Things were looking up with stocks, soups, and sauces, featuring:
- Rich Chicken Stock
- Fish Stock
- Mushroom Soup *
- Mussels Steamed in White Wine (Moules à la Grecque) *
- Sautéed Chicken Breasts with Béarnaise Sauce
* (From Les Halles Cookbook, soup page 47, mussels page 84. Contrary to Sur La Table’s handout, the béarnaise recipe was significantly modified.)
Fish stock got postponed until next week. Fish heads were too hard to come by.
Our instructor, whom I’m calling Sue, gave us an overview of stocks and explained how roasting bones makes them richer. Then as she quickly ran through all the recipes, panic set in. The myriad details of stock, soup, mussels, and béarnaise reeled off at once made me feel as if I’d jumped into the deep end and couldn’t swim.
My partner and I tackled the chicken stock, which no one else had any interest in. We weren’t given a recipe, but everything we needed was assembled on a tray.
With a big knife (that felt no sharper than my own Henckels) I chopped, unsupervised and without peeling, some dried-out carrots and an onion. If Bourdain actually has any knife instruction in his curriculum, it hasn’t trickled down yet.
Our stock also got some brownish celery with wilted leaves, 10 peppercorns (exactly), thyme and rosemary (I think) with stems, store-cooked rotisserie chicken bones, and water.
We also threw in the onion skin. I’m sorry, but nothing will convince me that was called for. I’ve never made anything that started out looking like floating compost and had it turn out well.
While writing this post, I saw that Bourdain specifically says to peels carrots and onions and not to use celery leaves, stems, or other junk (page 38). And it was included in the section of Sur La Table’s handout that we didn’t have time to read.
Our stock simmered all through class, but was nothing special when we tasted it. It’s supposed to spend more hours on the stove, and next week we’ll skim off the fat.
The béarnaise was tag-teamed, with one person stirring and one person dribbling in the butter.
The mussel recipe called for fennel (again with the fennel!) and other spices. This time, the fennel contributed to the dish and the mussels were great.
Someone pounded the chicken and pan-fried it in butter, but it overcooked in the oven waiting to be served. I could have seen that coming.
While we took a break, Sue puréed the mushroom soup, which turned out absolutely delicious. It was easy and I’d definitely make that myself.
Even after sitting around for 15 or 20 minutes, the béarnaise sauce was perfect. They succeeded with smoothness where I failed on my first attempt. But it wasn’t the cookbook recipe. This version added sherry, lemon juice, and water, and substituted white wine or tarragon vinegars for sherry or red wine vinegar.
So what did I learn this week?
That commercial chicken stock/broth is not created equal. Let Top Chef be Swanson’s whore. I’ll never buy it again. We sampled a brand called Kitchen Basics that made Swanson taste like swill in a box.
That if you have to let chicken sit around, don’t cook it beyond medium rare.
That it takes more than 2 hands to make good béarnaise.
That you test a partially-opened mussel’s freshness by tapping it on the table. If it reacts and closes up, it’s alive and ripe for killing. If it doesn’t, and smells like the bottom of a bait bucket, toss it.
Speaking of which, as I was driving home, I started feeling queasy and thought, “Oh, no, the mussels!”
By the time I got home, I could have thrown up, but I’d left the TV on for the cats, and Tony was in Provence, which distracted my stomach. I drank some peppermint tea and took a Pepcid Complete before bed and woke up fine, so who knows?
Next week, we have the fish stock and meat grand finale.