Archive for the ‘Culinary School’ Category

Instead of hacking up our fine feathered friends, we’ve moved on to creatures of the sea this week.

I don’t make a lot of fish at my house. And if I do make it, it is likely to come in nice little fillets. The reason for this?

It’s right here Ray… It’s looking at me.

Yeah, see, that’s the part of this that totally unnerves me. The fish have EYES. They…know things. Ugh… I mean, even in restaurants when the fish head will be served, I ask for it to be nicely lopped off beforehand. My food should not be able to look back at me.


Fillet of Sole, Baby, it’s my favorite dish*

So that aside, we had to tackle another one of my many “issues”. Some people like cute furry bunnies. I am partial to animals that live in the ocean. Jellyfish, rays and sharks are my favorite animals. Followed closely by flounder and sole – partly cause of the aforementioned song and partly because I love how they burrow in the sand. So I have a bit of an issue cutting them up. Plus, as I said earlier, these animals come to the school pretty much intact – all “innards” are, well, in there. I had to put on my brave face.

Cool facts:

Generally when we are talking about fish you cook, there are two types.

Round fish – are generally more, um, round. They have eyes on both sides of their head. And when you fillet them, you get 2 fillets. Examples – most fish – tuna, salmon, grouper, etc etc.

Flat fish – these are really cool. They start out their life as round fish – meaning they have an eye on either side of their head. Then when they are maybe like a month old or so, one eye migrates to the other side of the head so both eyes are then on one side. The fish, which used to be round and swam upright, starts to flatten out and swim on it’s side. Usually the fish is light colored on the bottom and dark on the top for camouflage purposes. Anyway. How cool is that? Oh – by the way – you get 4 fillets out of flat fish. Examples of flat fish – flounder, sole, halibut, turbo.

So maybe you fish and want to see how to fillet your own fish? Or maybe you’ve gone down to that really cool fishmonger that all the high end restaurants buy from and you don’t want to seem like a wuss buying the pre-filleted fish? Ok, here’s some video for you.

Filleting round fish

Filleting flat fish

Things to keep in mind:

A flexible boning knife is generally better for filleting fish.

Fish fins are very sharp – so use caution!

Also – some fish skin – especially that of flat fish – can be very tough. Again, use caution so you don’t cut yourself!

*Courtesy of The Dead Milkmen. One of my favorite bands in my youth. “Filet of sole baby. Is my favorite dish. Filet of sole baby. When the dish is fish ‘Cause, oh, I lose control. When you serve filet of sole.Yeah, I have issues. I know.


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Stuffed glove boned cornish game hen

We glove boned chickens and ducks today.

What does that mean exactly?

In a nutshell – it’s taking the bones out of a bird without making a slit in the skin.


Impossible! You say. It cannot be done!

Well, to an extent, it kinda is impossible. But you can get MOST of the bones out without slitting the skin. If you are careful.

Pretty much the only bones you will have left are at the very tip of the wing and the very tip of the leg bone.

So… How do you do it?

Here is a pretty good play by play of how to do it.

Why on earth would you want to do this?

Well, you could make a Turducken out of it I suppose – although that’s a bit different since you roll it up (not NEARLY the technical skills required for glove boning).

Or just impress all your friends with your butchering skills. The photo above is my stuffed cornish game hen (done at home). I stuffed it with an apple, raisin, bread stuffing. Many people like to stuff these birds with rice, but I have a rice aversion* so that’s a no-go for me.

So let’s take a look at how I did.

Attempt #1 = notice knife cut in the left leg

Attempt #2 = the champion!

Above is the front of the bird. Kinda looks like wrinkly old man. Ok, that was too far. I’m sorry for the bad imagery. Notice, though, that there are no bones except the very tip of the wings and very tip of the drumstick. That’s it. Those legs? Empty except for the meat. The wings? Ditto except for that part sticking up in the champion pose.

Attempt #1 back = sad 😦

Attempt #2 back = better!

And there is the back. As you can see, Attempt #1 didn’t go so well. Lots of places where my knife went through the chicken skin. Put it breast side up though and no one will be the wiser.

Attempt #1 took 45 minutes to do.

Attempt #2 took 17 minutes to do.

At least I am improving!!

So after I removed the bones, I stuffed them with the aforementioned stuffing and baked.

REMEMBER to adjust times accordingly! Since there are no bones, it bakes pretty fast. But since it’s stuffed, it may take a little longer. This is a time when a probe thermometer would really come in handy…

And one last picture… the CARNAGE!

