Field Report:
Adventures of a Culinary Padawan
École des Techniques à la Cuisine: Deux/Two


Dear Foodie Groupie,

Lesson Two was far less awkward, since we all now knew each other, and were less likely to get lost in the bunny warren-like building. We also controlled our gawking when running into some chefs so famous that we couldn't help but stare ...

But no time for that! Today's lesson was the Garniture Bouquetière, preparing vegetables for plating on a platter. The classic French presentation is military-straight rows of piled vegetables, arranged for color and for eating experience. Each vegetable will be prepared according to it's properties, which meant learning a new style of cutting.

Tournage is a bit like using a lathe -- the vegetables are trimmed in a manner that they will resemble football, with flattened tips. Believe it or not, there is no machine to do this; the vegetables are beautiful, cook evenly, and impress everyone. The term means "turn" -- you turn the vegetable as you trim it, and the ideal turned vegetable is 7-sided. Seven??? No one managed that ... but as a class, we did okay. As usual, there are many variations in size, but most of our efforts were classifiable into one of the classic dimensions. The main problem is that people tended to carve "almond" shapes or "diamonds." Also, some tended to "whittle" to shape -- from end to end should be a smooth stroke, not choppy, jagged cuts. And it had looked so easy when the Jedi Master had demonstrated ...

We spent like three hours doing tournage to carrots (woody, toughest), turnips, and potatoes (softest, finest grain, really easy after doing carrots!). We had to have 6 of each in the cocotte size (about 2 inches) for the carrots and turnips, and in chateau size (about 3 inches long) for the potatoes. (Now you know ... when the menu says "Chateau Potatoes" they mean potatoes trimmed to resemble 3" long footballs!)

The carrots and turnips are cooked au blond and pearl onions au brun, which are identical to à l'étuvé with the addition of a pinch of sugar. To cook "till blond" means to the sugar will caramelize slightly to give it a slightly tan color and enhance the sweetness of the vegetables. To cook "till brown" means to let the pan go dry, then dump about 3 tablespoons of water in to deglaze the pan, and the browned caramelized liquid will coat the vegetables within the pan.

To peel pearl onions, put them in a bowl of warm water for half an hour to soften the thin skins. They will be much simpler to peel and a lot of the volatiles will have dissolved in the water so you won't weep so much. Like the leeks from yesterday, don't cut off too much of the stem, or the onions "explode" on heating.

We also cleaned artichokes and prepared them to be made into "cups" to hold peas that will be prepared à l'anglaise. By the way, artichokes tend to have worms; when that happens, you can trim away the affected parts and save the rest for artichoke soup. The stems should also be saved for soup. All cut surfaces have to be rubbed with lemon juice, or stored in a mixture of white vinegar diluted with water. You know how chefs on TV keep saying "acidulated water" even though you know that's not a real word? It's because the process is aciduler, and it sounds a lot better when it's pronounced with a good French accent. Why bother? Because like apples, on exposure to oxygen, the freshly exposed artichoke flesh goes black. Not so yummy. The Jedi Master gave a recipe for stuffed artichokes and for soup that she whipped up with our trimmings. Nice treat! The artichokes were cooked dans un blanc which is a sort of broth made with lemon juice. The vegetables are simmered for half an hour, the choke removed, then the leaves opened for stuffing or filling. It's much easier to scoop out the choke after its cooked!

The turned potatoes are cooked rissoler, which is a Swiss method. The potatoes are cooked in some oil in a sauteuse (frying pan) till browned. To get them to brown evenly, we have to learn to toss them. Using the curved lip of the pan, you jerk back on the handle and up slightly. The rounded vegetables slip to the front of the pan, up the curve, and the backward motion puts them into the air, moving backwards. You "unpull" your arm and catch the food further back toward the handle. Practice of course! This is why you shouldn't put too much oil in the pan -- makes this technique rather more adventurous than necessary.

The Jedi Master instructed us to heat the pan empty, since oil viscosity changes with heat. What looks like not enough oil in a cold pan can end up being too much when it's hot. Besides, she explained, if the phone rings, you end up burning your kitchen down. That's probably not good kitchen hygiene or something.

To finish pommes rissolées, when the potatoes are browned and tender (use the tip of your paring knife), turn off the heat, add a dollop of butter, salt, pepper, and chopped parsley. These potatoes wait for no one -- get them onto the plate and to the diner pronto. This way, they have that buttery glaze, tender fluffy insides and the shell is still crispy. In a large kitchen, there could be one person assigned just to create this recipe to accompany everything.

We were told to plate our vegetables, our own version of Garniture Bouquetière -- and we were critiqued based on our plates. In general, a plate should be centered with the edge of the plate left clean as the "frame." Vegetables should be arranged with an eye to color contrast, and not mixed (or that's a "salad"). While we sipped on artichoke soup, the Jedi Master congratulated us as a class on our great tournage, and told us that we were allowed to bring containers and baggies to take food home!

We also found out that the Pastry II class meets in our room, and we were allowed to forage through their efforts as long as they were not marked as "Don't Touch." That makes the hours of tournage worthwhile! (Though that explains why and how I always ended up with chocolate on my apron by the end of every class, even though I never worked with any!)

With Love,
Susu, the Culinary Padawan

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