Cooking 101: Back to Basics – Sauces

Last night was the final cooking class in the series that I had signed up for at the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts and I anticipated it with mixed emotions. The positive of course is that I have greatly enjoyed taking classes to enhance my skill and provide a foundation for cooking. I definitely feel better equipped to cook, more comfortable in the kitchen and even more excited about continuing on with my journey than I was when I first set out. I was sad that the series was coming to an end and not terribly excited about the subject matter, sauces. To me, sauces always seemed like too much work and not worth the effort. I also considered any dish at a restaurant served with a sauce other than gravy for chicken or turkey to be suspect and feared it was there to cover up food that had gone bad or was not top notch. I left class with a new appreciation for sauces and understanding of how they can compliment a dish to make it its best.

Class started as usual with a brief overview of the recipes and sauces that would be made. Chef instructor Angie asked if there was anything that we would like to learn that we hadn’t and then asked who wanted to cook each dish. Interestingly enough, two members of the class did not attend which somehow made it so there was a perfect number of people for the number of recipes that were given.

As always it was a tough choice for most with all of the recipes sounding different from what we had made before as well as delicious. Each dish would include one of the five mother sauces (some of which we had made previously): Hollandaise, Mayonnaise, Bechamel, Veloute and Espagnole or some variation of them. We could choose between Asparagus Eggs Benedict with Chipotle-Orange Hollandaise, Salmon Poached in a Wine Court Bouillon, Grilled Tenderloin with Sauce Robert, Crispy Almond Squid with Sauce Gribiche, Chicken Supremes Allemande, Crisp Potato Cannelloni with Zucchini and Shrimp or Pears Poached in Read Wine with Crème Anglaise and Caramel. Anyone who knows me or has been reading this blog knows I have a strong affinity to steak, and so I jumped at the opportunity to make the tenderloin which I soon found out was a lot of work.

The steak included a Sauce Robert, a derivative of the Espagnole sauce. This old and painstaking sauce is rarely used anymore and after making it, it is easy to understand why. I was able to document the steps to my dish which are many.

The first part of the recipe for the Sauce Robert called for clarified butter. I put a large saucepan on the stove and set out to get my butter.  Once I had the butter measured out I dropped a bit of it into the saucepan to start the melting process and was immediately greeted with hissing and smoke everywhere. The pan was way too hot. The butter instantly burned and turned black with billows of smoke going everywhere. Thank God for the stove vent. Time for a re-do.

I made sure there was enough butter and started again. Once the butter was melted I put it into a clear measuring cup and let it sit for a minute and then skimmed off the solid bits.

Using my knife skills I diced the carrots and onion into a small dice. It would appear that my skills need improvement to get a smaller dice with uniformity.

Diced Carrots and Onions
Diced Carrots and Onions

I placed the butter back into the hot sauce pan and put the onions in carrots in, stirring until they became translucent.

Carrots, Onions and Clarified Butter
Carrots, Onions and Clarified Butter

The next step I am convinced is why this is a sauce that you don’t see often. I added flour to my vegetables to make a roux.

Making A Roux for Sauce Robert
Making A Roux for Sauce Robert

After the flour was added I stirred for 30 minutes until my roux became amber. During this time it cooked down significantly.

A Reduced Roux for Sauce Robert
A Reduced Roux for Sauce Robert

Once amber, I added tomato paste and veal stock (another reason why this sauce is not popular as it takes 24 hours to make).

Added Veal Stock in Roux
Added Veal Stock in Roux

I then brought everything to a simmer and skimmed off the impurities that came to the surface. I realized that since the sauce would be skimmed this wasn’t really critical and when the mixture had reduced added the herbs directly to the pot since  a cheese cloth would not provide any benefit.

Added in "Bouquet Garni"
Added in "Bouquet Garni"

Once the sauce had reduced I added another cup of stock and brought everything to a simmer while I simultaneously started working on the other half of the sauce.

I placed the diced shallot, Dijon mustard and white wine in a sauce pan and brought it to a boil.

Boiling White Wine, Dijon Mustard & Shallot Sauce
Boiling White Wine, Dijon Mustard & Shallot Sauce

Once reduced I mixed the wine reduction into the Espagnole sauce and simmered for 5 minutes.

Finalizing Sauce Robert
Finalizing Sauce Robert

The sauce didn’t have any salt so it was added liberally to bring out the flavor. One taste was all I needed to know why this sauce was special. It had an amazing taste and I imagined it would be good on top of meat.

Now it was time for the good stuff, grilling the tenderloins. Chef Angie got the grill started upstairs in another kitchen which was being used for a couples class while I go the meat ready on a wire rack. When the grill was hot, we went up stairs and grilled the meat for a couple of minutes to get some nice grill marks on it.

Grilled Beef Tenderloin
Grilled Beef Tenderloin

We then went back down the stairs and put the meat in a convection oven at 400 degrees. After about 10 minutes it was a nice medium-rare. The meat was left to rest for a few minutes as we got the sauce ready in a gravy cup.

Grilled Beed Tenderloin Resting
Grilled Beed Tenderloin Resting

She showed me how to slice a plate the meat going against the grain to ensure that the muscle fibers were shorter, making for a more tender and easier to chew bite.

Sliced & Plated Grilled Beef Tenderloin
Sliced & Plated Grilled Beef Tenderloin

As the class eagerly awaited for the moment of true, the tasting, I drizzled the sauce over the slices and took a bite of an end piece.

Plated Grilled Tenderloin with Sauce Robert
Plated Grilled Tenderloin with Sauce Robert

The sauce was worth the effort and my classmates agreed. It was nice and thick and added a great body and flavor to the meat which hadn’t been seasoned at all. I don’t know that I will make the sauce anytime soon.

