I finally got to try frogs legs.
Today and next week are all about restaurant service. In our practical sessions in the kitchen we are working in teams and serving to order. Each team is assigned a table in the restaurant. The first 90 minutes or so is for mise en place—getting everything ready for service. Then, when the “restaurant” opens, chef shouts “Ça Marche” and customer orders start to come in. We get 15 minutes to serve after receiving a table’s order for starters. And 20 minutes to serve after receiving a table’s order for mains. A team serves twice as many plates as its size, for example a team of 4 puts 8 plates on the pass. Everyone gets a go at Chef de Partie.
You can imagine how chefs might have fun with this, right? They went easy on us today.
So. The menu…
Like I said, frogs legs. In our little French bistro, Beignets de Cuisses de Grenouilles, Crème d’Ail et coulis de Persil Plat. Lollipops with garlic cream and flat parsley coulis. Then for main, Pavé de Flétan Sauté avec Pommes Anna et Sauce Choron. Pan-fried halibut steaks with Anna potatoes and Choron sauce.
Pommes Anna is like a potato cake. Made by layering lots of thin potato slices on top of one another and cooked in a lot of clarified butter. The cake becomes golden and crispy on the outside but is soft and velvety on the inside. Choron sauce is a derivative of Béarnaise with tomato fondue and tarragon added.
It’s one thing to eat frogs legs and quite another to prepare and cook them. What fun. When chef held up a pair of legs and said, “I wouldn't mind a pair of legs like that”, I immediately thought of He-Man. Dunno why. :-)
Frog meat was treated like fish in terms of food hygiene so that meant a blue chopping board. The legs were separated with a slice through the pelvis. The “foot” was removed and discarded. The chunky “calf” muscle was removed in tact and kept. The still attached bone was French trimmed—this would be the lollipop “stick”. Any remaining part of the pelvis was snipped away and the thigh meat pushed down the bone. The bone was then removed and the thigh was stuffed with the calf muscle. We had to do 30 of these. I was in a team of 3.
Flour, baking soda, salt and pepper. Mix. Batter likes a rest so it’s helpful to make early. Like with Yorkshire puddings. When it’s got baking soda there’s a bit of a snag. As soon as baking soda hits liquid it activates and starts doing its thing. This batter could’ve been made closer to service but chef showed us how to make it early and slow it down. First use ice cold water. The cold slows down the baking soda. Second make it extra thick and thin it out for service. Third, drop in a couple of ice cubes, cling film over, and put the batter in the fridge.
The garlic cream is well worth making—if you love garlic. A whole bulb of garlic was drizzled with olive oil then wrapped in foil and roasted in the oven at 180C for 40 minutes. Once cooked, the bulb was sliced in half horizontally and the pulp passed through a fine drum sieve. Whipping cream was gently heated in a pan with seasoning and the garlic pulp stirred in. Leave on the heat, with a gentle whisk every few minutes to cook through and reduce to a rich creamy consistency. Yum. Yum. yum.
Now for something way more out there. And something you can also do easily. Extracting chlorophyll. Chefs do this to create a super-concentrated flavour of a green plant (obviously). In this case parsley. Here we go. Parsley was loaded up into the blender and covered with cold water and 2 ice cubes. Blitzing for a while produced a green water. No surprise there. This was passed through a conical or metal sieve. The green water was then heated to 65-70C over a high heat to separate the green solids from the liquid. It’s critical it doesn’t boil. The lot was poured into iced water and stirred. The ice was decanted and the mix was passed through muslin cloth, left to drain and then eventually squeezed. Voilà! Vibrant green chlorophyll—pure concentrated parsley to counteract the heady garlic cream. To serve, the chlorophyll was mixed with a tiny amount of water and quenelles made.
In parallel, we worked on the main course elements. I prepared the halibut steaks, removing the skins and brown meat, the moved onto the Pommes Anna. Wahey! I peeled the spuds and sliced them on the Mandolin. The slices were stacked up and skewers inserted through the centre. We used Dariole moulds for cooking. A cartouche was placed on the bottom. Salt added and a drizzle of clarified butter. The potato stack was lowered in and clarified butter added to cover. Oven. Such an easy way to do it. Any mould can be used. A different team used ramekins while another made one big Pommes Anna in a pie dish and portioned it off later.
For the Choron sauce, a Béarnaise was made first by whisking egg yolks with a reduction made with white wine, white wine vinegar, shallots, white peppercorns and tarragon stalks over hot water to form ribbons. Remember, this is called a sabayon. Then, clarified butter was whisked in to emulsify. This was done jumping on and off the Bain Marie to maintain the right temperature. Tomato fondue and tarragon leaves were added to make it a Choron sauce. Final seasoning was done with salt and pepper, further reduction, and interestingly, some of the milk solids lurking at the bottom of the hot clarified butter. Don’t waste anything!
Starter order in.
The batter was quickly finished. The frog lollipops were dredged in seasoned flour (with a little extra pinch of cayenne from me), then the batter, and fried. Each lollipop had to be dipped into the hot oil carefully, clutching the trimmed bone, and swirled in a figure of 8 until it started to float. Then it was released. Leftover batter was used to make scraps like in the fish’n chippies. As we plated up we found out were a couple of legs short. Oops. Somehow we hadn’t noticed. Bad! And we served 7 minutes late. Chef said the frogs legs tasted great. As a first-timer, the way I’d describe frogs legs is “light”. They had a very, very soft texture—almost no resistance. With legs like He-Man you’d think they’d have meatiness. Nope. And did they taste like chicken? Well…yeah, but no, but yeah. Kinda. Very, very subtle.
Spinach was washed, drained and dried. Tomatoes went into the oven to confit in olive oil and sliced garlic.
Chef de Partie assigned me to the halibut. Inside I groaned for a millisecond then thought I’m going to redeem myself after the overcooking the sea bass. I wasn’t going to screw this up. Again we were required to use a cartouche in the pan. The fish steaks were cooked skin side down in olive oil to caramelise. Butter was added. The fish were turned over. Baste, baste. A big squeeze of lemon juice and out. Boom! Nailed it. Chef said the fish was properly cooked and flaking.
A bit better organised and a simpler presentation. This time we were only 2 minutes late.