I only have two days under my belt and I’ve already learned an immense amount regarding French cooking. The second day of my Essentials of Fine Cooking program kicked off with a lesson about food preservation. We learned how to make a “brine” or a “pickle”, which consisted of:
2 cups white vinegar
1 cup cider vinegar
Using haricots verts, turnips, carrots, cauliflower, and an onion, we made pickled vegetables. The strong fragrance reminded me of those delicious pickles served with a hot pastrami sandwich from Katz’s Deli. Just thinking about it makes my mouth water!
Next, I gutted my first fish—a sad little sardine. It was actually a simple process and truthfully, I am a big fan of seafood. The flavoring for this dish came from utilizing a similar marinade as the “pickle”. I thought this was interesting because the acid from the vinegar ‘cooks’ the fish to make it edible.
Duck confit and smoked scallops were the subsequent lessons, which filled the spacious kitchen with fabulous aromas. There’s nothing quite like the comforting smell of a slowly smoked food. This was mostly prep work, as I worked with these foods later in the day (more to come)…
The last two items on the day’s agenda were compound butters and flavored oils. To make Maître d’Hôtel Butter, I diced 1 lb butter and added parsley, chives, minced shallots, kosher salt, and white pepper. This was incredibly easy and would taste delicious melted on top of a filet mignon.
Next up were infused oils featuring the vibrant flavors of fresh basil, chili, and curry. We blended together 1 packed cup of fresh basil leaves and 1 cup grapeseed oil (can substitute canola oil but grapeseed oil is preferable because of its neutral taste, allowing the chosen flavor to shine), simmered and swirled the mixture (don’t stir), and finally strained it using a cheese cloth. The last step is to ice the mixture to set the color and stop the cooking process.
This method can be repeated using parsley, chives, sage, rosemary, and other dried spices. It’s important to remember that the flavor in powders is magnified, making it much stronger than when fresh, so the ratio is reduced to 2 oz powder:2 cups oil.
As soon as I returned to my apartment, I browned the skin of the duck leg in its fat and seared my smoked scallops in the compound butter. The result was two richly flavored foods that I could hardly believe I made.
Until next time… bon appétit everyone!