Day 37: Charcuterie

Char-cu-ter-ie

/shar-coo-der-ee/

This is a new word for me.

I think the first time I heard this word was quite recently in my wine class. In all honesty, before today, I had no idea what it really meant. What would we be cooking?

Char = flesh      Cuterie = cooked

“The art of preserving meats through cooking or curing,” explained Chef Kevin O’Donnell, Executive Chef of the Salty Pig and the newly opened Boston restaurant, SRV.

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Rabbit En Porchetta

While today was absolutely filled with strong smelling, slimy, meat, it was also quite fascinating. The process of how meat turns from its raw form into a hot dog or a piece of pepperoni is something I take for granted.

Chef Kevin, or, Kevin as he asked us to call him, was an extremely kind person with tons of cool experiences in Italy, New York, Paris, and now Boston. He made the day’s lesson so interesting, even for a non-meat eater like myself.

I was also tickled by the fact that Kevin reminded me of character in Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs on a sausage-making day like today. (A compliment for sure.)

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Chef Kevin

 

Let me enlighten you some notes from the day.

Charcuterie evolved from necessity. Preserving food was helpful for soldiers during the war.

Charcuterie requires precise measurements, everything down to the gram. Chef’s recipes were filled with numbers and he also used Centigrade temperatures, as that is how he was taught in Europe.

Some methods:

  • Dry cured/salted – prosciutto, salami
  • Brining – ham, corned beef, deli meats
  • Smoking – bacon, kielbasa
  • Confit – “cooked with fat,” pate, head cheese, terrine
  • Fresh sausage – ground and spiced/flavored meat stuffed into a casing and cooked

Chef understood animals and their muscles so well. He explained that like gluten in bread, casein in milk, and albumin in eggs, the protein in meat is called myosin. Myosin is created not only by the animal’s usage of the muscle, but by how we handle the meat in preparation. Depending on the muscle you are working with and the type of charcuterie you are preparing, you may need to mix the meat a lot or very little.

The art of charcuterie uses tons of components that I had never heard of or thought about before. For example, caul fat. We wrapped our seasoned rabbit in a layer of the most delicate, lacy, caul fat, which had come from a cow. After the whole “rabbit en porchetta” cooked, the caul fat had rendered and sealed the whole thing into a shiny coating.

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Chef Kevin shows us how to wrap the rabbit in caul fat.
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Caul fat up close and personal.

Filling the sausages were also entertaining, as I had never seen the process in such close proximity before. We filled our pig mortadella in hefty beef casings and our flavorful lamb merguez in fragile sheep casings.

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Grinding meat is a team effort.

After cooking, the sausage smelled amazing. While I did not taste, I definitely appreciated the art of charcuterie.

Great day of learning.

Already brainstorming of what to put in a vegetarian sausage.

And in case you were wondering, pepperoni is made from pork and beef.

sonia

 

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Day 26: Spain

“Always work as if it’s the second to last minute!” shared Chef Deborah as we stood around the tasting table. “If you work as if it’s the last minute, it becomes an unhealthy environment, too stressful to be productive. Things fall. You don’t do your best work. BUT, the second to last minute keeps the urgency and the calm.”

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Chef Deborah pours some Sherry.

Chef Deborah Hansen, owner of delicious Spanish restaurant, Taberna de Haro, walked in soaked, like the rest of us with a big smile on her face and excitement in her eyes. Rather than pots, pans, and ingredients, Chef carried a map under her arm. A map of Spain. And a fancy wine bag.

I snapped out of fretting over my soaking pants as suddenly, I was on the edge of my seat, excited for what the day ahead of us held.

Unlike the others, Chef was not going to demonstrate any cooking this morning. Rather, Chef was going to take us traveling to the beautiful Spain on an adventure to taste and smell and experience Spanish food culture.

The way she spoke about each region, the people, the food, the customs, painted a picture and transported me right there. Having lived in Spain for many years, Chef Deborah shared with us about the way people live – people really take time to enjoy their food. They eat together, they eat often, they take more importance in eating and drinking and enjoying than in business. It sounds like a wonderful life.

