Field Report:
Adventures of a Culinary Padawan
École des Techniques à la Cuisine
Lesson Thirteen: Pork & Garniture


Dear Foodie Voyeur,

As threatened/promised, we were assigned new partners today, and we were all required to move our stations. There was a lot of shuffling and getting used to the new space. Not all stations are created equally, and I lost my speedrack and gained a drawer. Unfortunately, that means trying to figure out what to do with my box of tools. Sigh. My new partner is going into the Jedi Knight program. She'll have to work harder than me!

Poêlé Method of Roasting
The Jedi Master boned out a pork loin, describing the strips of muscle, how the ribs hang on the animal, etc. She gave us abut 700 g / 1.5 lb sections of loin and explained how to stuff it, infuse more flavor, and how to tie it. We opted to go for the classical approach and not add more flavor. There is certainly virtue in doing things according to the recipe, before trying to get "smart" and creative and do odd things to the meat. Some of us got center cuts -- dense, fine-grained meat with a covering of white fat -- and some got end cuts, which tend to have more marbled fat and need more tying.

Tying a roast, like the chicken in a previous report, is simply a matter of creating a uniform shape that will cook evenly in the oven. The oven is a radiant heat source, and the heat comes from all over, theoretically evenly. This is unlike a stovetop, where the aggressive heat only comes from the bottom, so a flat, wide piece of meat benefits most. Simply tuck in the tail end (the thin bit hanging off the loin), and tie using a surgeon's knot in about 1 inch intervals. To make it simple, cut 20 inch lengths of cotton twine (cotton only, polyester melts, remember?) and tie individually. I know that chefs of TV do that slip knot / interlacing things, but it's not worth the effort. Really! Most people are too challenged to handle a lump of meat and crocheting too, you know?

The bones are separated by cutting between the ribs and twisting the joints out which separates them from the chine bone (the spine bit), and they are all browned in oil, then they are removed and the coarsely cut mirepoix is browned. There is generally very little fat left in the pan, so I added water to jump start the sauce -- not too much, about 2 tablespoons to deglaze the sucs. Since we'd be cooking the roast on a "rack" of the bones and mirepoix in the pan the sucs are in, I chose a russe which is about 8 inches across and about 3 inches deep.

In a separate pan, brown the tied roast all over. You know how people try to cook a roast till it gets all crusty and brown? I suspect this is the reason so many roasts are overcooked, especially something as lean (read "dry") as center-cut pork. Browning or searing has nothing to do with trapping in juices -- you know that juices leak out even after the meat is cooked. It has to do with flavor and color ONLY. Don't think you're doing otherwise. But it's still worth it, since the look and taste of seared meat is different and more appetizing than "baked" meat. Season with salt and pepper. Pour off the excess fat, deglaze the pan with a bit of wine or water and add to the other russe in which the roast will cook.

Baste every ten minutes (pour the pan drippings over the top of the roast), and cook for an hour. Let meat rest for about 15 minutes while making the sauce, which entails adding veal stock and wine to the pan drippings and boiling it down till not quite nappant. Season, then strain the sauce. By the way, some people toss out the bones and mirepoix. I don't -- it's great as a separate dish -- meaty rib bones and well cooked veggies can also go into a stock. I snuck mine into a container to take home.

Slice the meat at an angle, very thinly. Fan out on the plate with braised lettuce and pommes rissolé, and pour sauce over the pork. It's divine.

This is a brunoise of onion, carrot and bacon, sweated with a bit of whole butter. The fine dice ensures quick extraction of flavors, and if you like to garnish the plate with the matignon, it's a very nice presentation. You add the lettuce, which has been quartered and blanched in boiling water then refreshed in an ice bath, then gently squeezed to remove the water. It will appear limp, which is fine ... the lettuce is now a cooked vegetable, not a crunchy salad green. Add enough hot white stock (chicken or unbrowned veal stock, usually) to come halfway up the height of the lettuce, and simmer with a parchment paper lid. Cook on the stovetop, or in the oven for about 20 minutes, till the lettuce spines are tender. Drain and boil down the matignon for a glaze, if you wish. To serve, fold the lettuce, tucking the leaf end under the stem end to make a little bundle. Dip in the glaze if you wish. You'll never see lettuce the same way again!

