Life Outside My Cube

My life, a work in progress.

Cooking Class, Week 2

Chicken stock tonight. We arrive just a few minutes late, and the rest of the class is already in the kitchen. I guess there wasn’t any lecture. Too bad.

Chef has just cleaned a bag of white beans, and set them on to boil. Note: remove the stones.

In the mean time, Chef will demo chicken butchery. We’ll want the breast/thigh pieces for dishes tonight (chicken pot pie, cream of chicken soup), and the rest for the stock (which will also flavor bean and ham soup).

He demos the removal of the breast – long strokes along the breastbone, letting the sharp knife do the work, until the breast is free, then cutting off the thigh from the carcass. Pinch the leg joint to find the area where the soft cartilage is, then cut there to separate the leg from the thigh. Breast/thigh on a pan, leg in the stock pot. Similarly cut off the wing parts from the carcass and put them in the pot. No one else volunteers right away, so I jump in to duplicate his technique – this looks so easy! It isn’t, but it’s a lot easier than the hacking I usually do. The remaining carcass – minutes the inside bits – goes into the pot too. Good tip: cutting through the cartilage; dissecting a chicken is easy! Chef makes a case that buying a whole chicken is cheaper. I later find that Giant Eagle sells breast/thigh pieces significantly cheaper than whole chickens. Go figure.

Though he distinguished between stock and broth last week, we throw in bones and meat. We also add mirepoix, though not as much as for veg stock. A couple bay leaves and again, on the stove to boil. We season the breast/thigh pieces and bake until lightly browned, then cool and rough chop.

More prep this week for the dishes – different herbs, different veg, though again different than the recipes Chef hands out. We dice several of potatoes for the pot pies, then sautee in butter. Note: don’t stir, let them brown! Add veg and sautee some more. When done, add some broth and roux, and cook until pretty thick.

When beans are done, drain and add chicken broth, and diced smoked pork shoulder. Some herbs, probably, and not much seasoning. Let it cook for a while.

Chef pulls out pre-formed pastry shells from the store (!) and fills them, reserving some of the veg. Then pulls out pre-rolled pie dough and drapes over the top – not even bothering to trim or tuck the edges. It’s all about the taste, not how it looks, he says. I disagree inside. Pies go into the convection oven.

We remove all the chicken parts from the remaining broth, and pull off all the meat. This goes into another pot for a quick cream of chicken soup made with the leftover pie filling. Fortified with broth and thickened with milk and a little roux, this soup is thin, and doesn’t have the hearty taste you’d expect from a cream of chicken. I don’t have any.

The pot pie is tasty. The bottom crust is quite dry (good) and the top is flaky (good), but I wanted the interior to be much more saucy. I wanted to pour some of the cream of chicken over the top.

Bean soup is good too, though the beans could have benefited from an overnight soak, I think; they were a bit too chewy for me. But the flavor was quite good – that smoked pork added a lot. I’m sure the chicken broth added depth as well.

Pretty much the only think I took away from tonight was the chicken butchering tips and practice. There wasn’t as much evidence of deepened flavor profile based on the broth like there was the week before. I’d made a veg soup at home last weekend – making a veg stock, straining, then adding more veg and water, and it was delicious – very intense veg flavor, much more than a regular vegetable soup made with just water. Highly recommended.

Since I’m still blogging, you can conclude that Nancy and I decided to stick it out (plus, it was too late to get a refund) in hopes of bringing home a few tips, and just cooking!

Though using the term “we” makes it sound like all of us in the class were participating, in reality 12 is too many in the kitchen, and there’s rarely room for more than 2 at the stove. Quite frustrating, that.

We finished around 9, and sat around talking. Chef recommended that we not pursue cooking school – first because of the cost, second because he thought you could get the experience you need as an apprentice somewhere. He didn’t seem to take much interest in the technical aspects of cooking (a la CIA), and even mentioned some fat book “On Cooking” he doesn’t use. I think he meant, “On Food and Cooking” by Harold McGee, a classic and perhaps one of the top 5 books chefs regularly recommend. I take Chef’s advice with a large grain of salt.

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