About Spain:

  • Madrid has the second most fish consumption after Tokyo.
  • No corn in Spain. Corn is only for animals. No cilantro.
  • Tomatoes, olives, flan, and rabbits are ubiquitous in Spain.
  • Fruit is often served as dessert. It is eaten with a fork and knife. Never with the hand.
  • Puro is Spanish cooking oil which can withstand high heat because it has been refined three times. This is what they use for frying ever-popular French fries. Butter is hardly ever used. Extra virgin olive oil is used in dressings and for things that do not require high heat.

     

The Spaniard Way of Eating.

Desayuno – early morning breakfast, something light. Without a doubt, cafe con leche and perhaps a few biscuits or cake.

Mid morning breakfast – around 10am, something more substantial, with protein. Perhaps a filled tortilla.

La Comida – afternoon lunch, usually around 2:30/3, a large three-course meal with dessert.

Merienda – light evening meal, usually cafe along with something sweet, like ice cream or a chocolate sandwich.

Supper – around 10 pm, something light. Depending on which region you live in, this could vary from thinly sliced steak or an omelet, to a piece of fruit eaten, of course, by fork and knife.

Tapas – this last meal is optional, often enjoyed on the way home from dinner, stopping in a bar to have a drink and a few small plates of food.

Chef brought a refreshing perspective to the kitchen. Here are some of her words that I resonated with:

About olive oil and vinegar…“Buy good olive oil and vinegar that originates from a fruit always.”

About feeling anxious about the rabbit, Chef had some words to say…“Just because rabbits are cute, means we can’t eat them??” she asked incredulously. “And just because fish are ugly, we can eat them? That’s like saying just because he’s cute, (pointing at one of us) he doesn’t have to die and just because some other guy is not, he does – that makes no sense! More protein always wins! Eat your food!

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About salt cod…”Always keep this in your fridge. It is good protein and lasts forever. I’ve had one in my fridge for 13 years.”

About health… “In America, we don’t eat enough enzymes and our stomach becomes weak. Eat raw foods, eat fermented foods, eat meats, build up your gut with healthy bacteria, eat liver occasionally, eat protein, and wine is a part of this too. As a chef, it is imperative that you take care of your health. Eat well, exercise, have a way of de-stressing from the kitchen environment.”

Finally, let me share with you our Valenciana themed menu.

Brandada: A creamy spread made of salt cod, potatoes, and good olive oil.

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Brandada

Ensalada Valenciana: Blood Orange Salt Cod Salad – oranges, onions, and salty cod? Who knew these flavors would pair so well together.

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Ensalada Valenciana

Pimentos rojos asados: Roasted red peppers, peeled, cut, and dressed with an olive oil vinaigrette and delicious olives. Sweet and juicy.

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Pimentos rojos with sherry.

Paella de conejo: Rabbit paella. Paella, like many amazing dishes we enjoy today, started out as a poor man’s dish. Rice farmers were given rice to cook for lunch everyday, as well as whatever they caught in the rice growing waters, where salt water met freshwater. There, they would find crawfish, mussels, frogs, rabbits, etc. Then, in one big pot, they combined everything. It was so simple, they didn’t even bother to stir the dish, enjoying the crusty browned bottom that often resulted. Now, paella is fancied up with lobster and all sorts of expensive meats. The burnt bottom of the dish is done on purpose.FullSizeRender_7

Tarte de aceite de oliva: An Orange Scented Olive Oil Cake. I found this heavenly.FullSizeRender_6

I really admired Chef Deborah. Not only was she talented and hardworking, but she was extremely passionate about food, about people, about wine, about Spain, and about enjoying life as it comes. She made us work hard and kept the sense of urgency in the kitchen, but also was very real and down to earth.

At the end of the day, all of us together, with Sherry in hand, paella piled plates, and nice hunks of olive oil cake in the center, embraced our meal and shared about ourselves with Chef. “One second, I have to tweet about what you guys made!” she exclaimed in excitement.

Chef Deborah wholeheartedly took part in the meal – she not only tasted everything, but wined and dined with us, kicking off her shoes and hopping up to sit on the table to tell us all about her story, her restaurant, the 600 wines on her list that she is obsessed with, the four key people that have worked in her kitchen for 17 years (!), and so much more.

Happy Heart. Full belly. I’m headed to Spain. Who’s in?

sonia

Day 25: China + Review

Finally Monday! I could not wait to catch up with my buds at school after being away for a week – I had missed them so much.

