Friday, April 30, 2010

Update 18: New Year's Goal: Become an "official" Gourmess by August 2010

I was 32 when I started cooking; up until then, I just ate. --Julia Child



So, this week I tackled Session 10, Methods of Cooking Meat: MIXTE Cooking and Cooking Lamb. Mixte cooking combines extraction and concentration elements and is used primarily for small cuts of meats and poultry.  The item is first sautéed (concentration) and then moistened with liquid (extraction).

My first Demonstration was Navarin Printanier (Lamb Stew with Spring Vegetables), which is an example of mixte à brun. I love lamb chops and have made my own lovely leg of lamb once or twice, but I wasn't sure about lamb stew, as I was afraid it could be quite gamey prepared that way. But, I learned from my book that the "wooly" taste of lamb is always in the fat and removing the extra fat gets rid of that strong taste. So, that was of course my first step. I trimmed the fat from about a pound and a half of rinsed/dried lamb shoulder and cut the meat into cubes. Then, I added some vegetable oil to a rondeau (dutch oven/stew pot) over medium heat and when hot (but not smoking), added the lamb and seared for about 5 minutes until the meat had browned on all sides and sucs (those brown, meaty bits) had formed on the bottom of the pan. I seasoned the meat with salt and pepper and with a slotted spoon, transferred the meat to a small bowl and set aside.

Then, I drained some oil from the pan and added my mirepoix of carrots and onions, along with 1.5 cloves of garlic (peeled and crushed) and sautéed for about a minute until they started to soften. The meat went back in with the vegetables and I stirred in a bit of flour with a wooden spoon. This was all sautéed for a few minutes, until the raw flour taste disappeared and everything started to caramelize. I stirred in some tomato paste (I love the kind that comes in a tube -- the best idea ever! Get some.), added water to cover it (about 4-6 cups), and also some coarse salt to taste. I think next time I would add more water as with all the skimming that came next, the liquid content was reduced a bit more than I would have liked at the end.

I raised the heat to a boil and skimmed off any fat that came to the surface. There wasn't much because I had done a good job of trimming earlier, but I did spoon up a bit of it. (I learned that lamb fat has a high water content that causes it to melt quickly. Ick.) Then, I put the lid on my pot and put it in a 350 degree preheated oven to braise for 60 minutes. I uncovered and stirred it every 15 minutes to make sure it wasn't boiling or sticking to the bottom of the pot. (And yes, I used pot holders this time.)

In the meantime, I prepared the Spring Vegetables garnish. I had to use that fancy French way of cutting vegetables again (tourner) and this time it was referred to as cocotte, which is a turned cut of vegetable that is about 2 inches long. I did this (and not very well) with boiling potatoes, carrots and parsnips, and then cooked them each separately. By the way, I'm not totally off base by thinking this tourner thing is annoying and a bit unnecessary. I went to a Knife Skills class earlier in the week and the teacher was a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America. I asked her if she uses the tourner method and she said when she was in school she used to do it all the time, but in the real world it takes up a lot of time, and wastes food, so she just cuts the pieces diagonally or uniformly so they still look nice. (Humph. Told you so.)

I also learned that my 8-inch chef's knife is too big for me and that most women use a knife that is too big/long. So, I'll be looking for a 5-6 inch chef's knife this weekend...yay!

The potatoes were blanched, the carrots and some pearl onions were both cooked separately glacer à brun (caramelized to a rich brown via glazing with butter, sugar, salt, a bit of water, and covered with parchment lid), the parsnips were cooked glacer à blond (lightly caramelized), and then I also needed to cook some string beans and peas à l'anglaise (boiling in salted water until just tender, then putting in ice water to stop cooking).

Once the meat was done, I strained the liquid through my trusty chinois, reserving the sauce and the meat separately and tossing out the mirepoix and garlic. The meat went into a bowl and was set aside, the sauce was put into a sauce pan and again, I removed any fat that came to the surface. (There was just a wee bit.) I put the liquid on medium heat, stirring for about 10 minutes until it thickened and could slightly coat the back of the spoon (called nappant). Mine thickened correctly, but if it didn't, the book suggested adding some beurre manié (softened butter kneaded into uncooked flour and formed into pea-sized balls) until it was the correct consistency. I added some salt and pepper to the sauce which was a medium, rusty brown (from the tomatoes and browned bits of meat). It tasted rich and meaty, with a hint of garlic.

