Thursday, October 22, 2009

Week 5 at Le Cordon Bleu (Basic Cuisine)

Time is flying by so fast here at Le Cordon Bleu. Week 5 seems long ago and was all about soups and compound butters. Well, "soup" is not the right term; "potage" is more accurate. Soup, a type of potage, is derived from the word souper, which means to absorb. To be called a soup, it must contain bread (such as French Onion Soup or Fish Soup). A potage is either thickened (called a lié) or unthickened (clair), such as consommé.

The other potages we covered included:

Potages Passé (using either fresh or dry ingredients) where the soup is passed through a food mill or blender

Potages Tailles where the soup has a specific cut of vegetable in it (such as paysanne in the Potage Cultivateur)

Potages Crèmes and Veloutés (such as Cream of Chicken garnished with pickled beef tongue, which I can now say I've tasted!)

• Bisques where the soup contains crustaceans, spice and rice

• Other (such as Borscht)

For the practical, we had to make Potage Julienne d'Arblay, which is the classic leek and potato soup (known as Vichyssoise when served cold). The hardest part of this practical was cutting the carrots, turnips and leeks into julienne. However, the length of my turnips were shorter than my carrots, so I lost marks on that. As well, I over-salted my soup. And I sautéed my croutons in too much clarified butter so when I presented my dish to the chef, he pressed a crouton in his fingers and showed me all the butter left on his hands. I thought that the more butter, the better!

Here are some of the dishes the chef made during the demo.

Clockwise from top:
Chef’s Fond Julienne Darblay (Creamed Leek and Potato Soup with Julienned Vegetables)
Velouté Agnès Sorel (Cream of Chicken Soup)
Crème de Moules au Safran (Creamy Mussel Soup with Saffron)
Potage Conti (Soup of Mashed Dry Vegetables Derived from Esau Soup)

The next demo continued the Potage theme along with a lobster execution.

First, the lobster. Instead of killing the lobster by dropping it in a pot of boiling water, the chef cut through its nervous system from head to tail first and then twisted off the claws and tail. He explained that when the lobster starts to die, its meat starts liquefying. That's why it's important to get a fresh lobster and kill it just before cooking. To be called a bisque, it must contain a crustacean since the shells are used to flavor and thicken the potage. In fact, the chef used a heavy-duty blender to crush the shells before straining through a fine-meshed strainer (called a chinois). He also described his disgust at seeing "Red Pepper Bisque" on a restaurant menu since it doesn't contain any crustaceans!

My favorite potage at this demo was the borscht. It was rich, slightly sweet and filling. The onion soup was a close second.

The potage of the day was the consommé since that was the one we were assigned at the practical. Not exciting, but it requires a few techniques to make it clear, not dirty. First, the mixture for the raft that becomes the filter for the impurities should be slightly gooey. By stirring this mixture on the heat with the stock, you ensure that it doesn't stick to the bottom. As soon as it starts to cook and the whites are on the surface, leave it at a very low simmer for about an hour. Do not boil it and stop before the raft starts sinking back into the liquid. After ladling it out into a separate bowl and using a paper towel to capture any fat, taste it and serve. While the consommé was simmering, we practiced our knife skills by preparing a plate of carrots cut into julienne, brunoise, paysanne, turned, and battonet. My consommé tasted perfect and was clear!

Here are some of the dishes the chef made during the demo.

Chef’s Bisque de Homard (Lobster Bisque)
Soupe à l'oignon gratinée (Onion soup)

For the last demo of the week, we learned all about butters, including compound butters and beurre blanc (which is a beurre monté not monter au beurre!). Compound butters are simple as long as you add the reduction after it has cooled.

Another trick I picked up during the demo was how the chef sautéed the salmon. He used a lot of clarified butter and ladled it over the salmon frequently. This moves the hot fat from the bottom over the cooler part of the item being sautéed, cooling off the fat so that it doesn't get too hot. I'd never seen anyone do that before, and it's a great trick.

The thing to remember with beurre blanc is to not change the temperature of the sauce quickly. If the sauce goes from hot to cold, it will break.

The practical had us sautéing salmon, making a beurre blanc, turning potatoes, carrots and turnips and cooking cauliflower, green beans and peas. Unfortunately, I overcooked my salmon, but my beurre blanc didn't break and was seasoned well. Again, my turning needed's my weak point. Overall, it was a much better week than the last!

Here are some of the dishes the chef made during the demo.

Chef’s Saumon au Beurre Blanc (Salmon with Emulsified Shallot Butter)
Salade de Poissons Marinées (Marinated Fish Salad)

Our Fancy Tasting Spoons

After the chef is finished making all the dishes for the demo, everyone with cameras scrambles to the front to grab a photo. When the camera-happy people (me included) are satisfied, then everyone grabs a spoon and tries to squeeze in for a nibble. It's pure chaos with 27 people competing for a bite, hoping the person in front of them doesn't double-dip!

. . . . . . . . . .

Here is a link back to the recipes as I did them last year (although they aren't exactly the same as what we did in class):

Class 13: Les Soupes I (Soups I)
Part 1 - Billy Bi (Mussel Soup)
Part 2 - Julienne Darblay (Creamed Leek and Potato Soup with Julienned Vegetables)
Part 3 - Velouté Agnès Sorel (Cream of Chicken Soup)
Part 4 - Potage Ambassadeur (Split Pea Soup with Bacon, Sorrel, and Lettuce)

Class 14: Les Soupes II (Soups II)
Part 1 - Bisque de Homard (Lobster Bisque)
Part 2 - Consommé Madrilène (Chilled Consommé with Red Peppers and Tomatoes)
Part 3 - Soupe à l'oignon gratinée (Onion soup) and French Onion Soup—Veal or Beef Stock?

Class 15: Les beurres composé, beurre emulsifiée, les marinades (Compound butters, emulsified butters, and marinades)
Part 1 - Steak Mirabeau (Beef Tenderloin Steaks with Anchovy Butter) and compound butters
Part 2 - Brochet au beurre blanc (Whole Poached Pike with White Butter Sauce)
Part 3 - Salade de Poulet aux Epinards (Spinach Salad with Chicken) and vinaigrettes

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    Sunei said...

    Love the stories! Borscht is my fave. This one looks so red and beautiful. I can imagine the tasting frenzy~! How fun! Thanks for sharing your experiences.

    Vaxcel said...

    I am so excite to try you lobster bisque recipe. It is one of my favorite soups and I try every recipe that I can find.

    lisa is cooking said...

    So interesting to learn the specifics of soup and potage. Thanks for sharing the information!

    Anonymous said...

    Your posts are so very much more real to me because we cooked some of these dishes together! I can feel some of the tension (although you do a fabulous job of relating just the facts) of performing to the chefs' exacting standards...a bit too much, not enough... At home we are our own critics and it doesn't matter. I'm amazed at the difference between "soup" and "potage"! Omgosh! Thanks so much for taking the time to share with us!!