Hello friends and family,
Last night’s cooking class was another busy night, this time exploring vegetable cookery. Our focus was on learning several techniques to cook vegetables and utilizing those techniques to make 5 dishes: Ratatouille, Parsnip puree, Braised endive, Parcooked haricot vert (green beans), and Cauliflower a la Greque. Chef Brian also made us some phenomenal brussel sprouts (no, that is not an oxymoron).
We used a sauté pan for much of our cooking, and practiced the art of sautéing or “to jump in the pan”. Note: if you are looking to purchase a sauté pan, the best ones have an interior of stainless steel- not aluminum. French chefs don’t even let their meat come in contact with aluminum. It is acceptable for other material to coat the outside of the pan (adding to it’s heat conduction efficiency), however the inside should be stainless. A non-stick pan is not desirable as you don’t get the tasty bits on a nonstick pan and cannot deglaze a nonstick pan. The only thing my instructor uses a nonstick pan for is eggs. All-clad is a recommended brand if it is in the budget. I need one of these sauté pans! 🙂
If you want to practice your “toss” you can practice with beans or rice outside. Move the food to the front of the pan (tipping the front slightly downward), then gently toss the food back up towards your hand quickly tilting the front of the pan upwards/ backwards with a rocking motion of the wrist. This takes practice, but it is what the sauté technique is all about.
Another interesting thing we learned this week is that french chefs don’t really use lids. Apparently the reasoning for this could be debated, but my instructor argues that seeing the food and being able to quickly stir or taste it is crucial. You want to be constantly interacting with it and evaluating it. He also commented that cooking with a lid causes a certain amount of flavor to be “lost to the pot” during evaporation. French chefs use a cartouche. A cartouche is a piece of parchment paper, cut in a circle the size of the pan, and pressed down directly on top of the food. You can use it in the oven, or on the stove. Cutting one is kind of like cutting a snowflake out of parchment paper (without the design) and using a chef’s knife instead of scissors.
Another interesting point learned about vegetables is that many vegetables make wine taste bad! Apparently the chlorophyll and oxalic acid in some vegetables can really make wine taste bad to the point that many people send wine back at a restaurant thinking the wine is bad, when actually it is reacting with oxalic acid in the food they are eating. I found this from another website:
“With bitter, oxalic acid vegetables avoid wines with residual sugar or that are heavily oaked.
Bitter oxalic vegetables are difficult to pair with wines in any case. Brussel sprouts, asparagus, spinach, greens and artichokes seem more bitter with many wines. Unoaked, herbal whites and light reds seem to be less of a problem.”…http://winetasteathome.com/Food%20Pairing/FoodPairingAvoidance.html.
We also learned that what I think of as “blanching” is not blanching, but rather parcooking. Parcooking is when vegetables are cooked to about 80% doneness and cooled quickly in an ice bath. You can do this ahead with different vegetables (all with different cooking times) and then finish cooking them in a pan with flavor and seasonings to get everything done at the same time. This is how restaurants cook your vegetables. Almost nothing is cooked from the raw state to order when it comes to veg- most is parcooked ahead of time, and finished to order. As with everything in cooking school, they don’t give you an exact recipe or time for this. The goal is to experiment and learn when the food is ready. Try this experiment with green beans. Par cook green beans as described below, taking some out before you think they are done, when you think they are done, and after you think they are done, submerging all in the ice bath and removing to a separate plate before you take out the next batch. Then, try them all and see what you think. The old-school French chefs don’t like too much “squeak on the teeth” (fiber) in their cooked vegetables, but you can use this experiment that we used in class, to see what you like. Remember…the goal is to remove the vegetable when it is 80% cooked…not all the way cooked. This brings me to the first recipe…brussel sprouts…
To par cook brussel sprouts.
First get a pot of salty boiling water going. You want the water to be salty like the sea! This will keep your veg green. Remember- you are going to submerse these babies in ice water anyway, so don’t be scared of the salt- much will rinse off. You want enough water that when you add your vegetables, the water will stay at a good boil and not reduce the temperature too much. Also, never start par cooking without a “place to land”. Get your ice water bath ready!
Trim the stem ends on the brussel sprouts, and cut an “x” into stem end with your knife. When you have a good boil going and your place to land at the ready, drop the brussel sprouts in the water. I cannot tell you how long to cook them. Don’t cover them with a lid, and don’t be afraid to check one. Take it out and taste it. It should be slightly underdone- about 80% cooked. This part you have to just practice and keep trying!
When par cooked, submerse in ice bath. When sufficiently cooled, dry thoroughly-(really dry) and slice in half on one of the score lines you made earlier. You can store these in the fridge until you are ready to use them.
