I can’t believe it has been 7 weeks, since staring my classes at L’Academie de Cuisine. I have learned so much, and gained a lot of confidence in my cooking. This experience has absolutely confirmed for me, my love for cooking and my desire to keep cooking. In fact, after taking the class I simply can’t imagine not continuing to learn as much as I can about all things cooking and food.
This weeks class was all about sauces. Needless to say there was a lot to talk about in class, and our lecture went much later than usual. We watched the chef’s demos and listened to him instruct us on how to make wonderful sauces for nearly two-and-a-half hours before even getting into the kitchen.
The sauces we learned were:
Cream Sauce for Fish– The fish is cooked with a small amount of white wine, and aromatics. When cooked, the fish is removed from the pan and fish fume (fish stock), cream, lemon juice, and seasoning is added and reduced to make the sauce.
Beef Bordelaise– A sauce served with sliced steak. This sauce is made by browning some scarps of fresh lean red meat in a pan, and then cooking shallots in the same pan, and adding lots of red wine, beef stock, and aromatics.
Steak Au Poivre with Brandy Cream Sauce– For the Steak Au Poivre in class, our instructor used Top Butt steaks. He seasoned them with lots of coarsely ground black pepper, and cooked them in a saute pan over very high heat. Then he wiped the oil from the pan, and added equal parts of brandy, brown stock, and eventually cream. The sauce was simmered briefly with thyme and more black pepper.
Tomato Sauce– For this version, mirepoix (onion, carrot, celery) was cooked in a pan with olive oil. A quart of whole stewed tomatoes from San Marzano was added and after simmering, and the sauce was passed through a food mill to get a more uniform consistency. The sauce was brought back to a simmer and thyme was added along with seasoning. Tender herbs (parsley and basil) were added towards the end of cooking. If your tomato sauce is too sweet (sometimes the tomatoes can be very sweet) you can finish it with a little red wine vinegar or lemon juice. Don’t forget to adjust the salt!
Fruit Coulis– Three fruit coulis sauces were made in class: blueberry, raspberry, and kiwi. Fruit Coulis is a simple sauce made by blending simple syrup (equal parts sugar and water cooked until sugar is dissolved), fruit, and a little lemon juice. You can serve this with other desserts, and even get fancy and make pretty designs with the sauce on a plate using squeeze bottles. You can pass the sauce through a strainer before serving to get a uniform consistency. The kiwi sauce was not passed through a strainer because it actually looks very cool with the bright green sauce and the little black seeds.
Caramel– Oh yeah! 1/2 cup of sugar is cooked in a small pot over high heat (be careful- sugar burns are the worst!). When the sugar gets pretty darn dark, 2 cups of cream is added (carefully). The sauce will seize up and then dissolve back down again. The sauce is whisked and at this point you can add a shot of bourbon. When the cream has mixed in, the pot is plunged into a shallow ice bath to cool the mixture quickly. The Chef served this with an Apple Tart he made for us in class. Yum!
Creme Anglaise– This can be a sauce or a base for ice cream. It is made by mixing 5 egg yolks and 5 oz. of sugar (by weight). 1 cup of milk and 1 cup of cream is brought to just under a simmer with a vanilla bean pod and perhaps some orange rind. The egg-sugar mix is tempered with the hot liquid, and then slowly mixed together and returned to the heat. Stir the mixture over heat, but do not let it boil. You don’t want your egg yolks to turn to scrambled eggs! The Creme Anglaise is done when it coats the back of a spoon and you can draw a line with your finger in the sauce on the back of the spoon. The sauce must be cooled quickly (you can sit the pot in a shallow bowl of ice water), strained, and then refrigerated. It will only last a day or two in the refrigerator. I made a strawberry Fruit Coulis and the Creme Anglaise sauce and served it with a millet cake recipe called Gracie’s Yellow Birthday Cake from Feeding the Whole Family by Cynthia Lair. The cake tasted like moist sweet cornbread (according to my friend Mike), and went really well with the two sauces. I think my husband may have preferred it as ice cream, but it was still pretty darn good.
Another interesting discussion which came up during class was pairing wine with food. It was recommended by the Chef that the easiest way to make a successful pairing with your food and wine, is to use the same wine in your food that you are drinking with the meal. If you are planning on drinking an expensive bottle of wine, at least use a good bottle of the same varietal in your food (example: if you are drinking a very expensive bottle of Chablis, use a less expensive but still good bottle of Chablis to cook with for that meal). Makes sense, right? I know you have heard this before, but you never want to cook with wine you wouldn’t want to drink. Also, if you have a really great bottle of wine, and you want that to be the star of the evening, serve it with good simple food. Uncomplicated food will let the wine stand out. If you are serving something a little more “economical”, you can make your food the star and the wine will just be a nice accompaniment.
