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There is always fine chinois

(post, John Dryzga)

Note: This blog follows my progress(or regression) through the French Culinary Institute's amateur program, "Culinary Techniques".  It's a 22 session program that is basically Level 1 of their professional program.

"Tournage!  Why did there have to be tournage!", I groaned to myself as I was reading the recipes for Saturday's class.  Whittling vegtables into perfect football shaped pieces has not been my favorite part of this program.  But I wanted to learn the classic French techniques so I got the classic French techniques.  Today's lesson was an overview of lamb and mutton and mixte cooking.  Mixte cooking is cooking in a liquid after the food has been browned, your basic stewing and braising.  The practical part of the class had us preparing lamb stew and chicken fricasee.

Chef Nic was uncharacteristically late.  When he arrived, the entire class was completely enrapt in turning the vegtables for todays dishes.  As Chef was discussing lamb, he was effortlessly boning out a leg of lamb.  The ease he accomplishes these tasks is awe inspiring.  Some teams in the class tried their hands as lamb surgeons with somewhat less ease.  

We gathered our share of the lamb and got to work.  The meat portion of this dish was straight forward, cube the meat, brown it in a pan, set aside while you soften the mirepoix, add back to the pan, cover with water and chuck in the boquet garni.  We brought the liquid to a simmer and placed it in a 350 degree oven.  We now had to turn our attention back to turning.  We were preparing the same vegtables for both dishes, so we were able to do all the knife work at once.  We became me as my partner abdicated her turning duties.  I have to say, while still not up to Chef's standards, my tournage is getting better.  In another 10 or twenty years, I may actually turn out the odd cocotte that passes Chef's muster.

While the stew was in the over, we had to prepare all the vegtables.  Potatoes were blanched, carrots, onions and turnips glazed, peas and haricot verde were cooked then shocked in an ice bath.  There's no chucking all the veg in the stew pot here!  

When the meat finally got tender in about 90 minutes, we then started to finish up the dish.  The stewing liquid was reduced to until the proper taste was reached.  If I have to say so myself, it tasted pretty darn good.  The meat and the potatoes were placed back into the reduced sauce to heat through.  Then the final plating occured.  Meat was placed in the center of a bowl with some sauce spooned over the top.  The onions, potatoes, carrots and turnips were carefully arranged around the meat while the peas and haricot verde crowned the lamb.  It looke very appetizing.  Chef's verdict.... the meat, sauce, onions and haricot verde were winners.  The carrots and turnips were a tad over cooked.  Better than last week at least.

Chef then had us come back to the front of the class for his demo of the chicken fricasee.  At one point of the demo the chef strained the sauce through a regualar colander.  A student queried, "No straining with a fine chinois?".  Chef replied, "There is no such thing as no fine chinois, there is always fine chinois".  The prep of this dish went much faster as most of the veg were ready.  We just had to quarter a chicken, sautee the pieces, then finish cooking them in chicken stock and finally create a sauce from the stock.  Aside from me having a brain fart quartering the chicken, everything went smoothly.  The end product had a little too much cream.  I didn't think you could have too much cream in this class, but I was wrong.  Aside from that, Chef was happy with the dish so we were happy with the dish.

This five hour class flew by.  As class was in session, I was too focused on what I was doing to realize how tired I was.  Walking up the stairs from the subway to the street my legs felt like cement or at least over thick Hollandaise.  My chair at home never felt better.