To be honest, taking part in the right cooking class can be loads of fun; you learn new things as well as improve on what you may already know, then there’s the added bonus of realizing things you may have been doing wrong in the kitchen and correcting them. They also help you to perfect dishes you may have tried before, and introduce you to some things you probably haven’t. I’ve always been comfortable in the kitchen, but after completing Chef Charles Missick’s Simply Better Gourmet Institute’s Gourmet Cooking I and II courses, I have definitely seen the chef’s influence and tips taking root in my kitchen behavior as I continue to strive to do things better and correctly.
The chef’s tips, tricks and techniques were no more evident than over the Easter weekend as I found myself expanding the norm of fried fish/grilled fish and hot cross buns for Good Friday, and an Easter Sunday lamb or ham, and incorporating lessons learnt from my cooking classes.
Borrowing from week two of Gourmet Cooking II where we addressed salmon and prepared salmon en papillote – poached salmon – as well as a grilled and pan-seared salmon, I swapped salmon for whole snapper for snapper en papillote which basically means “in parchment” and is a method of cooking in which the food is put into a folded pouch or parcel and then baked. The parcel is typically made from folded parchment paper, but other material such as a paper bag or aluminum foil may be used. The parcel holds moisture in to steam the food. In the Bahamian vernacular this is simply grilled fish, which I’ve been making for many years, but this year I opted to go away from my tried and true grilled fish recipe that I do at home, and swapped out the salmon portions which we worked with in class for super fresh snapper that a friend of my husband’s had sent to us from Harbour Island, which I topped with zucchini, squash, baby tri-bell peppers, shallots, Spanish thyme, garlic and a squeeze of lemon juice.
Of course, the herbs have to be sweated and the veggies have to be sautéed before being placed atop the fish which is placed inside lightly oiled parchment. A whole plate-sized snapper should take approximately 10 to 15 minutes in a 350-degree oven, or until parchment puffs up.
According to your likes, you can think about adding tomato slices that have been blanched and peeled, some parsley or chopped mushrooms, boiled potato, pumpkin, sweet potato … whatever veggies you like, you can throw them in there, just be sure to pre-cook them.
Also in that seafood package I received were a couple of conchs – to be totally honest, whenever someone gives me conch, my modus operandi is to usually throw it in the freezer, until I get tired of seeing it, then into the trash, because I really don’t want to have anything to do with it. I don’t eat steamed/stewed conch, and it never goes into any soup that I make…
Can you tell I’m not a big conch fan?
In the 12-week class – six weeks per session – we didn’t work with or make anything with conch, but the chef did have a conch cake for tasting one day. And as I prepared my Easter menu, I had one of those “Eureka!” lightbulb moments when I decided I would try my hand at conch cakes. I love crab cakes, so why not make conch cakes to go with the Easter Sunday meal.
I pulled those conchs out of the freezer, defrosted them, ground them up and, with Chef Missick’s mantra in my head to always think of ways to cook healthier, I added processed wheat bread over white bread – not too much, because I wanted a conch cake and not a cake with a ton of filler; an egg for binding; a mess of herbs – shallots, celery, red bell pepper, a hint of hot pepper, lots of garlic because I can never have too much garlic, Spanish thyme which the chef has introduced into my cooking and which I now use religiously, along with the regular thyme that’s a staple in every Bahamian kitchen; the ground conch; and a squeeze of lemon. A quick toss to combine the mixture which I formed into generous pattie sizes that I shallow-fried in olive oil, then I whipped up a remoulade to serve with the conch cakes and a lemon wedge.
The final product was a conch cake that was super tender, and flavorful (and note, I didn’t even add any salt – I let the herbs shine through). They were a hit with my family. I was so pleased with the final product that I called up the chef to tell him about it, and I could hear the pride in his voice at my accomplishment.
After making my conch cakes, one thing I’m certain of – I won’t be discarding any conchs that come my way from now on. Trust me – those conch cakes were absolutely delicious.
During the salmon class, Chef Missick addressed poached salmon and salmon cooking tips, encouraging us to try pan frying which produces a crisp skin and succulent flesh. When doing so, you are urged to use a good, heavy-based frying pan, ideally non-stick, add butter or oil with a high burning point, which you heat over medium high heat before adding salmon skin side down for four to five minutes before turning and cooking for another three to four minutes or until the salmon is slightly pink in the center.
I also learnt that salmon can be poached in water, fish broth or chicken stock or milk with the addition of spices. In class, we poached the salmon in water, and I was a little skeptical … because, well, water wouldn’t add any flavor; but to the water we added spices – sliced onions, carrots, a bay leaf, lemon and peppercorns – and allowed the poaching liquid to simmer (never allowing it to boil) gently in a large, wide pan. We carefully slipped the salmon into the poaching liquid and allowed it to simmer uncovered for approximately 10 minutes.
The result was a super moist, buttery piece of salmon that was flavorful and delicious.
Missick’s small size (six person maximum), three-hour, once-per-week classes are a must-do. They allow participants to learn and develop an appreciation for the preparation and presentation of gourmet foods through the hands-on interactive sessions. The classes provide the basic understanding of various soups, vegetables, poultry, seafood, meats, sauces and garnishes with the ability to identify food quality.
And one tip that is also super important – sharp knives are a must, and the proper use of knives is important for whatever is being done. With two sessions under my belt, I’ve become quite comfortable with my knives at home (this is after a few nicks here and there), and wouldn’t find myself ever again using the wrong knife ever again.
SALMON EN PAPILLOTE STEPS
STEP 1: Blanch cored plum tomatoes in hot water 20 seconds, remove and place in cold water.
STEP 2: Slice zucchini, squash, tri-colored baby bell peppers – de-seeded and julienned, sliced shallots, chopped Spanish thyme and a chopped garlic clove.
STEP 3: Sweat slices of shallots, Spanish thyme, red onion and a chopped garlic clove in olive oil.
STEP 4: Add julienned tri-colored baby bell peppers to mixture, sautee.
STEP 5: Add veggies to the pan with herbs and bell peppers and cook for approximately two minutes.
STEP 6: Place salmon onto oiled triangle of parchment paper and season with fresh, cracked black pepper.
STEP 7: Top salmon with veggies, and a few slices of peeled and sliced tomatoes.
STEP 8: Chef Charles Missick demonstrates the proper technique to seal parchment package with salmon.
STEP 9: Salmon en papillote ready to be placed into the oven.
STEP 10: Salmon en papillote fresh out the oven.
STEP 11: Chef Charles Missick carefully opens a finished salmon en papillote, which is served in the package at the table to allow for the full effect of scent and sight.
STEP 12: Salmon en papillote.
POACHED SALMON STEPS
STEP 1: Chef Charles Missick explains why it’s more cost-effective to purchase a side of salmon which can be broken down to serving sizes, rather than purchasing pre-portioned pieces.
STEP 2: The broken down side of salmon.
STEP 3: Salmon poaching stove top.
STEP 4: A perfectly poached salmon.
GRILLED/PAN-SEARED SALMON STEPS
STEP 1: Season salmon with pepper, a pinch of salt and drizzled with olive oil, then place flesh side down on a hot grill for three minutes.
STEP 2: Flip after three minutes, then place skin side down for two minutes.
STEP 3: Grilled salmon topped with a pat of herbs butter.
STEP 4: If pan-searing, follow the same directions, except place salmon in pan with a little olive oil.