I also captured two additional dishes that my classmates made, the Eggs Benedict and a modified pasta recipe which was created due to time constraints. Luck or not, everything turned out amazing.

Asparagus Eggs Benedict with Chipotle-Orange Hollandaise
Asparagus Eggs Benedict with Chipotle-Orange Hollandaise
Handmade Linguine with Shrimp Sautéed Shrimp and Garlic
Handmade Linguine with Shrimp Sautéed Shrimp and Garlic

I really enjoyed my cooking class experience. I would recommend it to anyone with experience or not. Skeptics may state that I could have just followed the recipes at home and saved the money I spent on the course, but a truly valuable aspect of going to class is having a teacher there that can tell you what you did wrong and more importantly how to fix it. If you have never made a Hollandaise or Espagnole Sauce obviously you don’t know how it’s supposed to taste. I may take another class in the future but at this point I want to finish my initial planned course of study and practice the basics that I learned from this class. I feel that the supplemental reading I have planned will help me fill in some knowledge gaps and help me better decide what to do next.

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Cooking 101: Back to Basics – Grilling, Sautéing and Roasting

Friday’s cooking class was so much fun. The focus was on grilling, sautéing and roasting, all of which result in truly delicious food. I came to class stuffed from my company’s international buffet day wondering if I could even eat another bite. I would soon learn that this would not be a problem. Everything turned out great.

I arrived to find that we were in yet another kitchen; we had officially used every kitchen in the school. This was the only one with a proper grill though so it made sense that we would use it. I signed in, grabbed the recipe handout and sat down ready to read through the recipes and listen to the brief lecture regarding the methods. Once most of us had arrived, we went through the recipes and picked the ones we wanted to work on. We were given many great options including: A Warm Salad of Fruits,  Endives, and Pancetta, Honey Spiced Pork Roast, Diablo Skirt Steak, Indian Flavored Grilled Vegetables with Paneer, Quinoa with Sauteéd Caramelized Onions and Mushrooms, Grilled Swordfish Verde, and Grilled Cranberry-Orange Zinfandel Bread. I teamed up with my classmate Anthony with whom I had worked on making the French onion soup to make the Diablo Skirt Steak this week.  I love steak and with summer coming up, the recipe was too good to pass up..

While trying to get our bearings in the new kitchen, Anthony and I started off with searching for our ingredients along with tasting some canned salsa that was set out for the recipe we would be making. The recipe called to use half of the salsa as a marinade for our skirt steak and the other half to put on top after the steak was grilled. We decided to use the salsa as the marinade and then to make our own salsa as outlined in the recipe using fresh ingredients. This proved to be a wise choice, given the color, texture and taste of our salsa. We bagged our steak and set it aside to marinate before moving forward.

Salsa For Steak Diablo
Salsa For Steak Diablo

We made our salsa pretty quickly using rubber gloves to seed and dice the jalepeños. It was strange to use gloves, but I was happy I did given the heat of the peppers I was cutting. Finishing this task early put us in an interesting position as we had to wait at least 30 minutes for the marinating. We did not have a food task to work on, allowing us to observe others and converse. It just so happened that others were nearing a good stopping point just after we did, allowing Chef Angie to provide us with a demonstration and a special surprise. She would show us how to prepare a new recipe for steak and lobster, a special treat she brought in for us.

Chef Instructor Angie
Chef Instructor Angie

I don’t know why I was surprised, but the lobsters were alive when she showed them to us, moving and squirming around. The immediate thought was about the lobsters going into a boiling pot of water to cook, but as it turns out she would show us another method for killing them and cooking them with the steak. She actually twisted them apart to our surprise and then put the tail and claws on a baking sheet to go in the oven for 6 minutes. This was another interesting reminder of how removed we are from the food that we eat and where it comes from.

Chef Instructor Angie Killing A Lobster
Chef Instructor Angie Killing A Lobster

The steak was also cooked in the oven, and then slit and stuffed with lobster and placed back in the oven until the meat was cooked through. The combination of grilled steak and lobster were to die for. I felt truly fortunate to have such a fun instructor who is always looking to show us something new and exciting.

After our steak had marinated for about an hour, we took it out of the bag an placed it on the grill for four minutes on each side just like the recipe called for.

Streak On Grill For Steak Diablo
Streak On Grill For Steak Diablo

The steak  was then brought to a serving platter and checked for “doneness” with a thermometer, it read 109 degrees. Anthony asked Chef Angie to tell us what level the steak had been cooked to, to which she replied simply “raw”. After a good laugh, considering the obviousness of this given the blood pouring out of our meat, we placed the steak on a baking sheet and cooked it in a 350 degree oven for 5 minutes. At this point it was cooked perfectly. We learned that most steaks in restaurants begin with searing on the stove but are actually finished in the oven to the appropriate level of cooking based on the order. The steak was sliced and then plated on a serving platter with the salsa. We were given a brief overview of plating, which dishes to use when serving for singles or family style and advice on how to plate a dish using elements of the recipe to add color and appeal. We garnished our dish with lime slices on the side.

Steak Diablo with Salsa
Steak Diablo with Salsa

The steak and the rest of the dishes were amazing, especially the bread which took on a totally new flavor once grilled over an open flame. It is truly amazing how fast the class is learning, coming together and gaining comfort in the kitchen after only five weeks.

Our final class is in two weeks due to the Easter and Passover holidays.  We’ll go over sauces while refining the cooking techniques we have learned since the beginning. This will be a great way to end our class series leaving me and others more confident in the kitchen while also leaving us with a few great recipes under our belts and I’m really looking forward to it.

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