Unfortunately, the only chance I got was a whispered hello and pat on the shoulder from Valencia, as I was almost late! I had stopped at the bank on my way and it had just taken longer than expected…anyways, I walked in at 10:30 am sharp, to greet a short Chinese lady, standing behind the counter. Hellos would have to happen later.

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Chef Helen Chen

Chef Helen Chen, cookbook author and owner of Helen’s Asian Kitchen, was here to share on Chinese cuisine, everything of which she had learned from her mother.

I immediately thought of Jonathan, my younger brother, who had just landed in Beijing earlier this morning on his travels. I wonder what foods he will be tasting this week…

Chef Helen was quite comical and quite different from the restaurant chefs that we had visit us in the past; the environment she created made me feel like I was at home in a Chinese kitchen, listening to…a mother!

“The Chinese kitchen is simple. One knife, one pan. Everything is cut in the same shape. Cook always eats last.”

Chef passed around samples of 100-year-old eggs. She cut it with a thread because the inside was so delicate. I am still not sure what kind of egg it is and I gave mine off to Anthony. It just did not look like something I could stomach at the moment.

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Hundred Year Old Eggs

Some interesting notes from Chef Helen:

About the rice. Asians take rice seriously.

  • “We get the shivers if we don’t have rice at least once a day.”
  • “99% of Asians use rice cookers. The only time they aren’t used is if there is no electricity.”
  • White rice has a rice:water ratio of 1:1, while brown rice is 1:1.5 in a rice cooker.
  • NEVER take a metal spoon to rice. – always use a more gentle tool.
  • Kids are first taught to make rice.

On ginger…Buy it plump and hard. Not shriveled or moist. Use the edge of a spoon to peel it.

On tofu…Chinese pronounce it THO-FU. THO-FU, or soy bean curd, is extremely versatile. Chef Helen recommended trying the tofu dish that is served on dim-sum carts in wooden baskets – a delightful dessert of tofu pudding with ginger sauce. It is her favorite.

On Stir fry…“Stir fry from your shoulder, not your wrist.” Stir fry must be served in a flat plate and served to guests immediately.

I noticed that Chef did not add any spices, besides some red chili flakes, nor did she add any salt. Most of the flavor came from the soy-based sauces, such as soy and hoisin sauce, and fermented vegetables. Interesting.

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After a stir-fry lunch and finally some hugs all around, we prepared for the kitchen. I think we were all excited to be back by the flame, because we were dressed and ready a good 20 minutes in advance.

The rest of the afternoon, we spent with Chef Douglass, catching up on our spring break travels as well as reviewing some key skills: boning a chicken, reducing chicken stock, poaching an egg, crafting a french omelet, whipping up risotto, and pan roasting a statler breast.

While many times, I did furiously flip back to previous pages in my handy notebook, I must say that being comfortable in the kitchen made a huge difference.

I boned my little chicken in less than ten minutes. No fear. No feelings. Just doing the task at hand.

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Little Chickens.
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Statler breast with mushroom pan sauce.

Egg poaching was a breeze – I now make poached eggs for lunch every Friday, on my day off.

Even my French omelet came out rather lovely on the first try, which was a pleasant surprise. I had tried making one for my dad last week in Mexico and I had not met with the same success. (I think the secret is…lots more butter.)

Whew. Good day. Quite tired today, thanks to the missing hour.

But I am not complaining. I am all about the saving of daylight.
sonia

Day 16: The Principles of Fish 1

What she order? Fish Fillet. We will get back to this soon.

Today started off with an interesting lecture on cooking techniques by Chef Christine Merlo, a writer, a sommelier, a graduate of our program, a Chef instructor at Le Cordon Bleu, and an animated speaker, among other things. I enjoyed how Chef Christine did not just speak to us with words, but rather with actions – she often acted out the picture she was trying to convey. It was fun listening.

What I enjoyed most about the morning was the introduction time. While the ten of us have presented our stories at least seven times if not more to different instructors in the program – enough times so that I can tell Metiga’s story and Joseph can tell my story and so on – today was different.