The other dish was done quickly, but we had to bone out a chicken breast (called a suprème). The mignon is removed (that's the "chicken finger") and the breast is pounded between two sheets of plastic wrap. When we say "pounding" we don't mean literally hammering. In a controlled way, bring a weight down to the meat and slide it outwards, rather than dropping the weight down, which can tear up the meat and turn it to mush. You're looking to approximately double the surface area of the meat. When done, slice in half to make two escalopes (so from one chicken, you get four servings).

Beat eggs with oil and salt -- these modify the viscosity of the egg and make it smoother. Do the panir à l'anglaise -- dredge in flour (shake off as much excess as possible) which is all about presenting a dry surface to the hot oil when cooking, then dip into the eggwash, then into breadcrumbs. The breadcrumbs are prepared by taking the crusts off white bread, which is placed on a perforated sheetpan or a rack, then dried out in a slow oven, no browning. Break them up and sift through a drum sieve or in a food processor till very fine.

Viennese Garniture
Since this dish is not deemed terribly exciting looking and fairly simple, it's typically served with many garnishes. The first garnish is to take the back of the knife and create the illusion of a quadrillage -- the grill mark pattern. Put the back of the knife firmly on one side of the breaded escalope and wiggle back and forth a bit till you've created a narrow trench. Continue, creating the criss-cross pattern. Sauté in hot clarified butter -- the breading will brown and the open trenches will remain white -- okay, so it's a reverse of a real quadrillage.

The other garnishes are part of the Viennese garniture. A lemon is cut peler à vif -- meaning it's topped and tailed flat, then the pith and peel are peeled away from the lemon flesh. This "nude" lemon is cut crosswise into 3 mm (1/8") slices, and the pits removed with the point of a knife. Hard-boil eggs and shock them, then separate the whites from the yolks, and pass each through a drum sieve, keeping them separate. Chop parsley, drain capers, pit olives, soak anchovy in cold water for 5 minutes only, then scrape out the bones over the back side of a bowl. In practice, the garnish is prepared in advance -- taking color and contrast into mind, place bands of garniture in a concentric bands or rings in the shape of a triangle, off the edge of the plate. The result is a banded, colorful presentation. To hold it for service, place a damp paper towel on the center of the plate and wrap with plastic wrap and refrigerate till you need it. When that time comes, place the escalope below the point of the triangle, place a slice of lemon and an anchovy-wrapped olive in which a parsley sprig is added right on top of the chicken. Dribble a line of demiglace around the chicken. The chicken needs to be cooked à la minute, or per order, but the garnish can be done a few hours in advance and kept cold.

Okay, it's overdecorated, by some standards. But it's good and remember that if the portions are small, decoration takes the mind off that. It's also a very interactive meal, in that a diner cuts a bit of chicken breast, then scrapes a bit of the garniture on the chicken, a dollop of demiglace, then into the mouth.

Very classical French ... and very French through and through. I still think it's awfully clever that they manage to make a big deal out of nothing. (Yeah, so they do that outside the kitchen, and it's not so charming in other arenas ... but that's just them. It's like ... they never win a war, they piss everyone off, and they're still there!) In terms of food, when they had very little, they opted to make a sauce or garnish, so that the food you were eating was interesting. It filled the eyes and the brain as well as the stomach, and a little bland food was much tastier and went much further. Every culture has a way of stretching food, and usually that stretching means adding more bulk or filler like starch. The French, the clever bastards that they are, create sauce, pound out meat so it looks bigger and make fake grillmarks, and thus elevate poverty strategies to art. And then they codify it and make their chefs follow the rules, and yet it's still great. The French are great survivors, n'est-ce pas?)

With Love,
Susu, the Culinary Padawan

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