Arise, sir loin

Roast sirloin of beef served medium, with turned artichoke and an assembling of garden vegetables

Monday felt like Saturday. I’ve no idea what day or time it is. I turn up. Watch. Listen. Taste. Cook. Go home. Sleep. There’s a bit of study scattered in the cracks of free time to be found. As hard as it is to stay awake past 8pm, chef school is awesome. It’s interesting and challenging—just like learning should be. Moreover, school dinners rock! Think about it. I get to eat breakfast or lunch cooked by Michelin-starred chefs. FTW.

Today I cooked the last of 4 potential exam dishes. It’s now just over a week to my first exams. Boo. The dish was a roast sirloin of beef with a turned artichoke bottom garnished with garden vegetables. In French, Contre Filet de Boeuf Rôti, Fond d’Artichaut Garni de sa Jardinière de Légumes.

I’ve realised I don’t eat sirloin very often. When I’m eating steak at a restaurant I tend not to order the sirloin. I’m a big fan of rump, particularly if it’s dry-aged just a little longer than usual. And when I’m roasting beef at home I go for the fore-rib or the wing-rib as a smaller joint. Growing up, my Mum would roast top-side or silver-side. Yesterday’s sirloin steak didn’t turn out so well but this roast sirloin is certainly a knightly dish. Champion.

The knife-art of turning vegetables is back again. The medium? A globe artichoke. Now this was fun. Basically turn the bottom bit of that large thistle-like thing below left into that mushroom cap lookalike on the right. Those aren’t my fingers in case you were wondering. There was a fair amount of grunting going on as people wrestled their chokes into submission. The stalk must be levered in different directions to remove the deep fibres while the dragon scales are snapped off at their roots—yeah, I’ve been watching Game of Thrones. Doing battle with the artichoke is how I imagined taking the war to the Triffids. Lots of lemon was on hand to prevent discolouration during the turning then a simmer in acidulated water. Crazy science. Water plus lemon juice plus flour to keep the damn things white. The flour fills the pores on the artichoke. Most excellent. Who’d have thought? This is called cooking à blanc.

Globe artichoke

Turned artichoke bottom

Roasting the sirloin was all about timing and heat control. The things that didn’t work so well for the steaks yesterday. We were asked to really focus on our senses.

  • Smelling: Can you start to smell beef? Is it burning?

  • Hearing: Is there a sizzle? How fast does it sound? Is there lots of spitting? The meat is losing too much moisture.

  • Seeing: Is the steak taking on colour? Too quickly? Is there smoke? The pan is too hot. Are there little bubbles in the oil indicating correct searing? If the bubbles become larger the sear is fading—turn up the heat.

  • Touching: What’s the texture like? How much resistance does the meat offer when poked or pinched? Does it spring back slowly or quickly?

Smelling and hearing provide a monitoring system for when you’re multitasking. Place the steak in the pan, turn your back and start the bâttonets. When you whiff cooked beef you get a heads-up that colouration is happening and it’s approaching the time to turn the meat. By the fourth side you hear a slower sizzle so you turn the heat up slightly.

A quick and equal rotation in a hot oily pan gave all sides equal time to sear and take on colour from the rendered trimmed fat. Then into the oven for 2 minutes a side, presentation side up, 4 sides in total. Temperature checked with a probe. If it needs longer, back in the oven for decreasing time. Every time, all 4 sides received equal attention. This is important.

Lots of hot pan action today. That reminds me…

The kitchen has rules. If chef says something, everyone must acknowledge verbally and clearly so he knows we’ve understood. In a real kitchen he’s going to be busy doing something and not watching us so the verbal response is critical. In designated work areas there ain’t much room so with 8 exuberant wannabe-chefs carrying razor-sharp knives, pots of boiling water, or red hot pans from the oven, clear communication aids safety. You quickly get used to yelling, “mind your backs” or more helpfully, “hot pan behind you” or “sharp knife behind you”. In our wonderfully multinational team these warnings have been abbreviated to “ho-pan, ho-pan” and “sharp-sharp-sharp”. And so far, so good. No accidents involving 2 or more people. Just the usual self-inflicted cuts and burns. I dare say it’s only a matter of time though, especially given the ever-present danger of aquaplaning in the pot wash area, despite everyone’s non-slip safety shoes.

Back to the dish. I didn’t much like the sauce, largely because it’s thin. It’s made with water rather than stock so there’s no thickening to be had by reducing it because there’s little to no gelatin in the mix.

Mental notes

  1. Do a better job degreasing the pan in the first place, then degreasing the jus afterwards.

  2. Add cold water to the pan to deglaze; never hot water because it will incorporate the fat in its liquid state making it impossible to skim off.

  3. Don’t let the jus boil, goddammit—for exactly the same reason.

  4. Vegetables that grow underground go into cold water and brought to the boil. Vegetables that grow above ground go into boiling water.

My chiffonade requires refinement. It will be the death of me.