I usually don’t like being on the spot and get a little very anxious thinking of what to say and how I will include my entire life in a few short sentences…but this time, it was easy. I was able to speak calmly and sincerely to the little chef family that surrounded me, and I found it much more fulfilling of an experience. Also, because we are no longer just beginning in our program, the little taste we have had in the kitchen has started to evolve our story, at least that is my thought. I am starting to hear glimmers of new ideas and personalities coming out from my colleagues. Chef Christine was an admirable mentor and discussion leader. She really listened to each one of us, she put herself in our shoes, and provided uplifting feedback. I could not help but get excited about the future.

After that, we embraced Fish Day One.

I was worried that I might not be ready for the intensity of fish, as I was rather sleepy overall from the week. But as soon as I walked into the kitchen and put some water to boil in the tea kettle, I relaxed. The warm kitchen is such a comforting place.

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Our stuffed Branzino.

Chef Fran was in the kitchen today. He was a young, upbeat chef that had grown up in Boston and in Brookline (where I currently live) and attended Boston University’s hospitality school. After working his way through many of Boston’s top restaurants, he now serves as the Executive Chef at Row 34.

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Chef makes us some salmon carpaccio.

I found Chef Fran’s teaching style so effective. Why? He came down to our level and sent us straight into the fire of the subject. Perhaps because he was close to our age (or at least he looks like it) and perhaps because he had himself spent time in this very same kitchen, he did not seem intimidating. I felt at ease with his down to earth, familiar, and fun nature.

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The clams are being stubborn!

Chef skipped the formal introductions and just began addressing us by name at the get-go, giving us immediate responsibility. “Hey Christina can you get me a sheet pan?”, “Hey Anthony, we need some clean plates”, “Hey Sonia do we have any cubed butter?”

YES CHEF!” we replied as we scurried to fulfill our task.

I butchered a nice little trout. I was so happy that I was not afraid of touching the fish heads or eyes – I conquered that fear on Day 2 Stocks remember? I also felt more like a biologist in the lab rather than a chef in the kitchen. Perhaps it was the sea-smell that reminded me of 7th grade frog dissections with Mr. Brummage. After cutting out the spine of my trout, I had to use tweezers to carefully pull out all those pesky pin bones that are not enjoyable when found in a bite of fish. This was a tedious task.

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Chef Fran shows us how to remove the pesky pin bones.

Then it was cooking time. Chef Fran did not inundate us with information; nor did he leave us bored and clueless on what to do next. We had a TEAM BAKE, a TEAM BROIL, and a TEAM SEAR. I was on TEAM SEAR.

After cooking up each fish in all possible ways, we came to the tasting table and feasted on the seafood. It was interesting to taste each fish cooked in a different method. I think baked was my favorite overall. I ate well today. Yum yum.

Here are my notes:

  • SALMON:
    • Best eaten medium rare.
    • Not good for fish stock.
    • Collar is tasty – lots of fat on there.
    • Chef served us carpaccio and it was the most amazing thing.
  • COD
    • Large flake.
    • Similar taste to Pollack.
  •  POLLACK
    • Ivory white.
    • Not smelly.
    • New England’s staple.
  • BRANZINO or MEDITERRANEAN SEA BASS
    • From Greece and sometimes Israel.
    • Cooked whole – I got to stuff this guy with lemon, thyme, and parsley.
  • RAINBOW TROUT
    • Named after its reflective gills.
    • Fatty fish yet small.
  • FLOUNDER
    • Delicate.
    • Super Sweet.
    • Swims sideways as a camouflage to hide.
    • Very easy to catch.
    • Isn’t this Ariel’s fish from the little mermaid?

How do you know if a fish is fresh?

  • It does not smell fishy.
  • The gills are pink.
  • The eyes are clear.
  • It is not slimy.
  • It has no bruises or damages.

Chef’s advice:

  • More butter is always better. Life will change as soon as you learn that.
  • Less is more, especially when you start with good ingredients. Let the ingredient shine in the dish.
  • Chef Fran had a fascinating perspective on “farmed raised”fish – one that I had not heard before. Contrary to what I hear, he said there is nothing wrong with it and that most restaurants serve it. “Farmed fish is the future. How can restaurants actually meet the supply of fish that they must serve if they took from the ocean?” Chef explained that if you get to know your suppliers, you can find some excellent farmed raised fish.
  • Seafood is marketed quite ambiguously – there is not much regulation in this industry and because white fish can have similar flavors, you may not know what you are actually being served, especially if it is masked in sauce.
  • Day Boat means caught that day.
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Mussels in White Wine.
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Raw Alive Clams

WELL, the most memorable part of today for myself was when I realized that…clams, oysters, and mussels are alive when you eat them. ALIVE WHEN YOU EAT THEM.