To cook the brussel sprouts-
Get a saute pan smoking hot!! The two things that can go wrong with this preparation are that you don’t get the pan hot enough, and you don’t use enough oil, so don’t be afraid of either! Make sure your brussels are throughly dry. Putting wet things in a really hot pan with oil is very bad! Next, add a really good coating of canola oil (a high heat oil). Drop sprouts into oil and toss slightly. Add salt. Add a halved garlic clove to pan and continue tossing as brussels start to color. You can add a few 1″ slices of bacon at this point. Keep tossing! Now you want to balance that fat and bitter with a little sugar (or honey or syrup) and a sprinkling of sherry vinegar (the acid in the vinegar complements the fat and salt). Alternatively, you could flavor the sprouts with butter, thyme, parmesan, vinegar, and salt and pepper, or even butter and mustard. Remove when sufficiently seared and tender. These were quite tasty!
*Another book recommendation this week was, “On Food and Cooking”, (http://www.amazon.com/Food-Cooking-Science-Lore-Kitchen/dp/0684800012), so I am going to see if I can find it at the library).*
Ratatouille- a delicious “vehicle for olive oil”
There are 5 main vegetables used here- Eggplant, Peppers, Onion, Zucchini/Squash, and diced tomatoes.
You want your dice to be equal size, so this is a good time to practice your knife skills. Also, you want to peel the tomato (after giving it a quick dip in boiling water and subsequent cool down in ice water) and remove seeds and membrane. You don’t want to peel the squash, as the peel holds most of the flavor. If you are dealing with a large squash or eggplant you can remove some of the “styrofoamy” middle if necessary. It’s best to use a young tender vegetable. On the same note, there is no need to pre-salt the eggplant in this (or many other) recipes if you are using a young tender eggplant.
Start with a saute pan over medium heat. You don’t want it too hot, as we will be using extra virgin olive oil, which has a lower smoke point. The goal with the onions is a sweat (to not take on color, and to cook at a lower heat). Give bottom of pan a good coating with olive oil, and sweat 1/2 onion with a bit of salt until translucent and tender. Add diced pepper to pan and cook until tender- toss frequently. Remove onion and pepper to parchment lined baking sheet or vessel. In same pan crank up heat slightly and add more oil to coat pan. Add a small squash and zucchini diced, to pan and salt, Cook until tender and add to other veg in vessel. Again oil pan and add eggplant and salt. Cook until tender, and then add the other veg back to pan, along with the diced tomatoes and about a 1/4 tomato juice, some basil chiffonade (leaves piled on top of each other, rolled up, and cut into very thin slices), and garlic paste(mince 1-2 garlic cloves and sprinkle lightly with sea salt, let stand a bit, then scrape along cutting board over and over to get a paste). Add a splash of sherry wine vinegar, and move to plate, Finish with salt and pepper as needed and a hefty sprinkle of parmesan cheese, Enjoy!
This dish is not light on butter or cream, but the idea is not to eat a whole bowlful. It should be so delicious that you really only need 5 bites to be satisfied. That is the way we are instructed to look at all of these recipes.
The trick to the parsnip puree is to cook with just enough liquid and fat to cook the parsnip, but not too much to effect the flavor and texture of the puree. You only want to glaze the parsnip, and not leave any flavor behind in the cooking liquid.
First you want to peel the parsnip and cut it into equal sizes (maybe thumb sized). It does not have to be a dice since you will be pureeing it later, however, you want all the pieces to cook at the same time. You could start with a couple parsnips. Get a small saucepan on the stove and put it over medium heat with butter (maybe a couple tbsps.), chicken stock (maybe 1/4-1/2 c.- you can always add more later if needed), and a pinch of salt. Toss in your parsnip pieces, and a few slices of fresh peeled ginger, a sprig of thyme, and some fresh pepper. You only want enough liquid in the pan to come 1/4 way up the vegetables. You could add or subtract other things with your puree (add onion or potato, or instead of parsnip you could do other root vegetables such as sweet potato, turnip, carrot, or beet for Valentines Day). At this point make your cartouche from parchment paper, and press the cartouche down on top of the cooking parsnips. You basically want these to simmer away at a low simmer until the parsnips are really tender. Just watch that the parsnips aren’t scorching. If you need to, you can add a tiny bit more liquid to prevent the parsnips from taking on color, but when the parsnips are cooked, the goal is to have very little liquid in the pan, and all that liquid to be in the parsnips. When throughly tender, remove cartouche and thyme sprig, and transfer parsnips to food processor with a good knob of butter (maybe another 1, 2, or 3 tbsp. depending on how many parsnips you used, and a good glug of heavy whipping cream. Process throughly, and taste to see if you need to add salt (which you probably do because everything the chefs taste in the kitchen…they say it needs salt). Enjoy.
That is all for now!