WordPress is driving me crazy! Usually it’s spot-on and perfect, but it’s deleting some of my photo captions, and bits of text here and there are disappearing. If something doesn’t make sense, it’s not because I didn’t read this post at least 10 times. Sigh!
If you stumble upon this and are rather squeamish about raw meat, photos of dead animals, and general fleshiness, consider skipping this entry and see what’s cracking next week. Don’t say I didn’t warn you! For the rest of ya, there’s a picture-tastic piece of reading here.
On Monday, many of us arrived at school to see a truck full of halved pig carcasses; our big fat welcome to pork and charcuterie week! After a demonstration, we went to work breaking the pieces down, and had a few guests (including a former student) visit and help out. This was another task that I worried slightly about, handling raw meat extensively and hacking up giant dead things.
Chances are that I’m going to have to do a lot of it in the future, and so my decision once again was to kick it into high gear and just dive in, get desensitized to it, and learn as much as possible. So I gave myself a piece of tough advice: Nut up, Buttercup! Deal with it and git’er done! This approach definitely does not work for everybody. A few people were struggling with the first pork day, and I don’t blame them. Watching tiny baby chicks get suffocated on TV makes me cry! Everyone has different principles that affect them emotionally, and think that the entire class deserves credit for being pretty solid.
Chris Cosentino is somebody that I learned about on TV’s At the Table With… and Iron Chef America. He’s (so awesome and) becoming well-known for his specialized, high-end presentation of offal meats, which he started doing in order to share his passion about being respectful and realistic about the path an animal takes from farm or forest to plate. His site has a wonderfully blunt and hilarious welcome page.
In case you are wondering, charcuterie is the lost art (it’s coming back!!) of butchering a carcass, and using every single part of it to make something: Primary and secondary cuts of meat, trims, skins, and more. Something that I appreciated about charcuterie week, from both a respect and a business common-sense standpoint, was that nothing went to waste. We were given bones for stock, rendered lard from the fat and gelatin from the skins, cooked with several cuts of meat, and used scraps for sausage-making. I love playing with machines and jumped at the opportunity to work bits and bobs through the meat grinder. Why not?
Soufflés are surprisingly easy to make. They are one of those things that people are intimidated by, through reputation and not necessarily experience. If you hear about them on TV (not FoodTV), there’s usually a frazzled person running to the kitchen in a mad panic, crying “My souffle!” It’s not fussy, you just have to read up on some pointers and know what you’re doing.
After speaking with a few Northwest Culinary grads and asking them about their experiences, the idea of doing a presentation in front of the class excited me. My topic of choice was preserving foods. When I first started learning about how to make jam/pickle things, it was made out to be scary and annoyingly vague, seeming to point you in the direction of everything is gonna kill ya! Don’t get creative with recipes!! Just stick with our boring, plain stuff!!
That was annoying, because yes, preserving food, if done wrong, will totally kill someone, but the same can be said for walking across the street at the wrong light or backing out of the driveway without looking. Assuming that people aren’t smart enough to figure this out felt almost insulting. So after doing a fair bit of research/homework, I was able to figure out basic principles and safety measures so that creativity was actually key (or else you’re not going to enjoy and be proud of what you make), and wanted to share how fun and easy this could be with the class. Just like a soufflé: Figure out what the hell you need to do to have a successful attempt, then go have fun.
It’s my job to go over legally binding documents with clients (many of whom are strangers to me), examine their personal articles, and coach them on what outfits will flatter them the best, while making them feel at ease. All of these things can make people jittery, and doing a good job to make sure that people are entertained and understand what’s up is called hosting the party, so presenting was actually a piece of cake. I brought samples (superfine sliced cucumber-white onion pickled salad, figs and pears preserved in vanilla citrus syrup) and was having a little too much fun, in fact, running somewhere between 5 and 10 minutes too long, eeek (!!!), but the teacher standing at the back of the room had a big smile on his face. Hopefully it’s because I knew my material, was (am!) super in love with it, and hadn’t put anyone to sleep! Whew!
Of all the things that helped, after having prepared well, reviewing, and already knowing my stuff, poor eyesight was what kept me from getting nervous like a deer in headlights, if you can believe it. My retro glasses do that sexy-librarian-halfway-down-the-nose-slide and I knew that everyone was looking at me, but couldn’t actually see them, just a bunch of blurs that I knew were my classmates. Ha ha!
I called my brother Tarek to let him know that we finished butchering and there was a giant (probably 5-pound?) pork shoulder roast that I wanted to cook it with him. Usually, by the time we get everything assembled, we are starving (high-energy people!), so thankfully, the day’s class had us making pretzels. I usually hate them because everyone over-salts, so it’s nice to do things yourself. My name is Kari and I am a sodium control freak.
