Nibbling away

An assortment of hot and cold canapés

Friday morning’s demo started out with chef chastising the class. Yesterday, cooking our free interpretation dishes, we did not respect the asparagus. When there’s a lot at stake it’s easy to concentrate on just punching through and getting a plate up on time, especially when it’s exam related. Chef said do less—put 1 asparagus spear on the plate then treat it properly. And use any time now available to give it a jazzy garnish. Cue lesson on how to trim and peel asparagus. It was a perfect reminder—like a 3-minute asparagus masterclass in slow-mo. Reminds me of something I read recently:

If you don’t have time to do it properly, when are you going to have time to do it twice?
— Unofficial kitchen motto at Alchemilla

I’m pretty sure I was one of those hacking the asparagus with a speed peeler. Respect the product dude. I’m not going to forget how to treat asparagus in a hurry. We should have more “how not to abuse a product” sessions.

Onto today’s activities. Les Canapés.

The afternoon was an exercise in teamwork. 1 team, 7 people and 2 hours to serve 6 different types of canapé.

  • Roulades d’aubergines et fromage de chèvre—aubergine rolls stuffed with goats cheese.

  • Saumon fumé, blinis et crème au raifort—smoked salmon, blinis and horseradish cream.

  • Brochettes de gambas marinées—marinated prawns on skewers.

  • Ailes de poulet fumé au miel et citron vert—smoked chicken wings with honey and lime.

  • Sablés au Parmesan—parmesan sablé biscuits.

  • Samosas croustillants aux petits légumes acidulés—crispy samosas with pickled seasonal vegetables.

I really wanted to have a go making the chicken-wing lollipops but I took one for the team and took on the veg prep. No matter. It goes on my to-cook-at-home list after broccoli flan. Speaking of which, my dariole moulds arrived today. I ended up owning the aubergine canapé. What a corker. Are you getting the sarcasm? I don’t have an issue with the canapé per se. Not exactly challenging but it needed to be done. I will say thank god for the goats cheese. My gripe is more to do with aubergine itself. This is a vegetable that does not inspire me. Every time I encounter it I give it a chance and every time I come away thinking meh. Bad chef-in-the-making.

Aubergine slices were disgorged in salt, rinsed and dried, brushed with honey and oil, and then roasted in the oven until golden. A red bell pepper was torched, peeled and cooked confit. The rind was removed from the goats cheese, which was then blitzed with a little oil and pepper to slacken it up. The aubergine slices were laid out on cling film, the cheese piped across the centre and then spread with a wet palate knife. Basil leaves were laid on top with strips of confit pepper. The cling was then rolled to create a pepper centre encased with cheese and surrounded by aubergine. Fridge to set. Later I cut the roll into barrels which were stood on a plate and garnished with small basil leaves.

Aubergine rolls with goats cheese, basil and confit red pepper

Blinis are easy to make. Prove wholegrain flour, buckwheat flour with yeast and warm milk until it bubbles. Whisk in egg yolk and seasoning. Whisk in egg white at soft peaks. Into a piping bag ready for the pan. Double cream was infused with horseradish then passed with lemon juice and seasoning to taste. Capers were fried crispy. Smoked salmon is salmon. Rest the fish filleting knife on top and if it’s sharp enough it will slice thinly under its own weight. no need to hold the salmon with the other hand. Wipe the knife each time.

Smoked salmon on blinis with horseradish cream, crunchy capers and dill

Prawns prepped. Chef’s trick was to use the tip of a skewer to pierce the back down by the tail and hook the digestive tract. Pull. Out it comes in one go. Saves having to cut a channel down to the back. The old poop tube was replaced with a skewer along the back to keep each prawn straight during cooking. The marinade was crushed and sliced lemongrass, sliced chilli, crushed garlic, fish sauce, soy sauce, rice wine vinegar and chopped coriander. A prawn oil was made from the shells—like we did for the lobster. This was used to make a dipping mayo. The prawns were sizzled on the griddle.

Skewered prawns marinated in Asian spices

Next the almighty lollipops. These things are just cool. You’ll see.

Take a wing. The elbow was trimmed to reveal the tops of the 2 bones. Trim again at the wrist to reveal the bottoms of the same 2 bones. Resting one end of the wing on the table, the meat was pushed down the 2 bones—like a French trim effect. Then turn upside down. This time the meat was pushed down 1 bone and with a quick twist that bone was pulled out. The meat was tidied by hand to create the lollipop. Sometimes it was necessary to give a quick cut between the bones before pushing. The lollipops were covered in salt and cracked black pepper for half an hour before being smoked in a pan. Basically foil went into the bottom of a pan, then blocks of compacted sawdust. A trivet was located above and the chicken placed on top. The blocks were ignited with a blowtorch and a lid placed on the pan. It might be necessary to reignite the blocks periodically and take the opportunity to turn the chicken. Note. It’s important to use a deep enough pan. This lets the smoke circulate and prevents the chicken sitting to close to the heat source and taking on acrid flavours.

Lime and honey were brought to the boil and reduced to a syrup. The lollipops were rolled in this glaze and then sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds and finished under the Salamander grill. The wing tips and trimmings were used to create a jus, which was deglazed with Mirin and soy sauce. Crushed lemongrass and coriander stalks were added with more water and left to infuse and reduce. Wow. So good.

Chicken wing meat is arguably the best on the bird barring the oysters and these lollipops in their cute and convenient packaging and flavourful glaze and dipping sauce are amazing. Recommended, folks!

Smoked chicken wing lollipops with a lime and honey glaze

Crumbs the parmesan sablés were good too. Crumbly goodness. Melt in the mouth buttery cheesiness. FTW.

Equal quantities of butter and flour, and almost as much grated parmesan, were crumbed. A pinch of cayenne was added. The ingredients were brought together in the bowl and the dough stretched a few times on the surface to make it uniform. This was rolled to a 3cm diameter and put in the fridge. Later biscuits were cut 1cm thick, egg washed on top, and baked in the oven. A dollop of crème fraiche mixed with chives and lemon juice went on top.

Parmesan sablé biscuits

Last but not least, the crispy vegetable samosas.

White wine, white wine vinegar and water were brought to the boil with coriander seeds, lime juice and zest and chilli. This was then cooled. Julienne of carrot, mooli, cucumber and swede went into the marinade. Later the vegetables were drained and folded into filo pastry brushed on the inside with clarified butter. The samosas were fried for service. Some of the marinade was reduced to create a dipping sauce.

Crispy samosas with seasonal vegetables

Et voilà! All in all a successful service.

Of course this is a prelude to the Degustation event at the beginning of August. A significantly larger and much grander catering event run by Superior Cuisine students for 48 paying guests. It’s like a mid-term exam because it counts towards our final mark.

Here’s a lovely picture of the winning team. Go group C!

Superior Cuisine Group C. Aka The Cool Kids and everyone’s favourite chef