The carcass...shudder...

* Yeah, rice. If asked to give up rice for the rest of my life, that would really be no problem.

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Back in high school, I had a momentary bout of vegetarianism. About the same time I was involved in Amnesty International and all other liberal student groups I could find (yeah, I was THAT kid). I was absolutely distraught about the dissection of fetal pigs in my Advanced Human Biology class. So much so that I dropped the class to pick up a final semester of French.

These memories came flooding back as we hacked up chickens and ducks in class today. Somehow, when you are cutting up an animal for cooking purposes, things seem a bit different.

So that was our next lesson – we learned how to quarter chickens and ducks. It was a new thing for me – I’m used to getting my chickens already cut up into the pieces I need. Yes, it is probably a little bit cheaper to cut up a chicken than to buy the parts, and it’s a good skill to know. But I’m still not sold on doing this as a home cook. Especially a home cook who is cooking for two.

But anyway. If you want to learn how to do it yourself, check out these tutorials:

How to cut up a whole chicken (this one has pretty decent pictures)

Cutting whole chickens into halves and quarters (this method is a little closer to what we learned)


Ms. Pantry Raid

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Two important announcements:

1. We used the STOVE today. FIRE, folks. I’m not sure why were trusted.

2. And going along with the trust issue – the inevitable finally happened – my first kitchen injury. 😦

But first – lecture.

We learned a little math. Most specifically – we learned units of measure for volume (liquid) and their equivalents. This is probably good to know/memorize so I’m including it here for reference:

1 teaspoon
1 Tablespoon = 3 teaspoons
1 ounce = 2 Tablespoons
1 cup = 8 ounces = 16 Tablespoons
1 pint = 2 cups = 16 ounces = 32 Tablespoons (yeah, doubt you’ll ever need to know that).
1 quart = 2 pints = 4 cups = 32 ounces
1 gallon = 4 quarts = 8 pints = 16 cups = 128 ounces

So on to the kitchen.

Today we made Tomato Portuguese.  Basically, it is tomatoes concasse (peeled, seeded and chopped tomatoes) simmered with cooked onions, garlic, and bouquet garni. You keep cooking till all the water is evaporated. Season to taste.

What is this used for exactly? Good question. I have no clue really. Maybe the base for other tomato sauces?? I was so busy making this today, that I never thought to ask.

Cool technique – in case you don’t already know how, here’s how you peel a tomato.

So yeah – the injury – as I said, I was coring a tomato using a chef’s knife even though I thought it was awkward and KNEW better. And then…it happened. I thought, meh, that isn’t so bad. And then…I rushed to the bathroom to rinse and then put pressure on with a paper towel.

I’ve had my share of kitchen injuries – the worst being bagel slicing and the time I was working in a kitchen in college and picked up a lid to a lasagna pan that had been in the oven for an hour and a half…yeah.  But this was somehow worse.

My husband gets a little squeamish at the site of blood. I’ve always been quick to yell out “wuss!”.

I will keep quiet now. For the first time ever, I almost blacked out due to a minor kitchen injury. Gah…WTF?

Anyway, I’m fine now. Just a cut. No stitches. All is well.

And I damn well will never core a tomato with a 10 inch chef’s knife again.

Words of wisdom.

Ms. Pantry Raid

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So what happened today that was exciting?

Let’s see.

There was chopping. And then more chopping. And then…some more chopping.

We did learn a handy technique – how to make garlic paste. Basically what you do is take a couple of cloves of garlic, mince them really fine, sprinkle with salt and then with the side of your knife, mash it together till it’s (relatively) smooth. Really, it’s something you have to see in action cause it’s hard to explain. The dude in the video does it a bit different than how I was taught, but it all comes out the same, yes?

Why would you want to do this? You can use it for soups, stews, tomato sauce or…you could make some killer garlic bread !!

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Well, I can honestly say nothing super interesting happened on day two. More knives. More cutting. Ho hum. Batonnets this time.

What’s that you ask?

Ok, so you take a potato. Peel it. Cut off all the sides so that it resembles a rectangular prism (is there a term for that? Geometry class was oh so long ago…) that is about 2-2.5 inches long. Then cut planks for your rectangular prism that are 1/4 inch thick. Then cut those planks into little logs. So you end up with a bunch of little rectangular prisms that are 1/4″ by 1/4″ wide by 2.5″ long.

Cool, so…what can you use them for?