 

I just cannot wrap my head around that one.

Nope. I just cannot.

sonia

Day 12: Principles of Meat 2

Woke up today not feeling my best. Grumpy. Tired even after a night of sleep. Stomach feeling gross. Dreams of chicken slaughter all night.

It was not a hard decision to make. Today I would not be eating even a speck of meat.

Interestingly, when I arrived at class, my good friend and non-vegetarian friend Valencia reported a similar heaviness in head.

Hmm. I immediately think about my knowledge of Ayurveda. Perhaps I should start collecting evidence of the tamasic (darkness, dead) nature of meat upon the human body…email me if you want to know more on that.

Driving through heavy traffic and light snow, we took a field trip to Kinnealey’s Meat production facility. The trip was overall cold, insightful, eerie, and cold. Oh and did I mention cold?

While the factory was quite professional, the ambiance gave me a bit a lot of the creeps. I felt as if I was watching a movie with only three colors: white, blue, and red. White for the clean, sterile floors. Blue for the long cloaked workers in hair nets and beard nets and for the chilled temperatures. Red for the massive amount of red meat and red blood running across the floor. No, not really a movie I would like to watch again.

The meat factory.
The meat factory.

I was more than grateful to get into the car and snuggle into the toasty passenger seat with a seat warmer. Note: If I get a car in Boston, make sure it comes with seat warmers.

We missed the exit twice on the way home (not our fault) and so we ran from the car, straight into the kitchen. I was still tying my hair and apron as Chef Barry gave us the game plan for the rest of the day.

Chef Barry was back with us again for our finale of meat cooking. Props to Chef for putting up with us and consuming so much meat these last three days – he has been tasting every single one of our dishes in order to give us feedback.

We moved swiftly today, as we were braising the rest of our lamb meat. Braising takes a good 4-5 hours when done properly.

I chopped mirepoix for the braise in a flash. I looked quickly at my colorful and orderly mis en place and had a flashback to day one, when I was afraid to even hold my knife. Kitchen confidence was setting in.

Lamb Braise going into the oven.
Lamb Braise going into the oven.

Once we put our braises in the oven, it was time to cook pork. Chef Barry gave us creative control, which I enjoyed so much. My partner and I butterflied our pork round, rubbed it with some herbs, spices, and filled it with curried apple and onions before tying it up into a nice parcel. It smelled delicious. I snacked on the apples – yum.

Our last challenge was a “steak off.” Chef Barry ordered us to each cook him a perfect medium steak, using the methods we had learned yesterday. We had a strict time limit. We had an order. We had to present the steak perfectly cooked, not over, not under, not cool on the plate. We could not mess up. Yikes.

I chose a flatiron steak, as this was my nemesis from the day before.

I seared. Basted in butter, garlic, rosemary. Rested it. Tossed it up in the salamander for a bit. Heated my plate. Sauteed some carrots in my steak flavored pan while I waited. Then, holding my breath, I carefully sliced across the grain to reveal the color inside…FullSizeRender-2

Nice solid pink. Whew. A good medium in the center.

Chef was happy with that.

So was I.

What a day.

What a week.

While I do not eat meat, I do have a new appreciation for cooking it.

Actually I’d say, I rather enjoy cooking it.

sonia

Day 11: Principles of Meat 1

I have been wanting to taste a real steak.

Steak fascinates me from a nutritional perspective; it is naturally full of B-vitamins, iron, and of course, protein. From what I’ve studied, this meat has potential to be a great addition to a balanced diet, when eaten in moderation of course. I cannot wait to try it.

Yet before we started anything new, Chef Barry had not forgotten about the precious lamb offal that we had soaked in milk the night before. He cooked us up a tasty lunch of deviled lamb kidneys served on toast and paper thin slices of lamb heart seasoned with a verde sauce. I took a nibble of the lamb heart and tried the sauce he had whipped up. The lamb heart…not such a fan. I could not bring myself to try the kidneys. The verde sauce was delicious.

Then it was on to steak, pork, and lamb. Chef Barry demonstrated butchering steaks, pan searing methods, taking the right temperatures, determining when a piece of meat was done, and how to slice against the grain.