The shoulder was seared on all sides until caramelized, them rubbed with dijon mustard, freshly cracked black peppercorns, and kosher salt. I stuffed the insides with dried cranberries, grated apple, potato and carrot, and unfortunately it was all still crunchy by the time the meat was cooked. Argh! Next time, cook it, then stuff. An entire bottle of red wine was dumped into the pan, to flavour the meat. I was curious to see how much it would absorb, as would be noticeable by the colour. At least one of our friends learned how to tie a roast to keep it together!
While the meat was resting, I reduced the wine (a lot!), added a roux, added some chicken broth, and turned it into a gravy. We were watching Black Dynamite and I fell asleep. Serious lightweight here!
Most of the ground meat that we kept was used to make sausages, which were then cold-smoked.
Lard (that we extracted before) was used to make flaky pastry for a tourtière pie. I’m not bad with pastry, but had some massive trouble! This lard substitution was giving a lot of people some melty/tearing issues, including the instructor. Things are bound to go wrong sometimes when you work with food. That’s just how it is. Sometimes it’s as simple as the weather today or the unusually fibrous texture of a vegetable. So it’s good to see how to fix things! Half of our pie dough had to be scrapped and re-done, but came out beautifully once ready (after lunch!). Two of our classmates gave us slices from their pie, so we had something to eat for lunch.
Our gelatin was melted down into a consommé that we made by clarifying duck stock stock, and later used to give our meatariffic items a shiny coating for buffet day, and the rest of our ground pork was made into a terrine: Meatloaf with decorative layers inside!
The sausages were added to our cassoulet stews. These required days of work to soak beans, make sausages, cut and then cook duck confit, then finally assemble. And it was amazing!!
Yesterday one of the chefs asked for the recipe I used for pickling the cucumber/onion salad from the presentation, then had the class make it because we were to brine some vegetables that morning. That was surprising. I felt honoured!
I like to play with ideas. It’s why I enjoy Mythbusters and Good Eats. The instructors have joked before that I like to Macguyver things, which is totally true. My friends give me cool books like What Would Macguyver Do?, The Geek’s Guide to World Domination, and How To Survive a Robot Uprising. I’ve already figured out multiple ways to cook sous vide, avoid having to buy boiling water canning lifter trays, and create food smokers, all for at-home usage because who has room or funding for commercial equipment outside of work?! It’s great to know that my nerdy and foodie tendencies can work together and have wicked results.
So ladies, here’s a special Macguyver-ette tip that I tested today, just for you: If you carry your knives somewhere, reach into your bag, and happen to cut your hand on the one knife that your guard happened to slip off of (and don’t have any/much Kleenex), take a tampon out of its applicator, unroll it until it’s flat, then use the string to wrap it around your finger and apply pressure. Sanitary, absorbent, and weird, but definitely less weird than bleeding all over public transit!
At least I know my knives are sharp. Cuts and burns don’t faze me anymore. They’re something you have to get used to and just take care of. Today I was checking on a baguette during the theory lecture and burned my forearm on an oven rack. My biggest concern was whether or not the teachers in the front of the class heard me drop the F-bomb at my stove, all the way in the back.
This week was fascinating. Something that had the potential to be terrifying actually is now a subject that interests me. Butchering and charcuterie skills are highly marketable. Restaurant/food industry profit margins are relatively low, so knowing how to hack and slice can help save overhead costs. Chef Tony mentioned a Culinary graduate who worked in the field and said, “if you know how to cut meat, you’re the man! She’s the man!”
As a woman who wants to kick some serious culinary ass, working with butchery/charcuterie/a garde manger position in a restaurant/hotel/catering service is something that I hope to include in my career, to gain a lot of learning experience and have elbow room for creativity and business savviness. I love making meat pies, meatballs, and similar things with funky combinations and fillings, so this is right up my alley. I said Aleksey that “I want to be the man!” and he understood it as me wanting to become a man. Uh-oh!
One of our classmates, Rodriguez, decided not to continue with the program. He and his wife co-own Doña Cata Restaurant & Taqueria on Victoria Drive, and unfortunately, he couldn’t dedicate as much time as he needed to the course. We were sorry to see him go! At least the restaurant isn’t too far from the school, so we can visit and try all of those fabulous salsas that I keep reading about in reviews.
Other than that, the week ended on a high note. We are now one-third of the way through the course. Soon we will be having midterm theory and practical exams, yipes! All of this is so fun that a month feels like a gross overestimate.
Eat well! I need some vegetables, oof.