One more little tip that came out of class, was a new cut of beef. We were using Top Butt Steak (funny name, huh?) in class. Apparently, you have to ask for it. It is similar to a sirloin steak, but at round prices. The cuts we had looked almost like slightly bigger filet mignon. Also, remember when buying beef, the more that muscle was used, the more flavorful it will be. However, the more the muscle was used, it will also be less tender.
The sauce recipe I thought I would share with you this week was a variation of the Beurre Blanc sauce we learned in class. Beurre Blanc means white (blanc) butter (beurre) sauce. I made my variation of this sauce this week using citrus including a blood orange. This meant that my sauce was more of a “Beurre Rose” or pink butter sauce. You can also use red wine vinegar instead of citrus to make the sauce, which is the way we learned it in class.
To Make Beurre Rose:
1/4 lb. butter (1 stick)- cold, but cut into pieces
a couple spoonfuls of flour
fresh ground pepper
2 tilapia fillets
a large shallot, peeled and sliced
1/2 cup white wine (I used a Chenin Blanc- Viognier Blend as that was what I planned to drink with dinner)
fresh juice from a blood orange and lemon
about 1/2 cup a garlic clove, peeled
a few peppercorns
a few sprigs of thyme
1/4- 1/2 cup cream
steamed asparagus as an accompaniment, if desired
chiffonade of fresh basil
First, I preheated my oven to 180 degrees (my oven’s lowest setting), and stuck our dinner plates in the oven (be sure your plates are designed to withstand heat first). This way my plates would be warm and keep my fish warm while I finished the sauce. I also lightly dredged the tilapia fillets in flour seasoned with salt and pepper. I then, added a little additional sprinkling of salt to the flour-dredged fish. This allows you to cook the fish in a regular saute pan, and not be reliant on a non-stick pan to cook fish properly.
In a small pot, I deposited equal parts of juice and white wine, the garlic, peppercorn, thyme, and shallots. I brought the liquid to a boil over high heat. The goal is to let the liquid cook down and evaporate.
As the sauce was cooking, I cooked my fish. I heated enough canola oil to coat the bottom of my saute pan over medium high heat. I cooked the tilapia 3-4 minutes per side (until it was golden brown on one side), and then flipped it and finished cooking on the other side. When the fish was finished cooking, I removed it from the pan letting as much oil as possible run back into the pan, and put the fish on the warm plates in the oven. I cooked my fish one piece at a time, because of the size of my saute pan, and so I could give each piece my full attention.
*By the way- when cooking fish you want to cook the prettiest side (generally the side facing the bone not the skin) first. So, start with the skin-side of the fillet facing up in the pan. It makes for the best presentation.*
Meanwhile, I steamed my asparagus, for just a few minutes and then plunged them in ice water to stop their cooking. I drained them, and put them in the warm oven to reheat a little just before I was ready to serve the food. When the liquid in your pot has mostly evaporated, and the mixture is approaching dryness (au sec), carefully stir in your cream.
Now you will want to have your pieces of butter and a whisk ready. You can add just a tablespoon of warm water to your sauce to help the emulsion. After the cream has cooked down slightly, you can start dropping the pieces of butter into the sauce one piece at a time, whisking constantly over high heat. If the mixture looks like it is getting too hot, you can pull it off the heat for a few seconds to cool down and adjust, but you do want to be incorporating the butter over fairly high heat. As each piece of butter is incorporated, add another one. Keep whisking and adding butter, and your sauce should start to take on a thicker, creamier consistency. As soon as your last piece of butter has emulsified into the sauce, you can remove it from the heat, and strain the sauce.
Taste it, adding a good amount of salt and pepper. If needed you could add a little extra lemon juice, but this sauce made with lemon juice and blood orange juice will probably be fairly acidic already. Don’t be afriad to get a little aggressive with your salt. I was advised by one of the assistant Chefs in class to do this, as the sauce will mellow out slightly when combined with the other elements you are serving. When you are happy with the salt-acid balance, you can gently pour the sauce over your tilapia and asparagus. I topped mine with a chiffonade of basil. As with many of the preparations we have learned in class, this is not a “light” dish, but it didn’t taste too heavy either.
My husband took this picture, and thought in the interest of honest representation, I should show what else I was serving at this dinner:
Although my son ate some tilapia and asparagus and liked it, the girls had white cheddar mac and cheese with asparagus – and they refused to eat the asparagus. Oh well! We enjoyed the tilapia, and I think it was a pretty elegant dish, which wasn’t too difficult to prepare. Just pay attention to the sauce, and avoid the extremes of too hot, too cold, not enough whisking, etc.
Next week we move on to poultry and game birds…should be interesting. I am guessing there is duck in my future.