Week 3 is upon us…it’s scary how quickly these classes are passing by!
This week brought a couple of challenges and they’re both related to the main ingredient tonight which was veal. Firstly, how do you cook it? Secondly, do I want to eat it? I must admit that my knowledge of veal and how it’s produced is sadly limited and by my own admission, I’ve never tried it before mainly because of the barbarous ways in which it can sometimes be raised. Although I know there are farmers out there who will produce veal in a standard of extremely high welfare, it seems that it’s always the bad versions of it that get all the press, and for good reason to a certain point – you want to flag up and draw attention to any animal that is made to suffer for its end product but at the same time, the farms who care should also receive attention for their good work.
Anyway, this isn’t the forum for my political stance on veal; an ethically sourced piece was the main ingredient of tonight and it was going to be presented as Osso Bucco with Pea and Saffron Risotto.
First, a little knife skills lesson. Different sizes of chopped vegetables will affect how long the dish takes to cook and what its overall end appearance and taste delivers and most of the techniques come from traditional French cuts.
You’ve got a 1/4 inch cube known as ‘Mace Doine’…a 1/2 inch cube called ‘Parmentier’…a larger 3/4 inch cube called ‘Carre’, as well as ‘Julienne’, the matchstick cut and ‘Brunoise’ which involves lining up those delicate matchsticks and dicing them into tres petite cubes. Previously we also learned how to chiffonade which is a method most often used for fresh leaves and herbs – stack similarly sized leaves, roll from top to bottom and slice to produce beautifully bright and fragrant ribbons with which to beautify and flavour your dish.
The beginning of this meal involved sweating onion and celery, browning the meat, de-glazing with white wine – such a phenomenal smell! – adding tomatoes, stock and a bouquet garni and covering with a cartouche and placing in the oven to cook. The cartouche as you can probably tell is a French (and naturally super fancy!) word for a paper lid that will stop skin forming on what’s underneath it, will stop too much moisture escaping and will stop the meat colouring too much.
Then onto the risotto, one of my all time favourite meals. There’s something unbelievably comforting about it’s soft, sticky, squidgy texture which when married with creamy, rich flavours make a dish that’s hard to stop eating. I know some people aren’t fans of the somewhat stodgy consistency but there’s something about that I literally can’t get enough of so I was excited to make one here tonight with peas, pea shoots and saffron, a spice I don’t cook a great deal with.
Saffron is an expensive store cupboard ingredient due to way it is grown and harvested. Coming from a crocus that bears up to four flowers, each of which produces 3 threads of the vivid spice, it takes an extraordinary amount to produce mere grams of the finished product so when a large box was produced at class tonight, it wasn’t just the perfume and the beauty that took our breath away, the price did somewhat too…
A sneak peek under the cartouche reveals meat, starting to fall off the bone and a cloud of steam, deeply warm and rich and aromatic…
…and once everything was on the plate, it did look every bit as inviting as any plate found in a French kitchen. Well, in this chef’s little opinion anyway.
The risotto was unbelievably delicious; sumptuous and decadent with the delicate flavour of the saffron and the lightness of the pea shoots a perfect match to the brilliant colours.
The sauce was so packed full of flavour, I could have quite easily dined on a jug of that with crusty warm bread to soak every drop of it up with.
And the veal? It was nice. Yep, after all that work and inner moral debate, it was…nice. For me personally, it didn’t deliver the exquisite flavour or texture I was expecting. Now maybe that’s because this is the first time I’ve ever cooked it and let’s face it, Michel Roux I am not, so maybe it was me. I just don’t think the meal as a whole would have suffered had it been made with a fantastic piece of lamb or a heavenly side of beef however I’m really glad I got the chance to experience this ingredient for the first time in arguably the best place I could have done, a Cordon Bleu kitchen that is rapidly becoming somewhere I could quite happily move into.