Knife Skills class #2 rolls around and off I trot, all fingers present and correct, to learn how to debone a chicken and fillet flat and round fish. Not gonna lie when I say I was a tad more nervous about this class compared to the last, not because I was worried about losing a digit but rather because there’s a lot more skill required in taking apart an actual animal as opposed to a vegetable. You don’t tend to get much resistance from carrots…
A simple salad of translucent cucumber and carrot ribbons with diced shallots and chilies eased us into becoming familiar with the weight of the knives in our hands. A smallish class of 8 with Ansobe, a hugely passionate chef and two assistants meant that there was ample opportunity to get your questions answered as we went along. It makes a real difference (as with anything) when you’re doing something for the first time that you feel supported and helped when needed, a) because these classes are not cheap and b) because the point is to enjoy it and to build both your skills and your confidence.
And so we begin with a gorgeous, corn fed, organic chicken, turning him over and tucking his wings behind him as instructed so it looked like he was sunbathing. Slicing down the spine as close to the bone as possible, we pulled the meat away from the rib cage until we got to the wings where we popped out the join, twisted them round and removed them from the body.
Learning how to cut round each part so as not to massacre the breasts, legs and thighs was definitely not easy – it’s hard to feel the slimmest of gaps between the joints and the bones and to get the knife through them as opposed to haphazardly hacking your way through actual bone. Interesting fact for you here – did you know that on each side of the bird is something called the oyster piece? It’s a small piece of flesh, about the same size as the pad of your thumb, and it’s considered by many to be the most flavourful and tender part of the whole bird. Given how small they are, it goes someway to explaining the hefty price tag that can often accompany dishes like chicken oyster risotto…
What this shows though is a) how much meat there actually is on the bird in all its different sections and b) how much supermarkets overcharge when you consider a decent chicken like this with all it’s yield would cost approximately £15 while organic breasts alone could set you back £5-6.
Taking it home , I combined mustard, butter, brown sugar and paprika to make a fabulously rich and fragrant butter that was rubbed over each piece of chicken and between the skin and the flesh. Cooking it with the skin on will only ever add to the succulence and flavour of the meat although, granted, eating that same skin might not make your arteries as happy as your mouth.
Baking and then grilling the chicken meant it ended up a darkly caramel colour, sticky and spicy, juicy and fall-apart-tender this was chicken at its very best with no hint of dry, white, tasteless meat and served with a simple green salad and fresh bread, it was a clean and uncluttered dinner.
And then onto the first fish, a beautiful flat lemon sole that we used our flexible fish knives for, laying them flat against the bones and sliding them down the fish, lifting the skin as we went. This was a lot easier in some ways than the chicken because it was clearere to see what you were doing rather than trying to feel your way as was the case with the chicken.
Four fillets from the one fish again proved how much more economical it could be to purchase a whole fish rather than individual pieces and it makes me very much want to finally visit the local fishmongers, have them advise me on everything they’ve got and leave, laden down with a variety of rainbow scaled beauties.
Ansobe demonstrated cooking these a la meuniere with a fabulously indulgent beurre noisette (brown butter sauce) adorned with only a squeeze of lemon and a scattering of emerald parsley. It was insanely good. Really. I can’t even convey to you how simple but tremendous this was when served with rocket and new potatoes, the fish rich and creamy inside a crispy seasoned flour coating with a deeply buttery flavour on the tongue.
Then the second fish, a lovely little trout, firm and fresh and perfect for filleting, wrapping and baking en papilotte.
De-gutting this little lovely was probably the least pleasant part of the job but it’s amazing how quickly your stomach hardens when you’re knuckle deep in fish intestines. Yep, yep, yep, I am quite the outdoorsman now, I’ll be ready for my axe any day now..
The wonderfully vibrant filling here was a mixture of ginger, galangal, chilli, lemongrass, coriander and rice wine and it smelt so fresh and cleansing. I love baking fish en papilotte because it’s simple, healthy and contains a lot of the smell that comes from grilling, poaching or frying. Fair to say you can love fish without wanting your house to be scented with it for days afterwards.
Beautifully tender and flaky Asian trout en papillote with all the simple, elegant flavours of the orient coming through in each forkful…
This was an excellent course and if there’s someone in your life who enjoys cooking with and eating fish and poultry, I highly recommend it for them – not only will they leave feeling as they have a few more skills under their belt to practice at home, they will learn so much about the ingredients used and what can be done with them.
I’ve no desire to step up onto a soapbox here but in this day and age of horse meat scandals and supermarkets selling cheap meat for scarily cheap prices and charging you extortionately for not even organic but just decent cuts of meat, I think it’s hugely important to know what you’re eating, where it’s come from and how you can get the most out of it. Convenience has a lot to answer for and I’m as guilty as anyone of buying skinned and prepared breast meat most of the time but now that I have some idea of what flavours can come from other cuts and how much value they have, I’ll most definitely be expanding my knowledge and my courage in these areas.