For the first time, the terms rare, medium rare, medium, medium well, and well-done make much more sense.

Chef admitted that because each piece of steak varies in size, it is impossible to have the entire piece completely consistent as a medium rare for example in its cooking. “You always get variation. That is just the nature of the beast,” said Chef.

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Into the kitchen we skipped, to play with our first steaks, or at least my first steak. We got to cutting and trimming flatiron and hanger steaks, some pieces of lamb, and a nice chunks of pork loin. After we each had some sizable pieces of protein on our chopping boards, Chef let us get in on the flame.

Our instructions:

Sear the meat to a nice deep brown.

Baste with butter, smashed garlic, rosemary, sage, whatever you please.

Check the temperature.

Let it rest.

Chef Barry walked around and helped us slice up our meat, giving us feedback notes on our cooking.

My lamb was a perfect medium well and Chef said it was excellently cooked. He kept stealing pieces from my chopping board to munch on as he walked by, which I took as a compliment. So of course, I had to give it a taste. I will say, it was pretty delicious. My first lamb, wow!

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My lamb.

My steaks came out just okay – the flatiron was perfect on the outside but quite rare in the center. The hanger was too light on the outside but nicely cooked to medium inside.  I tasted a small piece and to my own disappointment, it did not blow my mind. It just tasted like what it smelled like…meat.

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Mr. Flatiron Steak.

My piece of pork looked to be a success, although I do not know for sure as I did not taste it.

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Pork Loin

Some things I learned:

  • Flavor from meat is created by the animal’s activity levels of the muscles and quality of fat on the muscles. Thus, animals that are given proper exercise and that are fed good food usually have better flavor. It is true that animals with better lives actually taste better.
  • For cooking meat, you must consider the structure of the piece that you are working with.
  • Highly muscular regions have more connective tissue. Connective tissue is tough. On the other hand, muscles with less activity have less connective tissue.
  • A tenderloin is the least working muscle in the animal, making it very tender. However, this is not the most flavorful piece because it lacks the activity levels.
  • Organ meat such as the kidneys and liver are much different in structure as they do not have tons of muscle fibers. Thus you can cook them differently.
  • Heart and tongue are organ muscles – these can be tough in texture and must be cooked in a way that will not dry them out.
  • Sweetbreads are the thymus gland and they are a specialty.
  • The intestines are often used as sausage casings.
  • Larding or barding is where you tie pieces of fat around a more muscular part of meat in order to tenderize the meat while cooking.
  • Chef explained that while pan-roasting meat, it is crucial to take the meat out of the pan and let it rest – it does something called carry-over cooking where the juices move toward the center for about ten minutes after it faces the heat. Otherwise, the meat could easily be overcooked, leading to tough chewy dryness.

Chef Barry said that a lot about cooking is patience. It is not at all glamorous flipping, tossing, and sauteing rapidly like what you see on food TV. It is about waiting and watching and letting the food rest and develop in flavor.

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Chef examines our work.

Great day.

Although my tummy does not feel too good.

I am not cut out for the meat-lyfe.

sonia

Day 10 – Butchering

Scrunching my face from the furious flecks of snow that are beginning to come down, I rush out of the dentist’s office, pull on the easy black handle, open the door, and slide in across the charcoal leather seats.

From my angst of TODAY, of making it back to class during the onset of the storm and of the lamb that awaits, I am immediately transported to somewhere…pleasant. The interiors are sleek, all black. Jazz music is playing softly. The aroma of a good cup of coffee lingers just enough to provide a faint, inviting perfume. I sink into the warm seats. My sharply dressed UBER driver from Trinidad turns around to face the passenger seat and with a charming smile and says, “Where to? You’re the boss.

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Coolest Uber ride ever.

I do realize that today is no ordinary Monday.

Today is Lamb Day.

Chef Barry (From Day 1 – Knife Skills) is back to take us through a world of meat.

He spends the beginning of class doing a butchering pre-game with us, discussing the animal, where it has come from, what it cost, what it’s going to look like, its parts, the types of cuts we will do, and the types of dishes that we can make and serve in a restaurant.

Chef Barry explains that we must make the connection with the fact that this animal was living and breathing just a week ago. I appreciate this. Chef says that many people who eat meat are completely disconnected from the animal itself. Our society configures it so that we don’t have to think about the cow or the veal or the lamb as a living animal. We just see the package or the scrumptious piece on the plate and forget.

