Since my last post, I’ve learned a crazy amount at school. To start, we learned all about fish, both round and flat fish. Round fish have eyes on the side of their head, they swim vertically, and they contain two filets (ex. trout and bass). Flat fish have eyes on the top of their head, they swim horizontally, and they contain four filets (ex. halibut and flounder). We also learned how to identify a fresh fish when buying whole fish at the market. They should have convex eyes that are clear and not cloudy, shiny scales, brightly colored gills that are red and full of blood, a clean odor that doesn’t smell “fishy”, and believe it or not…a tight anus. I guess I’m immature because I broke out laughing in the middle of class, but it’s true! Now you all know what to look for when shopping for fresh fish.
Anyways, learning to filet a fish was really exciting for me because it was our first real time butchering a protein. At first, I was a little worried about gutting it and cutting into the flesh, but after a few slices, I really enjoyed it. With the fish we filleted, we made Poisson en Papillote (fish baked in parchment paper) and Filet de Truite a La Grenobloise (Sauteed Trout with a butter and lemon sauce). Both were delicious and packed with flavor, solidifying my love for fish.
After we learned about fish, we had a full lesson on shellfish (ex. scallops, mussels, lobsters, shrimp, etc.). Prior to starting culinary school, I had many nightmares about shellfish day. I had heard some terrible stories about the many ways to “take care of” lobsters, so I was nervous to say the least when I saw a tub of live lobsters the second I walked into the Level 1 kitchen. The easiest way to kill a lobster would be to toss it into a pot of boiling water, but this is actually a slow and painful death for the creature and consequently, completely inhumane. Though it is hard to wrap your head around, the most humane way to do it is to make a swift cut through the lobster’s head. I was very nervous to take care of my lobster. I honestly didn’t even want to pick it up! But after a little coaxing from my partner and chef instructor, the lobster was taken down and cooking away.
We paired the lobster with a Sauce Americaine (tomato, brandy and tarragon). The sauce is decadent and luscious, and goes perfectly with the delicate lobster. We also made a mussel dish with white wine, shallots and parsley. We finished the day by searing some scallops and serving them with a parsley coulis. I was happy the busy day was over, and even more happy to have conquered my lobster fears.
After spending a few days on fish, we moved on to poultry. We learned to truss and quarter a chicken. We also made two dishes with chicken; Chicken Chasseur and Chicken Poached in a Mediterranean-Style Broth. We also learned about duck and other game birds (ex. quail). Quartering a duck is very similar to quartering a chicken. One of the most interesting things I learned about quartering poultry is that the very first thing to do is remove the wishbone. Every Thanksgiving at the end of the meal, my dad would remove the wishbone from what was left of the turkey, and my brother and I would fight over it to see who could pull apart the larger half. Learning that it needs to be removed first was new information to me, but it makes complete senses. When taking down a bird, the wishbone just gets in the way when removing the breast. Taking it out is very easy and great help in quartering a bird all together.
The past few lessons about various proteins have been extremely informative because I really didn’t know much about filleting a fish and taking down a chicken. In the next few days, we are taking on beef, pork and lamb, which will stretch my butchering knowledge even further.
I cannot believe I’m already approaching the end of Level 1. I’m having so much fun, I don’t want it to end! Hopefully the rest of my culinary school experience will slow down, so I can enjoy school and the city even more.