Our first week back after our internships was a loaded one. We had four kitchen sessions instead of three which made me one happy girl. We got to work with some new products like duck thighs and veal steaks, and learned a few new ways to play around with potatoes. We also had our first experience with génoise and made our second puff pastry dough to date. All in all, it was a lovely week and I can now say that I’ve added a few more valuable skills to my repertoire.
On the first day, we experimented with eggs. A few weeks ago when classes were cancelled because of snow, we were supposed to make soft-boiled eggs and didn’t get a chance to. Stuffed hard-boiled eggs were on the menu, so the chef let us soft-boil a few so we could get the hang of it. It’s not difficult, but simply requires a lot of attention. A soft-boiled egg should cook for exactly 5 minutes and 45 seconds, and absolutely no longer than 6 minutes. The eggs must be added to the water once it’s already boiling, and of course added all at once, without cracking them. Peeling them is a big of a chore, but if you keep a bowl of cold water handy, it can be done (they’re much more delicate than traditional hard-boiled eggs). You can use them to top a salad or make eggs benedict with a hollandaise sauce instead of using poached eggs, or you can even roll them in eggs, flour and bread crumbs and deep-fry them! This seems to be all the rage in France right now, who knew!
Our hard-boiled egg dish was called stuffed Chimay eggs. They’re like deviled eggs only the yolk is mixed with sautéed mushrooms and shallots and then piped back into the whites. Then they’re topped with béchamel sauce and cheese and broiled! I didn’t get a chance to taste one but they did look appetizing!!
I got to make puff-pastry dough for the second time at school, this time destined for pears poached in a cinnamon simple syrup and kirsch-flavored pastry cream. We made long, rectangular shaped tarts this time instead of a round galette. The puff pastry crust was par-baked and then the pastry cream was piped in the bottom of our tart and topped with halved and thinly-sliced pears, then brushed with an apricot glaze. This isn’t my kind of dessert, but the finished product was very pretty and it is a classic.
We finished our first day with a simple escalope viennoise, basically a breaded chicken cutlet. The chicken breasts were opened up and filleted so they were nice and thin. We then dredged them in a mixture of beaten eggs, then flour, then bread crumbs and fried them in olive oil until they were nice and crispy. We served them with a lemon slice, olive and anchovy and what is apparently a traditional garnish: cooked egg whites and yolks, chopped capers and parsley.
Next up were the veal steaks. I’m not a big fan of veal. I just don’t like the taste of it. I did, however, LOVE this sauce. I think I’ll try it with beef sometime in the near future. The thick-cut veal steaks were seasoned and sautéed in olive oil and then reserved. We minced some mushrooms and cooked them in the veal juices after throwing out the excess oil. Once the mushrooms were cooked, we added some cognac and flambeed them, then added veal stock, a bit of tomato sauce that we made earlier in the day (tomatoes, shallots, garlic and herbs) and tarragon to finish things off.
I also discovered a new use for potatoes! Turns out a few different classic French sides are made by mixing mashed potatoes and egg yolks (and sometimes cream puff dough!). Once this mixture is made, the possibilities are endless. We made pommes duchesse, which are the really pretty ones piped onto parchment paper and baked in the oven, as well as pommes croquettes, which are piped in long tubes and then cut into 2-3 inch pieces, breaded and deep-fried! I wasn’t a huge fan of the duchesse potatoes but the croquettes were delicious. I even made some at home, making them into little galettes and frying them in duck fat. Now that was tasty!!!
In between all of this, we found the time to try our hand at génoise. A génoise is a very light, neutral cake that can be used in all different kinds of desserts. The base of génoise cake is a sabayon, gently cooked eggs and sugar that thickens slowly while being whisked constantly over low heat. You have to start by whipping the eggs and sugar until they’re light and foamy, then placing the mixture over a bain-marie and whisking until the mixture thickens. Then you fold in the flour as gently as possible and bake for 30-40 minutes, making sure not to open the oven until the cake is fully cooked. We were running short on time, so we decorated ours simply with powdered sugar, but next week we’ll be doing the technique again, with cocoa this time, and making black forest cakes!
Our last day was dedicated to duck. I’d personally never cooked duck before, so I was definitely looking forward to it. We began with duck thighs. We trimmed the fat (that I cooked down and brought home!) and then removed one of the two bones and the joint. We also cut off a small amount of flesh to use later in our stuffing. The stuffing was made by puréeing the duck meat, then adding egg whites, heavy cream, and a mixture of just-cooked carrots and raw orange peel that we cut into a brunoise. This was then piped into the duck thighs which we rolled closed and then wrapped in saran wrap and poached in the oven to help them hold their texture. After about 20 minutes, we heated some diced carrots and onions in olive oil, letting them sweat, then added our duck thighs to brown them slightly. We also made a gastrique, which is a caramel made of vinegar and sugar, that we lightened with stock and then added this mixture to the duck thighs and let them simmer in the sauce until it reduced and thickened slightly. The duck was served with the sauce and blanched orange rinds! I didn’t taste the finished product but the mousseline that we used to stuff them with was amazing!!
We only have two weeks left, and I pretty much can’t believe it. While I’m excited for my last internship to start and anxious to see what doors may open because of it, I’m sure I’ll be sad the day I have to say goodbye to our wonderful chefs and leave the CFA kitchen for good. I’m planning on taking full advantage of the next two weeks and after that, I guess I’ll just have to work even harder in my own home kitchen to fill the void and continue learning!