Wednesday, October 14, 2009

No, that's not ice cream....

Above is a picture of cold shmaltz, a.k.a. rendered chicken fat. A byproduct of making chicken stock, it floats to the top and, when refrigerated, solidifies, and is easy to remove. It's then reheated again over the stove; all non-fats evaporate and all non-fat solids burn and float to the bottom. Pour off the hot fat, refrigerate, and it's good for a year or so (if kept in the back of the fridge). And what better way to make some icky bitter greens magically delicious than adding a wallop of chicken fat...?

Today's class was about vegetable cookery, but really, how many vegetables can you really get into on 3 hours? First thing, we sat and I briefly lectured. What is cooking? Applying energy via heat to food to change its composition. There are only two classes of cooking: dry heat (baking, roasting, broiling, frying in all its forms) and moist heat (boiling, steaming, simmering). There is a bastard third, combination heat (braising, stewing, where something is browned in dry heat then moisture is added to finish).

Then we went quickly from abstract to solid, reviewing the recipes of the day...


Yield: 10 servings
Russet Potatoes 4 lbs
Butter, room temperature 6-8 oz
Milk, hot 12 fl.oz.
Heavy cream, hot 12 fl.oz.
Salt to taste
Ground black pepper to taste
1. Scrub, peel and cut potatoes into large pieces.
2. Boil or steam until tender.
3. Drain and dry over low heat or on a sheet pan in a 300˚ oven until no steam rises from them.
4. While hot, puree potatoes through a food mill or potato ricer into a heated bowl.
5. Add butter and mix into potatoes by hand or with the paddle or whip attachment of an electric mixer until just incorporated. Add milk, cream, salt, pepper by hand until smooth and light
6. Spoon potatoes onto heated plates or transfer to a piping bag and pipe into desired shapes.

The class started with knife skills. To save time, we didn't peel the potatoes; we just turned dirty round potatoes and rectangular skinless beauties into large dice. I already had a large pot of boiling water on, we dumped the potatoes in and I assigned a student to watch the potatoes, taste a cube for tenderness ,and call me when ready. I had the other students start the knife work for the next recipe -- while others drained the potatoes and pushed them through the food mill into a bowl heated from the ledge on top of the oven. I showed them the correct way to fold (with a rubber spatula, from 12 o'clock to 6 o'clock around the edge, then flip to the middle. Turn the bowl clockwise 90 degrees, repeat). Then came the butter and half-and-half...and finally the consistency was right. I had everyone taste; then I salted th dish and everyone tasted again and...what they tasted blew their minds. As I had promised, these were the best mashed potatoes they'd ever had!


Yield: 1 gallon

Vegetable oil 2 fl.oz, or as needed
Mire Poix*, large dice 3 lb
Nonstarchy vegetables* 3 lb
Salt 2 tsp
Cold water 1 gal
Sachet d’Espices* 1
1. Heat oil in large rondeau or stock pot and add mirepoix, vegetables and salt.
2. Cover and sweat the vegetables 10 to 12 minutes, stirring occasionally.
3. Add water and salt. Simmer 15 minutes.
4. Add sachet, simmer 10 minutes.
5. Strain the stock. Degrease by skimming if necessary. Use immediately or cool rapidly and store for later use.

*Mire Poix: 2 parts onion, one part carrot, one part celery
Non-starchy vegetables like leeks, tomatoes, garlic, etc.
Sachet d’ Espices: Enclose the following in cheeseclothe, bound by kitchen twine
3 to 4 parsley stems,
1 sprig of thyme or 1 tsp dried thyme,
1 bay leaf,
1 tsp cracked peppercorns

In the lecture I told them about mire poix, the mix of vegetables that are sauteed first before adding other things to add a certain flavor. It's French, but every culture has a version, like Spanish Sofrito (onion, green pepper, garlic) and New Orlean's Holy Trinity (Onion, bell pepper, celery) and the idea of stock -- a flavorful liquid that can be cooked with that brings an intensity of flavor rather than a dilution of flavor. A lot of soup-chops, and another student assigned to turning the veg in the stock pot until soft. We made a sachet, covered in cold water, then we were off on the next recipe. (Next week, we're going to make vegetable soup with the stock...)

We made tomato concasse. How-to: Score the bottom of the tomato, drop in boiling water for about 30 seconds. Shock in ice water to prevent any serious cooking. Peel off skin, which now comes off easily. Cut into quarters and cut out all the jelly and seeds, so just bare solid tomato flesh is left. This can be used in stock and soup, without generating scum, papery skins or bits of seeds floating everywhere.

Yield: 6 servings

Olive oil/Sesame oil/butter/ shmaltz 2 tbsp
Onions, thinly sliced 2 medium onions
Salt A pinch or two
Swiss chard, stems removed, 1” x 4” chiffonade 1 bunch
Kalamata olives, pitted, rough chop ½ cup
Salt to taste
Black pepper to taste
1. Bring a pot of well salted water to a boil
2. Heat large skillet over medium heat, add oil
3. Add onions, stir to coat with oil and salt
4. Continue to cook onions, making sure not to burn or brown. If they turn brown within 5 minutes, reduce heat. Cook 20-25 minutes until caramelized (a golden brown color). If they get to dry, add more fat.
5. When water is at a rolling boil, add Swiss chard. Cook to tender, 2-4 minutes
6. Shock chard in a bowl of ice water, drain and remove all excess water.
7. Stir chard into the onions, cook until excess moisture has evaporated and chard is heated through, 2-3 minutes
8. Toss with olives and salt to taste. Serve immediately.

Everyone sliced onions, then two students de-veined and made chiffonade of the chard. Chiffonade is rolling the leaf into a cigar-like shape and cutting it thin -- it results in more even, elegant cuts and prevents bruising of more delicate leaves. Four others got on the oven and I introduced them to the saute pan. Heat the pan first then add the oil. As I discussed in the lecture, one of the least healthy things you can do is eat scorched and burnt oil. Not only does it taste bad, it has all sort of cancer-causing substances. Heat the pan first, then add the oil. Test with a piece of onion, then go for it, constantly moving with tongs, paying attention to color, adjusting the heat if it's browning too fast or not fast enough.

For interest, I had each one use a different fat -- olive oil, butter, sesame oil, and chicken fat that I brought in from home. The butter took noticeably longer, due to the water content in this fat -- the others were all lipid, but butter is actually a mishmash of fat, proteins, sugars and water. I had them taste, looking for the sweet flavor. Unfortunately we didn't have time to go the full caramel, but they were good.

The chard was blanched and shocked, dropped into boiling water for 3 minutes, then drained and dropped in an ice bath. I explained blanching -- and how, in this case, doing so cooks the leaf and removes tge bitter elements. The shock of the ice stops the cooking abruptly, and locks in the bright green color. Squeezed out, it was tossed in the pan with the onions with some chopped olives, then seasoned.

After cleaning, we sat down to eat and it was a lot of fun eating each of the chards with the potatoes. Everyone was gaga over the potatoes and took some home, but no one liked the chards enough to take any home. To my taste, it tasted more like caramelized onions and olives which had greens in it as an afterthought, but STILL they didn't dig it. They did agree that chicken fat tasted the best, but not enough to finish the plate. You can bring a horse to water....and you can make a healthy vegetable extremely unhealthy, but a teen still won't dig it!

Next week, salads, which will be matched with sauteing of tender cuts of meat. And that damn vegetable soup. Soup n' salad!