Oh my GOD! My last week of culinary school came and went so fast that I really can’t even believe it’s actually over. I’m crossing my little fingers that after my third and final internship, when we have to come back to school for two measly days to wrap things up, we’ll get one last session in the kitchen. I really, really hope that this isn’t quite the end yet. It’s been so magical being in the kitchen every week, and learning so much, and I don’t want it to end! Luckily this week we really went out with a bang, using ingredients that I’d never used before, making beautiful layer cakes, perfectly light French macarons, the world’s best tartar sauce, and so much more. Let me tell you all about it!
On Tuesday we were in the kitchen all day! We had our second and last lunch service to prepare for, as well as an entire rabbit ragout to make in the afternoon after we finished serving fried fish with tartar sauce, grilled lamb chops, roasted provencal tomatoes, pommes pailles (shoestring potatoes) and green beans wrapped in bacon! It was a long day, but a wonderful one as well. I didn’t even realize how tired I was until I sat down in the bus at the end of the day. The adrenaline kept me going all throughout the day, that and my love of what I was doing. It’s such an amazing feeling to be doing what I love!
The very first thing we did was marinate our lamb chops. We used a quick marinade of olive oil, thyme and bay leaves and put them right back in the fridge. The next most urgent thing was our fish. We used merlan fish that we fileted and skinned, then cut into long, thin fillets. Instead of being made into nuggets, our tiny fillets were rolled tightly and then dipped into flour, a mixture of beaten eggs and water, and then bread crumbs. We fried them a few minutes before the service and kept them warm in the “passe” (the place where we plate our dishes, and that separates the kitchen from the serving area).
Next up was the tartar sauce. I am totally in love with this tartar sauce. This is what tartar sauce is supposed to be, and honestly tasted like nothing I’d ever eaten before. We started by making a classic mayonnaise. Egg yolks, mustard, salt and a tiny bit of lemon juice. We whisked and whisked until the mixture started to turn pale and thicken. Then we slowly stirred in our oil and made sure that the mayonnaise was nice and thick. Since we were adding pickles, capers and onions, it needed to be nice and firm so that it would hold it’s texture. So yes, finely diced pickles, capers, onions, parsely and tarragon. A little bit of salt, and you have the best tartar sauce I’ve ever eaten!
Next up were the tomatoes. This was nice and easy: we cut them in half, removed the seeds and drizzled them with a bit of olive oil. In a blender we mixed up parsley, breadcrumbs and more olive oil, a little bit of garlic and salt and pepper. We carefully spooned this into the tomato halves and then roasted them for about 20 minutes, until the tomatoes were just a tiny bit soft. All we had to do during the service was reheat!
The pommes paille were equally easy and very, very tasty. Much thinner than a French fry, they fried up in no time and were incredibly crispy. The secret is to use a mandolin to cut them into a fine julien, then soak them in several water baths to get rid of any excess starch. Next, simply fry for a couple of minutes, stirring occasionally, and season them as soon as they come out of the hot oil.
The pièce de résistance for our service was of course the grilled lamb chops. Once they were nicely marinated, we turned on the grill and seared them on both sides, leaving them rare in the middle. We seasoned them with salt and pepper and during the service we finished cooking them in the oven. Lamb chops are served medium, nice and pink in the middle. Once our order was called out during the service, we threw them back in the oven for about 5-7 minutes, pressed down on them with our fingers to make sure they were cooked correctly, and plated them with a half of a tomato, a little bit of pommes paille, and a fagot of green beans.
After a quick break, we were back in the kitchen to make our stewed rabbit. It was braised in red wine, and technically it’s a ragout. It was, like all the classics, a nice and easy recipe that involved a lot of simple steps, but that were well worth it when you tasted the end result. I was lucky enough to taste this dish at the cafeteria the next day, and it was rich and full of flavor because of the red wine, celery, carrots, onions and juniper berries that it was cooked with.
While our rabbit was cooking in the oven, we made sautéed and roasted turned potatoes to go along with it, cut, blanched and sautéed some lardons and also sautéed some scalloped mushrooms. The chef didn’t plan a lot for us that afternoon as he figured we’d be worn out from the service. We were chatting during a lull, and I asked if he wouldn’t mind showing me how to make macarons since we had a bit of time. I was ecstatic when he said yes, and ran off to collect the ingredients and materials that we needed to make them.
He gave me his “simplified” recipe, which involves making a simple meringue of beaten egg whites and sugar. This works perfectly well, but if you want to be absolutely sure to successfully make these delicate almond cookies, you should make an Italian meringue. The difference is that the sugar is heated to 120°C and then streamed into the beaten egg whites. It’s much more stable than a simple meringue because the sugar is cooked. We didn’t have time for all of that, but the chef promised to give me his number one secret for perfect macarons, no matter how you make the meringue.
Macarons are made by sifting finely ground almond meal and powdered sugar together and folding this mixture into a stiff meringue. This is your base. You can add food coloring for a pop of color, vanilla extract, coffee extract, etc. to give flavor to your macarons and intensify it with a matching filling, or use a completely different flavored filling to give contrast. One of the most popular combinations here in France is a passion fruit macaron shell with a chocolate ganache filling! These macarons came together easily enough, and I flavored them simply with vanilla extract as we were running low on time. The secret to a perfect macaron, and getting that elusive “foot” at the bottom of your cookie, is letting them “crust” before baking. The chef said that at home, all you have to do is leave them out for 2-3 hours before baking to get a solid crust. At school, we sped up the process by placing them in a just-warm oven for about 30 minutes. The result was perfection, and I can’t wait to make them at home again after my less-than-perfect results last summer.
Our final day in the kitchen (sob!) was 100% dedicated to dessert. We made a black forest cake using chocolate génoise, whipped cream, marinated cherries, simple syrup flavored with kirsch and chocolate shavings. We also made chocolate mousse! It would’ve been a very tough day for our arms with all of that whisking, but luckily the chef let us make our whipped cream using a stand mixer. We still had to hand whisk the sabayon (eggs and sugar whisked over a bain-marie, the base of the génoise cake) and egg whites, but we managed to get through it!
It was a great week at school, and I’m starting to feel a bit nostalgic about it all, knowing that I may never cook in the CFA kitchen again. However, my final internship starts on Tuesday, and I’m definitely looking forward to that. I just have to keep telling myself that this isn’t the end, only the beginning of a whole new career. I can’t wait to see what they have in store for me!