Chef says respect the animal for what it is.

Now he puts on his “Restaurant Mind.” Because this animal is anywhere from $500-$700, Chef Barry explains that we must use and sell as much as possible if we actually want to make a profit.

We must cook and serve the offal specials first, as they are the most perishable. The offal consists of the heart, the kidneys, the liver, the brains, and the parts behind the eyes. Chef Barry explains that even if you don’t particularly like eating these parts of the animal, believe it or not, someone does and you better know how to sell it to them. Deviled kidneys anyone? How about rare beef heart?

Chef Barry tells us that at his restaurant, he keeps the lamb tongues in the freezer for when VIP guests visit. “Each animal has only one tongue. Use it well. It’s a good trick to keep in your arsenal. There is no better way to impress someone than serving up lamb tongue as an appetizer.” I scribble a note of that in my book. Good to know.

Hearing about the industry is so fascinating to me, as I have never tasted, craved, nor actually thought much about meat. My ears are hanging on to every word.

Before we butcher, Chef Barry makes us identify the parts of the lamb on our own selves. Our chuck shoulders, our tenderloins, and of course, our top rounds.

Chef asks if anyone is going to be squeamish before we go in. I half-raise my hand, as after the duck incident, who knows what will happen. He goes over once more what it’s going to look like; he reminds me that it will have a head and eyes, and that I don’t have to do anything I don’t want to do. My program directors also wisely advise me to stand to the left, as that side is where the back is, rather than the head.

SO at last, we walk into the kitchen and meet seventy-pound, six month old, Lamb the Man. He is quite stunning. He is quite big. He is quite dead.

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Chef Barry and Lamb the Man

I freak out for a moment when Chef flips him over onto his backside as then his head starts lolling right and left.

But not too much later, my curiosity takes over and I move closer to the magnificent thing in front of me.

Me: “How did he die?”

Chef Barry: “A bullet to his brain most likely. You can see from the clearness of his muscles that he did not stress out during the killing. Sometimes there are blood clots in the muscles when animals are killed in a stressful way.”

Well that makes me feel better.

Once Chef beheads the creature, I finally relax my shoulders and even let my finger graze over its greasy tibia. As we discussed, it is amazing and I guess a bit sad how easy it is for me to disconnect from the living animal once the lamb starts to no longer resemble its original form.

Well, after the sentiments and my own little prayer for Lamb the Man, it is time to get to work with our “Restaurant Minds”. Each one of us steps up with our boning knife and bone saw to take on a task.

Some things I learned:

  • Buying good quality meat is key if you choose to serve it or eat it. Many farmers don’t raise their animals properly for the sake of making more money; however, paying extra for a properly cared for animal reflects so much within the dish itself.
  • Fat is flavor. Without the fat, a lamb will not taste like lamb.
  • Fat is an important part of meaty dishes. Make sure guests know what they are in for if they order something like a porchetta.
  • A porchetta is a stuffed fatty round of roasted pork.
  • Lambs for eating typically weigh 50-70 pounds.
  • Pigs for eating typically weigh 180-220 pounds.
  • Lambs have a strong flavor. They pair well with roasted garlic, anchovies, mustard, lemon.
  • Don’t waste any part of the animal. Bones can be used for bone stock. Fat for rendering. All parts can be used for serving as dishes or making into sausage, and more.
  • Lambs are super super fatty. My hands are nicely moisturized – who needs Aveeno when you have lamb fat?
  • Lots of great meat is found on the lamb’s neck.
  • You can roast the whole head. Just take the eyes out first so that it looks more presentable.
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Chef and I separate the ribs.

I am pretty proud of myself. I was not squeamish. By myself, I took off the left shoulder, I cut off the portion of the rib-cage that turns into baby back ribs and rack of lamb, and, I de-boned the lamb leg, which has the very meatiest top round, and top sirloin.

Fascinating work.

I was also happy when I looked in our garbage pan that very very little of the lamb was in there. Just the eye balls and some unusable fat.

We got out quite early due to the snowstorm – classes were cancelled so that we could make it home safely.

Tomorrow we begin to cook Lamb the Man and learn to work with beef. It will be good eating for those who eat meat.

sonia