Savoriesnsweets’ Blog

I Thought Things Were Going Fast?

Posted on: March 6, 2009

I was convinced Wednesday was the beginning of a fast, intense and furious pace to ensure we gain our culinary skills.  Thursday, was a little different.  Our regular chef instructor was out and we had a sub.  No, it wasn’t like high school where you basically get a free period and can act a fool.  We did do some stuff.  But it was really another lecture intensive day.

The first hour of class was spent going over nutrition, the basics of how food is broken down into proteins, fats and carbohydrates.  He went into simple sugars vs starches, saturated vs unsaturated fats and of course, vitamins and minerals.  When discussing fats, I became really confused.  The instructor was drawing schematics of what a saturated fat should look like, chemically, and what an unsaturated fat would look like.  His drawings took me back to my organic chemistry and biochem classes and they looked wrong.  I was confused and thought, great, I learned this wrong all those years ago!  During the break, I asked him and he admitted that it had been a long time since he learned this chemistry and that I was indeed correct.  He admitted he didn’t think most of the class would care, which they didn’t, and that it wasn’t that vital to our future lives as chefs.  Still, though, I think that stuff is good to know and I’m glad I did know it!

After a five minute break, we delved into the next portion of class which was dedicated to learning herbs.  We will be having a quiz on this Monday, so this was a very important component.  He started with the difference between and herb and a spice.  I never knew this and I’ve used herbs and spices in my home cooking for years!  An herb is an aromatic plant whose leaves, stems and flowers add flavor.  A spice is a pungent seasoning from the buds, roots, seeds or stems of a plant. This made sense when I started thinking about pepper and cinnamon in relation to say, cilantro or parsley.

He then talked about three common herb combinations used in the kitchen. These are like a “tea bag” of flavorings used in simmering liquids.

  1. The Bouquet Garni is a combination used to add flavor to liquids while they simmer.  It usually consists of parsley stems, whole fresh thyme and a bay leaf all tied together.  You can also use the outer leaf of a leek to wrap them all in.
  2. The Sachet d’Epices is a sack of spices consisting of a bay leaf, parsley stems, thyme, pepper corns, and usually a garlic clove.  These are all tied together in a cheese cloth.
  3. Fine Herbes are three herbs that are chopped up and mixed together.   This usually consists of equal parts of chives, tarragon and chervil.  People often mistakenly include parsley with that, however then it will not be a traditional Fine Herbes.

He passed around bunches of each herb for use to smell, taste and even tape into our notebooks.  As each herb was being circulated, he also told us their common uses.  He started with Flat-Leaf Parsley and Curley Parsley.   These can be used during any time of the year and are available year round.  They add a fresh taste to food and can also enhance the flavor of other herbs that are used in a dish.

The next herbs we went over were Rosemary and Thyme.  (Of course, during this talk, I’m thinking about the Simon & Garfunkel song Scarborough Fair) Rosemary looks like a sprig with green leaves.  It is hearty, pungent and powerful.  It is used year-round, mostly in roasted meats and potatoes.  Thyme is milder and more versatile than Rosemary.

We then proceeded to Oregano and Marjoram. Their flavors are not drastically different though oregano will be more aggressive in flavor.  These are both commonly used in Italian and French cooking, often tied into a pot and put in a pot of tomato sauce to simmer.  They are usually used on vegetables and roasted meats.  They are also usually used cooked.  Raw oregano has the aroma of kerosene while marjoram has the taste and smell of lemon dish soap.

Next up were Cilantro and Chervil.  I’ve used cilantro a lot before in various dishes but I’ve never seen or even heard of chervil.  Cilantro is commonly used in seafood and spicy dishes.  It goes well with citrus.  It’s one of the most commonly used herbs around the world!  It can be seen used in Latin cuisine, Persian cooking and Thai cooking.   Chervil looks like a miniature version of parsley, only with angular leaves.  It has the flavor of anise and is commonly used during the spring or summer.  It goes very well with seafood especially lobster or crab.  It also goes well with acidic foods like citrus.

We then tried Mint and Basil.  Both are summer herbs that are used fresh and at the last minute to brighten the food or create a cooling effect.  You can cook the stems, but exposing the leaves to heat causes them to turn brown quickly.

Sage and Tarragon were discussed next.  According to my instructor, sage has one use and one use only and that is in a good Thanksgiving turkey stuffing.  This is a hearty fall herb.  Tarragon has an anise flavor with the hint of cooling effect that mint has.  It is light and is a classic French herb that is used either cooked or fresh.  This is often found layered in foods.  It is also found in Bernaise sauce.

We finished our discussion of herbs with Chives and Dill.  These happen to be two of my favorite herbs!  They are both summer herbs.  Chives should only be thinly sliced or minced.  Dill goes well with salmon and cucumbers and should be used fresh or lightly cooked.  We then proceeded to discuss effective storage of herbs.   Ideally, they should be stored rolled in a damp paper towel, in the refrigerator, in a plastic container that has drawers for each herb.  The container will serve as a barrier to prevent the essence of the herbs from infusing into any dairy products that may also be in the refrigerator.  That was another hour and a half of my class.

After another brief break, we resumed to discuss cheese making.  I’ll spare you the details of that process.  However, I will share that we got to try 16 different varieties of cheese!!  That was definitely a highlight of the class!  And then, we finally got to the practical stuff–we learned how to do a medium dice on a potato.  We were not required to have specific measurements, however we were required to cut the potato into uniformly shaped cubes.  This is MUCH harder than I ever would have thought!  My first attempt was too big and not very uniform.  My second attempt was better, but still needed improvement.  Once I was done dicing my two potatoes, it was time to clean up and end class.

Out of yesterday’s four hour class, we probably actually only got to really focus on our skills for about 20 minutes.  I usually don’t mind long lectures too much, but I have to admit, as informative as this lecture was, I think it would have been more helpful for us to have time practicing our knife skills.  I’m definitely going to try to practice this weekend.  Got any potato recipes I can use with all my chopped and leftover potato scraps?


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