CIA French Cuisine Boot Camp Day 4: Fish Stews and Purple Teeth
After discussing the regions of Central France, Bordeaux and the Atlantic, Gascony & Basque Country, and Languedoc-Rousillon, Chef introduced us to the concept of Hangover Day. Chef explained that since Friday was graduation day for a group of students, those students who had been working in the restaurants would have their last dinner service that night. After that, they would go out to celebrate the end of their schooling. Many of their non-graduating friends would join them in the celebration and pay the price as they would start a new term of classes on Friday with a hangover.
Ironically, our class was scheduled for a wine tasting this afternoon. Hopefully tomorrow wouldn't turn out to be Hangover Day for any of us.
Our team had two stews on our menu for the day: potage garbure (cabbage and meat stew) and marmitako (tuna and potato stew). In addition, we had souffle au fromage (cheese souffle), daube d'oignons (red wine braised onions), and needed to deconstruct and marinate chickens for tomorrow's coq au vin. And, lest we forget, we still had to cook our boeuf bourguignon from yesterday.
For my first feat, I decided to prepare the tuna for the marmitako. I had never worked with tuna before. Fish (as a food item) rarely entered our household during my childhood, and it was only since getting married that I had started eating it. In the past few years I had cooked fish a handful of times, but typically I relied on restaurants to prepare my fish for me.
I turned the dark red piece of fish over in my hands considering how to approach it. My task was merely to cut it into chunks for the stew--not too complex. I conferred with the student assistant about the darkest red spot across the edge of the cut and confirmed that the spot was a vein that should be cut out. From there it was just a matter of cubing the meat. That I could handle.
For our class demonstration, Chef showed us how to cut a chicken into eight pieces. I watched carefully and recorded the demo with my phone so I could replicate the experience later, knowing I'd have a hard time remembering the steps at home without visual aids. I had learned this same procedure at my first Boot Camp and forgot it before I returned home. This time would be different: not only would I record it, but I would practice it.
Chef made quick work of the chicken. He showed us how to remove the wishbone so that the breasts could be removed cleanly. He cut the legs off the bird, maneuvering the knife to capture a small piece of flesh he referred to as the 'oyster'. The legs and wings were then cut into pieces using tricks that made everything come apart effortlessly. Easy peasy.
I volunteered to break down the chickens for tomorrow's coq au vin.
I took the wings off first, then the legs. So far, so good. As I fought with the wishbone, though, one of the student assistants came over to help me. I broke the wishbone but managed to remove it anyway with some help. Separating the leg from the thigh was more troublesome. I tried using the technique Chef had shown us but I was making a mess of it.
"Let me show you how I do it," the student said. "I think it's a little easier than what Chef showed you." How could it be easier? What Chef demonstrated was so simple--look at the skin to see where the change in texture makes a line, and slice cleanly through that line. Effortless. But, then, it wasn't so effortless for me so far, and I was ending up with mangled limbs--chicken limbs, that is.
Instead of following the line on the skin as my guide for where to hold the knife to separate the two pieces, the student recommended flipping over the thigh and cutting along the line between the thigh and leg that was visible from the underside. I tried it and got a clean cut. Perfect! Clearly the students had some great tricks up their sleeves, too.
Once again, the three of us handled most of the dishes as a team, preparing or cooking some aspect of several dishes. We had thought we were in a groove yesterday, but today seemed to flow even better. The cheese soufflés, handled primarily by our egg master J, were gorgeous. The two stews--potage garbure and marmitako--were both quite wonderful. T turned out a beautiful, deeply red braised onion dish. And our overdue boeuf bourguignon benefitted from its extra day of flavor melding and tasted terrific.
The afternoon lecture on Thursday was our eagerly anticipated wine tasting. Two of our classmates weren't wine drinkers but attended the lecture to learn anyway. Most of afternoon activities started shortly after lunch, but this one had a delayed start time of 3:15. The tasting, scheduled for 90 minutes, included six different wines--three white, three red--from different regions of France. Our instructor for the afternoon was John Fischer, an enthusiastic, funny CIA grad who shared different tips and tricks for matching food and wine. He drew maps of Italy and California on the flip chart and enlightened us about the invisible "butter/olive oil line" that divides Italy and its regional cuisines which, in turn, helps guide pairings. All the way along we sampled the different wines and attempted to describe their flavors and other characteristics.
Three hours later, after sipping wine and sharing stories through a thoroughly entertaining and educational lecture, Chef Fischer needed to go home to cook dinner for his wife. Several opened bottles of wine remained on the table as well as a half-dozen unopened bottles. The instructor told us to drink more if we liked and to stay as long as we liked--or until we were chased out of the room. Six of us die-hards stuck around to enjoy a few more toasts, knowing the opened wine would likely just get poured down a drain somewhere if we didn't. Or at least that's how we justified it to ourselves. This was our last afternoon together, as everyone would scatter toward their homes after class was dismissed on Friday afternoon. So we savored the conversation and the wine until someone did, indeed, chase us out of the room.
Following the wine tasting I took a walk around the campus. Despite the fact that my B&B is only about 1/2 mile from the campus, I was not prepared to drive even that short distance in my current state. Several of my classmates offered me rides, but I opted for my walk instead. The campus, which previously had served as a Jesuit monastery, is located right on the Hudson River and has a beautiful view. A few trails wind through trees and gazebos to provide lovely, quiet spots for walking, thinking, and, well, sobering up. After about 45 minutes I felt refreshed and alert, though a little sad that my Boot Camp experience was almost over. It was a great group and the skills and recipes I had learned here were, as always, spectacular. I used my phone to take a picture of myself in my Chef's whites with the trees of the CIA campus in the background---a nice Facebook profile picture, I thought. I looked at the shot and saw that my teeth were stained purple from the wine. Nice. Maybe I'd just keep that one for myself.