logically-- with reasons why you’ll want to think about shape and size according to use and presentation. But no-one’s jumping in!...Till Mr. Pro (He’s French!!) with his awesome chef’s coat and long apron steps up and shows a couple fungi who’s boss.

I’m an instigator, so when Chef asks for volunteers, saying “It’s your class! Try it out!” I just start whispering “Doooooo Eeeeet!!!!” in people’s ears. What gets the excitement going is The Burr Blender. You know the one, the Whizzer Stick of Hades, the Immersion Blender on Steroids. Then the men start nudging each other a bit to get closer to the table. At which point us chicks just knock ‘em out of the way to get the hardware. The Handsome Man from Switzerland has the final go, and it’s just so gorgeous, earthy and creamy, even before we’ve added the sherry and left it to simmer over the break.

The Main Event of Session Two, however, is Sautéed Chicken with Béarnaise Sauce. I have made chicken in my life. I have attempted bearnaise (no accent, no capital, you note, it deserves none) and hollandaise. I have never really made a lot of meat, for no other reason than when I left home I was a) broke and b) had tiny, anemic cookers that could barely rise above 250F. So I made it to age 37 without really having mastered Meat, or the Grandes Dames of the Sauce World. White (or Béchamel) sauce, pan sauce custard sauce, yes. Béarnaise and Hollandaise, nope and nope.

I might take you step-by-step through her demonstration, but I want and need to be perfectly succinct here.

We pounded the boneless breasts (with the skin on) slightly to make them even in thickness. This makes them cook evenly. Then we sear them in a pan with grape seed oil which is perfect for high heat. Then we put it in the oven to cook gently. Then we rest it so it stays juicy when sliced. Ta-da.

So that is the entire rest of Session Two out of the way.

Now, for the Magic, the lifting of the veil, the moment when the Dimensional Multiverse is revealed! Herbs and spices, wine and oil in a pan, high simmer all the way down to dry and strained through a fine mesh sieve.

Use the small amount of liquid to flavor the sauce. It goes in a bowl, with eggs and you whisk over a pan of gently simmering water. The rest is someone finally showing you in person, moment by moment, the change in the egg’s protein due to mixing and careful exposure to heat. The point at which the colour changes, the thickness changes, the point at which you start adding butter bit by bit, the point at which it’s done.

Session Three featured the same demo but with STEAK AU POIVRE! This demonstration, the meat and the sauce, is Worth. It’s Weight. In Gold. The series is completely redeemed, and I am completely satisfied with the price I paid. My eyes were opened, The World of Food has become, forgive my nerdy blue Police Box heart, The TARDIS-- suddenly Bigger on the Inside than it looks on the Outside--for the first time in years. I feel excited and empowered again!

Session Three I unfortunately missed the Roast Chicken demo at the beginning due to hideous traffic on my way from work, but the little cornish hens came out pretty well and Tony’s Les Halles Cookbook features the basics (He also featured the technique on a No Reservations Techniques Special, available on Amazon Instant Watch).

Last Friday night, following Thursday’s Session Two, I went to a potluck. The theme was Atomic Foods and we watched Dr. Strangelove. I felt confident enough to do up an amuse-bouche of thinly sliced steak, tomato jam, atomic crême-fraiche and a sprinkle of sea salt.

Yes, I made meat and served it to a party.

In petrie dishes.

Atomic Steak Tapas with Tomato Jam à Laura'nge

I just treated the steak pretty much the same way as the chicken, et voy-OLA! Beautiful, medium-rare thin slices of new york strip atop a multi-grain cracker. I was kind of working from a recipe, Cliff’s Steak Tapas from the Top Chef Quick-Fire Cookbook. Originally my addition, the “Atomic” bit was going to be crême-fraiche pearls from my Molecular Gastronomy kit, but I’m still working that bit out.

The recipe had tomatoes blended into the crême, but I decided to make jam so the creme pearls would sit atop. After reaching critical pearl failure, I added hot sauce to the creme and placed them side-by-side on the steak, sprinkling with large-grain sea salt to finish. So for you, a Tomato Jam Recipe:

Tomato Jam à Laura’nge

1 can San Marzano whole stewed plum tomatoes, plus juice

3 Tablespoons brown sugar

2 medium shallots, small dice

Olive Oil

Kosher Salt

>Remove tomatoes from can, removing seeds and juice from each tomato over the can, then removing stem top and any remaining skin from tomato on the cutting board. Discard remnants and dice tomatoes in large pieces. Place in a bowl and set aside.

>Using fine mesh strainer over a second bowl, pour entire contents of can--all juice, seeds, etc. into strainer, then use a rubber spatula to stir contents around, so that only pure juice drains into bowl below. Set bowl aside, discard contents of strainer.

>In a small sauce pan over medium heat, drizzle olive oil to just cover bottom of pan. Drop in shallots, and add 1/4 teaspoon salt, stir and allow to sweat, stirring a couple times over 4-5 minutes.

>Add tomato pieces, juice and **brown sugar to sauce pan, raise it to a high simmer, bubbling quite vigorously. Stir every 5 minutes or so. **Here’s where You can be creative: decide how sweet you want it. You will actually have a bit of time to decide, as well--give it a couple of tastes in the first 7 minutes of simmering and see how sweet or savoury you’d like it!**

>The rest is just simmering down to jammy consistency--when there is still some liquid left (meaning, if you place your spatula in the middle of the pan and move the goop outward toward the side of the pan, the centre still fills with liquid, instead of staying empty because the jam has become thick), after about 12-15 minutes, reduce the heat back down to a low simmer and stir quite frequently, the more the sugar concentrates, the more burn factor there is.

>Ta-DA! When it is thick, deep red and completely carmelized, it’s Tomato Jam! Works on meat, bruschetta, warm or cold roasted or grilled veggies, sammiches, eggs--just about anything!

It was a week of Win, a week of Loss. A week when not even the best efforts of Calcium Chloride and a plastic syringe will make your crême-fraiche bubble; and a heroine drifted into the stars far, far from our reach. But for a moment I peaked into the TARDIS. And It's full of meat.

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