I’ve done it! After six weeks of Charles Missick’s Simply Better Gourmet Institute’s six-week Gourmet Cooking 1 class, the true mark as far as I’m concerned is having been able to take what I’ve learnt and actually incorporate it into my kitchen, which I’ve been doing since day one.
The importance of trussing chicken, the benefits of making stock versus store bought, why you shouldn’t cover your pots when making things like stock/souses, how to skim scum properly and why you should do it, seafood cooking and braising beef were just some of the valuable tips, techniques and tricks from a professional that I took away from the class that was hosted in the lead-up to the holidays. The true takeaway for me, was when I found myself actually implementing the techniques learnt and even adding the lobster bisque to my Christmas menu.
Making lobster bisque for Christmas was my second attempt in my years on this earth. The first time I did it, which was decades ago, I don’t even recall what I did, I just remember it being worthy of the trashcan. But after going through it step-by-step with chef Missick, I knew I had this in the bag and would be able to reproduce it at home – so much so that I had to inform the chef that I thought my bisque tasted even better than the bisque that was made in class during shellfish week; he agreed that it probably did (with a smile).
Now I must admit that the lobster bisque was the final item on my menu to make, and while it’s essentially simple to make, the steps that need to be taken to bring out the maximum flavor takes a while. It’s the process to get to the final product that’s a “killer” – plus I left it as the final item to make after making a lobster-stuffed turkey, glazed ham, candied yams, macaroni and cheese, a beautiful salad, my staple roast corn chowder with lobster and a dessert trio of pound cake, sticky toffee pudding and carrot cake.
The lobster bisque steps basically entail sauteing a mirepoix (rough cut onion, carrots, Spanish thyme as well as regular thyme and bay leaf as well as garlic cloves) and in olive oil, adding lobster shells and cooking until they turn orange (I fell into a little problem here as my pot wasn’t quite big enough, and ended up having to pull the shells out and whacking them with a meat mallet to break them down to fit); adding tomato paste, and then your choice of rum (Bacardi, whiskey or brandy), and tilting the pan to flame to allow the alcohol to burn off. (Here again I ran into problems and had to seek the help of my hubby to get that flame going.) It eventually flamed and I was back in business, adding the homemade chicken stock, then allowing it to do its thing. It was at this point that I just wanted the cooking to be over and done with, but my bisque still had to be strained – twice, first through a coarse strainer and the second time through a small strainer – after adding the beurre manie (equal parts butter and flour) to thicken all the while whisking until you get the desired consistency. And I can tell you it was at this point that I really thought about whisking up a slurry of cornstarch and water to add, but in the final analysis I had to be true to the cause. I went the distance. I substituted heavy cream for the cooking cream, added a touch of goat pepper and salt for that background kick and the final result was creamy, smooth, velvety, deeply rich and flavorful.
It was a time-consuming process but definitely worth it in the end. The bisque was just as well-received as my corn chowder has been over the years. I’ve also actually found myself making use of herbs like Spanish thyme which I’d heard of before and never used, even though my mom has a huge bush of it in her yard. But watching the chef use this herb in so many instances was eye opening.
Now while I often hear chefs speak to trussing poultry (tying up the wings and legs firmly against the body) I hadn’t actually done it myself, but I learnt how to truss and have since trussed a chicken twice at home and the results have been an amazing roast chicken every time. Trussing helps the bird to cook evenly without drying out any of the extremities; the result is amazingly tender.
As for beef, we learnt why it should be salted at the time of cooking, and not beforehand, because it dries out the meat and makes it tough; and to braise a tough cut to ensure tenderness. And much like the chicken, a round shape is ideal, so the beef has to be tied, and it’s a slightly different process from the chicken, and it took me a little longer to catch on to all the looping in class, and to be honest, I’ve not tried this at home since, but that’s because I haven’t prepared a beef roast since. Here’s to fingers crossed and hoping I remember the techniques when it’s time to do it.
Missick’s small-size, six-person maximum, three hour, once-per-week gourmet cooking class promised to get participants ready for the holidays, and while we didn’t necessarily prepare dishes that you would find on a holiday table, the tips, tricks and techniques learnt were interchangeable and lent themselves over to the holiday meal as well as everyday life.
I have learnt and developed an appreciation for the preparation and presentation of gourmet foods through the hands-on interactive sessions, and it’s provided me with a basic understanding of various soups, vegetables, poultry, seafood, meats, sauces and garnishes with the ability to identify food quality.
And one tip that’s also super important – sharp knives are a must, and proper use of knives for whatever is being done. I found that carving those thin slices that we all would like to have from the turkey and ham was a breeze with my super sharp knife which I got for the class.