So I was going to tell you guys all about the class I just started this week, but one of my classmates (hi Michelle!) pointed out that I still hadn’t showed you all the bizarre things we made in our last class – Traditional European Cuisine!
In every class, we learn to master certain cooking techniques. This particular class was centered around braising and stewing – not very Emily-like cooking. It was a lot of tough cuts of meat in heavy rich sauces – blech.
But even though I won’t eat the food, I’m happy to follow directions and make what I’m assigned. Plus I really do enjoy learning all the different aspects of cooking – especially ones like this that are pretty unfamiliar to me. Being in culinary school has given me many great opportunities to work with all sorts of products and ingredients that I’ve never even seen before, and certainly have never even considered cooking.
For instance, last week my group was assigned a stew made of…OXTAILS!
The oxtails alone were a little daunting and scary, but we had the added excitement of using a pressure cooker for the first time too! Since oxtails are typically stewed for about 8 hours, we needed to use the pressure cooker in order to have them ready for our 11:30am lunch service. We started by searing the meat in the pressure cooker to get some good browning, and then removed the meat and added a mixture of onions, garlic, and spices to deglaze the pan.
One that was all cooked, the oxtails went back into the pot and the rest of the stew ingredients were added.
Our Chef showed us how to tighten the lid of the pressure cooker to form a tight seal. Beth was more brave than I was, and did the honors. I kept babbling about watching Top Chef and seeing pressure cookers explode, but my Chef just kind of stared at me with a blank look. Not a reality TV fan I guess?
While the oxtails were under pressure, I moved onto my next task – gnocchi! I was actually really excited to make this because while I love eating gnocchi, I’d never actually made it before. I started by boiling our potato scraps (left over from knife cut practice!) and adding water and flour. Then I rolled the dough and cut it into thin strips, which were then rolled into balls and given a thumbprint. I kind of felt like I was making thumbprint holiday cookies!
Fast forward about two hours, and it was finally time to take a break from gnocchi and take the lid off the pressure cooker (scary!) Inside was a yummy looking stew! See those oxtail bones?!?
Chef showed Michelle how to take the meat off the bones and strain out all the mirepoix before we finished the sauce. We also had to skim off a TON of fat because the oxtails are such a fatty meat – ick.
Next we added the rest of our cut vegetables and put the meat back in, and let the stew simmer on the burner for a bit.
Another hour later and viola – Spicy OXTAIL
Stew! A first, and probably a last for me…
The stew was done, but the gnocchi still needed to be finished. This picture does no justice to how many of these freaking things I made. Those are reaaaally big sheet trays, and I filled up two entire pans!
I dropped them into boiling water and let them cook for about ten minutes. Don’t they look like sliced bananas? Once they were done, they were really gross and soggy (too much flour?) and I was bummed that they had become such a disaster. I warned my classmates not to eat them! They tasted like glue.
Thankfully, not everyone is as much as a defeatist as I am, and my friend Sid came to the rescue, convinced as always that the gnocchi could be saved. We patted them dry and sautéed them in hot oil, to replace the gooey texture with a nice crispy brown outer layer.
Wow – what a difference! These were soooo delicious – like tiny potato pancakes! Definitely something I will try to make at home again some day. I’m glad we didn’t give up on them!
And speaking of pancakes, we fed a Baking & Pastry class for lunch, and look what they brought with them…
Desserts galore! Chocolate cream pies, apple pies, cinnamon rolls, and chocolate dipped éclairs. All of that brought to a class of twenty people – insane! None for me though – I only snapped a picture. The food in this class was ridiculously unhealthy. Even the vegetables were inedible – swimming in butter and cream sauces. So every day I packed a granola bar to tide me over, and then I either ate at work or when I eventually got home. The healthy option is always worth the wait.
This class helped me learn the basic techniques of braising and stewing, and I was able to see the many different types of Traditional European Cuisine. That said, after nine days of making things like venison stew and braised lamb, I’m happy to have moved on to New World Cuisine. Pictures and details tomorrow, for real this time…