Then, I added the fork-tender meat back in, along with the potatoes and let them lightly simmer for about 5 minutes, or until the potatoes were softened, but not overcooked. After that, in went the carrots, pearl onions and parsnips. I reheated the beans and peas in a small pot of simmering water for a few seconds until heated through and then drained them on paper towels. The book suggests ladling the stew in the center of four warm shallow soup bowls and then garnishing with the beans and peas, and some chopped parsley. Since it was 10:30 p.m. when I finished this dish, I tossed the peas and beans into the pot instead (the picture in the book shows them mixed in, too).  I had a few bites, and was surprised that the lamb almost didn't taste like lamb at all. There was just a slight hint of it, but nothing overpowering or "wooly" at all. It was pretty tasty --  like a luxe beef stew and the vegetables were so bright and colorful, it was like Spring in a bowl.


When we ate this for dinner last night, I think Chris was surprised too. He took a bite and raised his eyebrows and said something like "Wow, this is really good!"  He also agreed that it didn't really taste gamey like he thought it would. The stew was hearty and full, but light at the same time -- I would make it again. The Carmenere wine from Chile we had went really well with it too, and I made a simple green salad with a vinaigrette. A nice spring meal on a Thursday.

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The second and final Demonstration for Session 10 was Fricassée de Volaille Printaniére (Chicken Fricassee with Spring Vegetables), which is an example of mixte à blanc. According to my book, Chicken Fricassee is a classic example of mixte cooking.

I quartered a chicken for the third time this month (I'm getting good at this!), separated into leg/thigh and breast pieces, manchonnered the ends of the bones and rinsed the pieces with cold water and patted them dry. I seasoned the meat with salt and pepper and then added 2 TBS of butter to a pan over medium heat, putting the chicken in skin side down and cooking for a few minutes, until the skin was seared, but not browned.

Using some new tongs (with soft ends to keep skin from tearing) I turned the pieces over and lightly seared the other sides, making sure the meat didn't take on any color. Then, I removed the chicken and set aside.  Into the hot pan went some onion mirepoix, which I sautéed for a few minutes, until they were transluscent and fragrant. I stirred in 2 TBS of flour with a wooden spoon, until the flour was absorbed into the onions, but took on no color (equal parts butter + flour = makings of a roux). After that, I whisked in some white chicken stock, whisking until the liquid had thickened into a velouté (thick white sauce made from white stock and a roux--we did this for the veal stew, too).  I put the chicken back in and lowered the heat, cooking at a low simmer for about 20-25 minutes, until it was cooked through. Every once in a while, I skimmed off any fat that came to the top, and I also took the initiative and decided to kind of baste the meat with the sauce every once in a while to keep it moist.

While the chicken cooked, I prepared carrots, turnips, string beans, and peas all à l'anglaise (see first recipe above). I had looked ahead the day before and saw that I would need the same ingredients cut the same way for this dish, so I tournered the carrots and parsnips needed for this one ahead of time.  I cooked some pearl onions glacer à blond for this recipe (they were glacer à brun in the other one) and then added the carrots, turnips, beans and peas to boiling salted water  (in separate pots), until just tender and then dunked them in cold water to stop the cooking process, and then set aside.

Once the chicken was done, I removed from the pot and set it aside, keeping warm. I skimmed off any fat from the sauce and ran through my chinois into a clean pan. I added 7 TBS of heavy cream and brought to a simmer, adding salt and pepper as needed, and cooking until it had thickened a bit. It had a lovely smell that reminded me of chicken noodle soup and pot pie, and it tasted the same. Chicken-y and creamy. Like a pot full of cream-of-chicken goodness. Mmmmm.

I removed any extra fat from the chicken, cut the pieces in half (after removing the breast bones, etc.) and returned to the sauce. The book recommends reheating all the vegetables in a pan with a bit of butter and a bit of water before serving, so I did that. It then said to put the chicken in the center of the plate, nap with sauce, garnish with an equal amount of vegetables, and sprinkle with parsley. So, I did.  Then, I tossed everything together in the same pot.  



So, I think I have mixte cooking covered ... and I've learned some great tips on cooking lamb, which opens up a whole new world. There wasn't too much butter in these recipes, either, so I didn't feel as guilty eating them. Just simple ingredients for beautiful, tasty food. (I like it!)

Next is Session 11: Methods of Cooking Meat: Poêle, Breading and Sautéeing, Cooking Pork


Happy Spring!

xoxoxo


Lamb Shoulder on Foodista

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