Field Report:
Adventures of a Culinary Padawan
École des Techniques à la Cuisine
Lesson Eleven: Beef & Veal


Dear Foodie Voyeur,

Today was another meat day. We'd been scolded by the Jedi Master for taking too much time for the last lesson, and so we tried to be better about this one. Fortunately, we were really only executing two recipes with sauces and garniture. We'd done those before. You'd think some of us could remember how, but the Jedi Master for some reason didn't have faith in our memories, probably based on last week's efforts. She demonstrated Sauce Choron, which is basically a béarnaise with a tomate fondue -- a sweat of shallots, garlic and tomatoes concassé in butter under parchment. Add water as needed to keep cooking it down. I guess she wanted to make sure we didn't scramble our eggs over the steam bath.

She also demonstrated cutting a "180 strip" from which an entrecôte steak is cut. (At the butcher, you'd ask for steak-ready strip loin, 2" of backstrap removed.) That's the meat above the filet running under the rib. The fat needs to be trimmed off the big piece of meat. The same is true of "silver skin" off the piece of veal we were given to stew -- the breast the the meat at the belly of the animal, including a bit of the lower part of the ribs. The so-called 'skin' is a membrane between muscle groups. Sometimes it's a piece of ligament that fans out over the meat. Be sure your carving knife is very sharp, and wedge it under the skin and cut upwards toward it, losting as little of the meat as possible. There is a fat membrane that resembles the skin, but it's generally transparent and softer. Leave that on to lubricate the meat.

The beefsteak will be cooked using a "concentration method" -- meaning the meat essences are sealed into the meat. Roasting, grilling, sautéing are examples of concentration methods. The reverse is the "extraction method" where the meat essences are drawn out, usually into a liquid, then "re-introduced" into the meat -- as in a stewing, braising, poaching, etc.

The veal will be cooked by simmering / poaching it in chicken or white veal stock, seasoned with a carrot, leek, celery bundle and a bouqet garni in a sachet. A clouté piqué -- an onion with a bay leaf and clove poked into it -- will also be included for seasoning. This dish needs a lot of flavor components, since veal is a mild meat. The meat is first blanched in cold water, then removed and simmered in the stock and seasonings, and the poaching liquid id retained to make the sauce. (If the veal need to cool, cool it in it's poaching liquid.) This is that most classic of French dishes Blanquette de Veau -- poached veal in a sauce velouté, which is basically a bechamel made with warm stock (cooking liquid) instead of milk. The veal is warmed in the sauce with pearl onions cooked à blanc and mushrooms steamed with butter and lemon juice to keep them white. This is essentially a pre-Vatican 2 Catholic-style meal -- all white. It can be bland and uninspired, or subtle and divine; stringy (like "meat floss," said the Jedi Master),or tender. It's all in the cooking, of course.

With the stewed veal, serve a timbale of rice pilaf. Making a pilaf is similar to making a risotto -- sweat an onion (ciseler) and garlic in some butter, then coat the rice in the pan. Add equal volume of chicken stock to rice and simmer till the liquid is absorbed. This will produce a slightly al dente rice. The ratio can go up to 3 to 2 liquid to rice for a softer finish. You can add chopped herbs, or mix with wild rice (cook it like pasta in a lot of water and drain it off when done, before it explodes), toasted almonds or pine nuts, whatever to perk up the flavors of the dish. Pack it tightly in a ramekin or mise cup or bowl (about ¼ cup), invert onto the center of a plate, then ladle out the stewed veal in sauce around it, then lift off the ramekin.

By the way, risotto can be made with "normal" long-grain rice, but you need a lot of patience, since this rice doesn't absorb as much liquid as short-grain rice. The stock needs to be added in small amouse and you need to stir a lot more. Japanese short-grain rice works very well as a substitute for the Italian arborio rice.

With the steak, the standard thing to serve in a French bistro is pommes frites, using the two-step method, for the ever-famous Steak Frites. To cook the steak, heat up a grill with those bars or ribs on it. You want to mark the steak in a diamond quadrilage pattern. The grill is really only for marking the meat; you finish the cooking in an oven. By the way, it's a fallacy that grilled food is beter for you than other methods -- burning meat means breaking down the surface proteins, and many of the breakdown products are carcinogenic, meaning they have been implicated in the formation of cancers. Scary.

In a way, it's like scoring, only you are marking the meat rather than cutting it. Let's say the grill lines go up and down, with up being 12 o'clock, down being 6 o'clock, to the right is 3 o'clock, left is 9 o'clock. You need to move the steak from one area of the grill to a new area. It's a surface sear, so the grill has to be clean and hot. Place your steak on the 10 o'clock position, then twist to point to the 2 o'clock position on the same side. Turn the steak over and place in the 4 o'clock position, then twist it to the 8 o'clock position. You should have some nice criss-crossed grill marks. Place the steak on a sizzle platter (those oval metal plates that steaks and fajitas come out on in restaurants, now you know why) and pop in the oven till it's done to your liking.

If you like your meat very rare (blue), or if you are cooking a thick steak, be sure to bring it out to room temperature, or it will still be cold/underdone in the center. Actually, bringing a steak to room temperature before cooking it is a good idea, but not more than an hour! You don't want it out so long that it leaks juice or goes bad. The chart for doneness:
Doneness The finger poke comparison Temperature
Very Rare Very flaccid when poked, blood won't have started to bead out of the top of the meat yet 120°F/45°C
Rare Keep your hand lax and press the skin closest to the palm between your thumb and forefinger 125°F/48°C
Medium Rare Keep your hand lax and press the skin further back the palm between your thumb and forefinger, blood starts to bead out of the uncooked (top) side of the meat 130°F/50°C
Medium Feels like the spongy tip of your nose 140°F/55°C
Medium Well Make a fist and press the skin closest to the palm between your thumb and forefinger 150°F/60°C
Very Well Doesn't yield to poking with a fingertip 160°F/65°C
The temperatures are from the Beef Board.

Meat will become less tender and will shrink if cooked above medium. Whatever your preference, let the meat rest for about 3 to 5 minutes before serving, to let the juices re-amalgamate in the meat. Cutting into the steak without resting will simply cause it to be dry in the mouth.

Today signals the halfway point for the class. In a way, this seems like a big haul to the end ... but it also went a lot faster than I expected. Everyone knows each other pretty well now, we know who to pick on, and who to ask for advice. We look out for each other, too. I accidentally served the pearl onions and mushrooms with the steak frites, and another padawan whispered to me that it's for the veal dish ... What did I do? I picked them out off the plates, wiped the edges of the plate down, added more Sauce Choron, and served with a smile. I did put the onions and mushrooms in mise cups, like I meant to do it that way ...

So from the next lesson, we're heading down the slope toward the finish. A relief to be sure, but kind of sad. We're planning to visit the restaurant one of us owns in a couple of weeks as a pre-end celebration. (Is that a little pathetic?)

Oh, our tools are kept in a big orange tool box. Dad gave me an expensive carry-on roller bag that turns out to be just the right size for the tools, and it is saving me a lot of shoulder stress! It's taken me this long to figure this out ... thanks, Dad! (He bought it for himself, but didn't like it. Rather than returning it, it sat in his closet till Mom got tired of me complaining. It's good to be related to a perpetual upgrader!)

With Love,
Susu, the Culinary Padawan

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