Well, then you take your little logs and cut them into 1/4″ cubes. Voila! Fine dice! If you had made 1/2″ cubes, you’d have medium dice. 1/8″ cubes you’d have brunoise.

What if you didn’t make them into cubes at all?

You’d have French fries!

So the day after class, I tried out my mad knife skills by making French fries. I’d include them here, but I didn’t think they turned out all that well. In the future, I’d just go with Ore Ida (flame away).

My method? I did a triple cook. Parboiled the batonnets. Cooled and dried them. Fried them once at 325 degrees. Cooled them. Fried them a second time at 375 degrees. I did something bad though…when I cooled the parboiled potatoes, I put them in the fridge. AFTER I did that, I read that this often makes your potatoes brown too fast when you fry them. And…this is what happened to me. So I had to take them out of the second fry before they were done. Don’t let this happen to you!!

So if you want to make your own fries…go here.  Or, if you have a fool-proof way to make fries, please do us all a favor and share your method!

What else did I learn?

A little history about restaurants. Fun fact: the word restaurant comes from the French word restaurer, which means to restore. People used to go get “restoratives” which were generally boiled meat broths. Eventually more items were offered and thus, the restaurant as we know it was born.

What else…

A few “people of note” in the history of restaurants. Marie-Antoine Careme. August Escoffier. Alice Waters. And we ended with a little info about Julia Child.

And that discussion let me to finally – FINALLY – make Julia’s Boeuf Bourguignon. And I will never make basic pot roast EVER again. You should make it too. I might make it again next weekend – it was THAT good.

Stay tuned…

Ms. Pantry Raid

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So I mentioned I am going to culinary school, right? I’m working s.l.o.w.l.y on a certificate program. I suppose maybe some of you would like to know what it’s like? Well, I’m hoping to chronicle a bit about it, so here goes nothin’:

Question: Should you wear your uniform on day one?

The answer to that is yes, you should. And you should have your jacket buttoned to the top. How do I know this? Well, I managed to get yelled at approximately 20 minutes PRIOR to my first class because the top button of my jacket was not fastened and I dared walk in the cafeteria past a discerning Chef. The horror! Shoot, I wasn’t even really sure how to put the thing on at that point. You should also have your neckerchief tied properly (hint: it should be a Windsor knot. In today’s “business casual” work environment, 90% of my class was Windsor knot noobs).

Question: Who goes to culinary school?

Answer: Well, I can only answer about my particular class. We seem to have an astonishingly high number of people who work in the Finance industry. I suppose that makes sense because, especially in this economy, who else can afford it? Anyway, I’m just going to leave it at that before my flaming liberal ways get me in trouble. Let’s say the majority of the class is over 40, white, male and in their second career. Add in a handful of white females, a couple of African-American students, one Asian female and a Hispanic male and you’d have my class. I suppose it’s relatively diverse for such a small group.

Question: What’s the instructor like?

Answer: Your instructor is called Chef. As in, “yes, Chef, I will keep my fingers curled under so I don’t chop them off” or “no, Chef, I am not the jag who dumped the potatoes in the sanitation sink”. Our Chef is quite a bit like Conan O’Brien – both in looks and his penchant for cracking jokes.

Question: This is cooking school, don’t I get to eat in class?

Answer: Yeah…not really? Unless you have a utensil to get the food to your mouth. Otherwise forget it. You put your finger in your mouth, you wash your hands. You scratch your face, you wash your hands. Got it?
So on my first day, I had a light snack before my 5 hour class. By the time we got to the kitchen, I was pretty hungry. Standing up listening to more lecture while all the stove burners and broilers were lit and there was no air circulating, I started to feel faint. I looked around; wasn’t anyone else hot? Sweat on their brow? On the verge of passing out? Am I the ONLY ONE who thinks it is unbearable?? I had to get down on the ground and wait for it to pass. Thankfully, at that point Chef excused us to start working. I immediately bee-lined for the bathroom to splash cold water on my face. Another student joined me who was having the same problem. And of course, neither of us had eaten before class…
Moral of the story? Eat before class!

Question: What do you learn in the kitchen on the first day?

Answer: We learned how to hold a knife (thankfully, I already do that right) and the “claw” grip (something I’ve never gotten the hang of…but I’m getting it now). We cut stuff. Potatoes and carrots. We julienned and made batonnets. Small dice. Brunoise.

Wanna learn? Head over to where I learned it all many years ago on egullet. This is a seriously fabulous step by step instruction on knife skills and practically mimics what we learned in class.

Stay tuned for more excitement on Day two…

Ms. Pantry Raid

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