Sunday, 22 January 2012

Fresh fish anyone?

So the second week has come and gone and I really can’t believe how quickly the weeks fly by down here.  Every week new techniques are introduced to us. Last week we focused on short crust pastry and making the perfect loaf of bread. The pastry is difficult because it takes a delicate hand to get it right. If you work it too much it becomes tough, if you add too much liquid it won’t cook correctly and so on. Likewise with a loaf of bread precision of the correct amount of ingredients is a key. You don’t want it to be too wet otherwise it will be heavy and soggy, not very appetising!!

This week we learned how to fillet a round fish and prepare a leg or shoulder of lamb to roast. In the demo on Tuesday Rachel showed us how to fillet a whole fresh cod. She did it with such ease, I suppose she has had a lot of practise but nevertheless she still made it look so easy.  Thursday came and I was cooking the main course of fresh cod with buttered crumbs, mornay sauce and piped potatoes. Sounds great but tastes even better. Anyway arrive into the kitchen Thursday morning to a massive box of fresh whole cod, they had only been caught that morning. From sea to table in under 6 hours, now that’s fresh fish! Some of the cod were still stiff, this is a way of telling how fresh a fish is because the fish still has rigamortis. I picked the largest one I could find and proudly walked to my section as if I had just caught it myself (thanks Ballycotton day boat fisherman!) Our teacher gave us a brief demo on how to fillet the cod. I was itching to get started. I got my filleting knife out, slapped fishy down on the chopping board and got to work. First you cut in behind the front fins and work the knife in around the head, snap the head off and remove gills from mouth. The gills are very flavoursome and is therefore put straight into the stock pot. Sounds disgusting but I reiterate that nothing goes to waste. Then came the job of running the knife down either side of the back bone, being careful not to cut through the pins bones. This is a delicate operation because if you catch the pin bones it means you then have to physically pick each one out, not a fun task but thankfully I did not make this mistake. I then removed the skin from the fillet by running the knife as close to the skin as possible making sure not to waste any of the fantastically fresh fillet of fish. Surprisingly it was easier than I anticipated. Previously I would have bought pre filleted fish but now I know how to remove the fillets I will buy the full fish and fillet it myself. Important to know that buying a whole fish is cheaper by the kilo than just buying the fillet. If you learn how to fillet a fish you can help save money so for all the fish lovers out there you will know that a fillet of cod is not cheap.

The result: Fresh cod with buttered crumbs, mornay sauce and piped potatoes

On that note I would like to point out that working with extremely sharp knives is actually a lot safer than working with blunt knives. Like a man and his dog,  a good knife and a chef go hand in hand.  If you enjoy cooking and don’t have a set of good knives then I would highly recommend investing in a set. They don’t have to be expensive knives. To start you would really survive with 3. A chef’s knife (the big one), a filleting knife and also a paring knife, a  steel to keep them all sharp is also worth the money. Trust me if you get yourself a small set of good knives your cooking experience will be a hell of a lot more enjoyable and will also make things a lot easier for yourself.

From Top: Steel, chef's knife, filleting knife & pairing knife

Every Wednesday is our theory day. The chef’s whites and knives get a day off and we get to learn something restaurant or foodie related. Last week it was fire safety in a kitchen and health and safety, two very important subjects which we will be examined on in our final week. 

This week it was cheese and wine. Like peas in a pod wine and cheese are best mates. The morning lecture consisted of a talk from Eddie O’Neill from the Artisan food specialist in Ireland. He taught me that from milk, one single product, you can produce an array of outstanding products such as cheese, buttermilk, cream and yoghurt. Milk as a raw ingredient, that Ireland produces so much of, is so valuable to the Irish market. We take it for granted by just opening the fridge and pouring some milk on our cereal in the morning but as strange as it may sound I have a new appreciation for milk.

 After a lunch of carrot and mint soup, some bean stews and fruity deserts we sat down to our wine lecture. It’s something which I have not a clue about other than it comes in a few forms, red, white, pink and bubbles. Colm McCann the sommelier, or smellier as I thought it was (because he is an expert at smelling wines),  from Ballymaloe House came in to educate us on the enormous world of wines. Believe it or not he told us that our pallet will change every 4-7 years, something I never knew. We will have 5 lectures in total on wine. It is a big part of the course and there is even a separate exam on it in week 12 so I had better pay attention!!

On Thursday we cooked up a Sunday roast. A giant roast leg and shoulder of lamb with glazed carrots, gravy and of course no roast dinner is complete without roast spuds. My duty on Thursday was to serve the mains to the dining room. Little did I realise that I would have to be carving the meet for each person. I had to ask if one would like well done or medium. This meant carving from the end of the leg or else the centre. As it was my first time properly carving a serious bit of meat a queue started to form. Next thing I look up and see Darina, Rachel and Myrtle Allen waiting patiently for their lamb, like eyes of three hungry hawks watching me, I found myself serving and carving roast leg of lamb to three outstanding chef’s. No pressure Mick!!, I couldn’t butcher the beautiful piece of meat like I usually do,  this time they had to be perfectly cut slices of lamb. Not too thick and not too thin. All in all I think I managed ok, well they didn’t complain or make any faces like “oh what are you doing Michael?”

Friday’s cooking was just one of those days when everything went wrong. I think it happens to everyone and more than likely it will happen a few more times. I burnt the beans, managed to save them, ran way behind time and forgot to add the egg yolks to the chocolate mousse. Failing to leave the egg yolks out meant that it wasn’t actually mousse more like just really creamy chocolate. I have written that day off and 5 o’clock could not come quick enough as my girlfriend Andrea was coming down from Dublin to see me.

She arrived in darkness so I could not show off my new home and fantastic surroundings. I was very excited to give her a tour of the school, I was sure she would appreciate the grounds of Ballymaloe Cookery School as much as I do. We headed to a pub in Castlemartyr owned by the comedian Pat Shortt for a bite to eat. The head chef is a former pupil of the school so we decided to give it a shot. The food was very nice. I had the fresh fish of the day, caught that morning from Ballycotton. It was plaice and it was very simply cooked on a pan in some butter, just how fish should be served. After our dinner we headed to Ballycotton for a few drinks in the pub. A lot of the other pupils from the school were having a few so it was nice to introduce Andrea to all my new friends.

Ballymaloe Gardens 

  On Saturday I showed Andrea around the school, giving her the VIP tour of course. Every Saturday the school serves fresh pizza’s from their wood burning pizza oven. Naturally  and in true Ballymaloe style the pizza dough is made freshly, along with homemade fennel and pork sausage topped off with some salsa verde. Not surprisingly
we enjoyed it immensely! Andrea went home yesterday evening and it was off to the pub for me. Normally I would not go in to too much detail about my visit to the pub but this time I was standing at the bar waiting to be served and then all of a sudden Rachel Allen comes up to me. I felt privileged, like I was a star student ( I would like to add that I am not).  For the first time I was star struck. She is extremely nice and friendly. A very normal girl who has done extremely well for herself . We chatted for a few minutes about the course and stuff. When I sat down after I was still star struck. What a nice lady!!

Giant Chess

I have another crazy week ahead, no doubt I will learn a ridiculous amount like the past two weeks but still having a blast. Bye for now but eat my words with relish, always with relish J!!!!!

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