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Culinary School Confidential - Level Two, Week 1: Game Week

Braised Lamb Shank w. couscous
Braised Lamb Shank w. Couscous

With the weight of the Level One Practical over and done with, I started to hit a nice stride last week.  Flavor-wise it was an interesting week.  We spent the week on game and I got to work with a lot of meats and cuts that I’ve never worked with before.

Pot au Feu with Horseradish Sauce
Pot au Feu with Horseradish Sauce

Sautéed Venison Loin w. Sauce Bordelaise and Pommes Darphin
Sautéed Venison Loin w. Sauce Bordelaise and Pommes Darphin

Of course, to work with these meats we had to learn to break them down. During week four we did a decent amount of poultry butchering when we worked with chicken and birds, and a little bit of meat trimming, but since cows and pigs are a little difficult to transport whole to a classroom, we didn’t really work with any whole mammals.  During game week, some of the animals were on the smaller side and we got a chance to either see Chef butcher them or, in the case of rabbits, we had to break them down entirely ourselves.

Rabbit Butchering
Bunny Body

Rabbit butchering lends itself to a lot of macabre jokes about chopping up the Easter Bunny, and I know a couple of people didn’t particularly relish the task.  To be honest, butchering doesn’t really bother me.  I’m not sure I’m ready to pluck and skin things just yet, but working with the dressed carcass isn’t really a problem for me. 

Rabbit Butchering
Perhaps I belong in Sweeney Todd.

Rabbit Ragoût w. Pommes Purée
The finished rabbit dish - Rabbit Ragoût w. Pommes Purée

I’m a meat eater and plan to continue being a meat eater, and I do believe that I should understand the meat and where it comes from.  (Here are couple of good breakdowns of cooking methods that should be used on various cuts of beef -- one that is more basic and another that goes into a little more depth. Here is another on pork.)

The way meat is packaged in stores makes it very easy to disconnect mentally from the fact that the chunk of meat was ever a whole animal.  I understand why that can be appealing, however, as I’ve become more and more interested in food I’ve come to believe that if I’m going to make the choice to eat something I need to do the best I can to make those decisions with eyes wide open and as much understanding as possible. Of course this can get complicated in the age of agribusiness, but little by little I’ve been learning, and I think the actual make up of an animal is a baseline from which to start. Knowing the animal also helps you understand how to better cook the various parts and honor that animal better.   I also now have no choice.  To complete the program I need to do some butchering, so there’s no room for squeamishness.

Veal Blanquette w. Rice Pilaf
Veal Blanquette w. Rice Pilaf

In addition to preparing rabbit, venison, veal, and lamb, we also had a day dedicated of offal, or organ meats.  It was kind of interesting to glance at the various reactions around the class to see what cuts would make people grimace. With the exception at one attempt to prepare chicken livers with mediocre results, I’ve never prepared offal myself before.  Over time I have tried quite a bit of offal, and I don’t mind a lot of it.  (Although I haven’t tried brains, headcheese, or intestines yet, I’m slowly working my way there.)  A lot of cuts, like kidneys and calf’s liver, have really particular flavors that are very rich, which I prefer in smaller portions, but I love chicken livers and often like sweetbreads quite a bit when they’re prepared well --- and the version we made in class was really good. For a lot of these things, it’s all a matter of the preparation.

Crispy Pan-fried Sweetbreads w. Brown Butter Caper Sauce and Creamy Goat Cheese Polenta
Sweetbreads w. Brown Butter Caper Sauce and Creamy Goat Cheese Polenta. 
It's a little blurry, but it was so good.

Sautéed Calf's Liver
Sautéed Calf's Liver -- Surprisingly tasty, but a little goes a long way.

The one place where all the mumbo jumbo I spouted off a couple of paragraphs ago about not being squeamish and wanting to understand the animal pretty much completely breaks down is when we get to tongue.  The sight of tongues kind of make me wretch and I really don’t like to handle them.  They look exactly like what they are and the image of the giant container filled with floating, grayish lamb tongues made my stomach turn.  (Why the rest of the offal didn’t bother me, I don’t know.)  To prepare them, we poached the tongues and once they were cooked through, we had to peel the outer skin off.  I’m certain that my face was frozen in a puckered grimace during the entire process.

Now the thing is, the flavor of tongue is not unpleasant.  It actually has a pretty mild flavor — far milder than just about any other offal cut that we had that day.  I have had tongue in preparations where I liked it; for example, there was a taco stand in Culver City that made a really good lengua burrito.  This is one case where I say disguise it! When thinly cut or prepared in a way where it’s hidden in sauce, it doesn’t bother me too much because it’s really not the flavor that bothers me. It’s the texture. 

Lamb Tongue w. Warm Potato Salad and Raviogote Vinaigrette
Lamb Tongue w. Warm Potato Salad and Raviogote Vinaigrette

The tongue preparation that we made showcased that texture in all its glory. It was basically just tongue on a plate, next to a stack of potatoes. There was a little sauce on the plate, but not nearly enough to disguise anything.  In this state, I could still see and feel the taste buds, and when I can see the taste buds I can’t help but feel that the animal is tasting me back. The sensation gives me the shivers. I suspect that this is a decent glimpse at what some of my vegetarian friends might feel at the idea of eating meat in general.

For my part, I love charcuterie and pork way too much for the sensation to turn me off of meat permanently.  I’ll just do the best I can to avoid handling tongues.


*****

Cut and Burn Count: 1 Burn. I have problems remembering that certain things are hot – for example plates that have just come out of the oven. However, just as often, I’m trying to be careful and am using the side towels to hold things, as instructed, will believe that the towel is in place, but will manage to place my finger or thumb exactly where the towel isn’t.  In these ways, I’ve gotten countless mini burns that I can’t recall, however, I did manage to get one good burn on my thumb and hand grabbing a plate like this.

Total: 9 cuts, 4 burns

2 comments:

  1. Wow! blog seems to be very informative. I like it too much especially which you share the pics. Thanks for share and keep it up.
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  2. Looks like will be very delicious recipes to enjoy with family or friends. The pics you shared really mouth watering. Thanks
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