Monday, May 08, 2006
Potato, Po-tat-to; It's all Tater Salad to me!
The Good News: My knife kit was at school and in Chef's office. WheW! Big load off the old chest that was...and he didn't even rake me over the coals too badly...which was good, considering I was rushing around doing stuff for him and trying to get to an event to represent the school--not that that excuse cuts any butter with him.
The Better News: Today was "tater day" in class. Chef demoed 11 different potato dishes: Rosti potatoes, Rissolee potatoes, Lyonnaise Potatoes, Anna Potatoes, Duchesse Potatoes, Potato Pancakes...I'm starting to sound like the Bubba Gump of potatoes, aren't I? And, for some reason, I keep putting a damn "e" on the end of potato every time I type it--what is this, some weird Dan Quayle flashback??
I made the Duchesse potatoes a few weeks back when I roasted a chicken in practice for the practical final. They're basically mashed potatoes with egg yolk, a little cream, butter, and nutmeg, and you pipe them into attractive shapes/rosettes and brown them...mine looked like Dogue Poopesse potatoes because I couldn't get them to pipe correctly. Here's what they are supposed to look like:
Mine weren't exactly rosettes; I'll leave it to your imagination as to what exactly they looked like.
The Rosti Potatoes are like a giant crusty hashbrown cake that has been browned in butter...ah, butter. We love it so. As Chef said today, "In Culinary, we spell flavor F-A-T," as he added 3-4 more blocks to the Crepes Suzette he made at lunch.
Lyonnaise Potatoes originated in Lyon, France, an area that is known for (not potatoes!)...its onions. It's basically home fries with a glorified name...maybe the first home fries if you want to get technical about it, since the French did invent a lot of this here cooking stuff...after the Italians showed them the way (this is culinary history according to Chef, who is Italian). (He's actually on the right track, because the French were sort of in a culinary rut until Catherine de Medici showed up with her entourage and chef and introduced them to tons of tasty things. I'm betting the whole "which came first--the gnocchi or the gelee is a hotly debated topic between French and Italian chefs and others...alot like that whole "War of Northern Aggression" thing we've got going on here in the South.)
The Rissolee Potatoes are sort of like potato "popables"--you know, the little candies that are "popped" out of their larger counterparts--basically chocolate-covered balls of Butterfinger, Reeses Cups (yuuuuuuummmmm!), etc. They are so cute, when they are browned in a little butter...you can see that butter is our constant companion here on Tater Day.
We also learned what types of potatoes should be used for what dishes--if you need a drier potato, go for a mealy one like an Idaho. If you need one with more starch and moisture, go for a waxy one like a red bliss.
Other "Tater Tips": Remember how I told you that this class should be subtitled "Everything You've Been Doing Wrong..."? Well, today was the potato lesson. Anyone (self included) who has used an electric mixer or one of those medieval looking potato mashers has been doing it wrong, wrong I tell you! (Well, that's what Chef told me.) The thing we've all been doing wrong is breaking up the potatoes too much and releasing too much starch, which causes them to clump and become gluey. The trick is to run them through a potato ricer or a food mill, then add hot milk or cream and butter (the hot part is important), and then use the paddle attachment of the mixer and mix at a low speed, or you can do it by hand. He did make some mighty fine smooth and creamy whipped potatoes today, so it must work. A bajillion chefs can't be wrong, can they?
I, the ever practical one, piped up and asked Chef what we should do if we were at someone's house and were asked to make the mashed potatoes, and they didn't have a ricer/food mill. He's looking at me like I've finally grown that other horn out of my forehead, and I tell him that I'm not truly nuts but I figured since all our families knew we were in culinary school, we would get hit up at holidays, etc. to make dishes, because we would know the "right" or "fancy" way to do it, whatever it may be. He suggested that we could use a colander to push the potatoes through. So, dear readers, I challenge you to try this the next time you mash potatoes and see if you notice any difference. Also, heat your cream/milk and butter together before you incorporate it. (Personally, I'm going to hunt down a potato ricer just as soon as I can walk/run to the nearest potato ricer store, because you can never have too many kitchen gadgets, even though your drawers may be overflowing, you're up to 3 utensil crocks and could use a 4th, etc. Then, I could fashion a strap for it and wear it, bandolier-style when I go visit people. Which in turn may cut down even more on my limited social calendar, which is fairly barren as it stands now. )
Today was the first day of service in the dining room. Amazingly enough, we did pretty well, although it did get a little smokey in there, and we were afraid the sprinkler system was going to go off. Both Chef and Other Chef did all the tableside preparation/cookery. We had arranged the tables so that the chefs were sort of on stage for different groups of tables. Our instructor intentionally kept the reservation list low so we could ease into the routine. Today's menu was similar to the demo menu from last week: guacamole, Caesar salad, Steak Diane and Soft-Shell Crab Menuiere, and Crepes Suzette for dessert. I managed to snag a spoonful of the crepe sauce when we brought the pans back to be cleaned, and it was fabulouso.
The Regional Cooking class that is going on during our dining room class offered to share their class projects with us today, so we did get a bite to eat after we had cleaned up the cafe. We're guessing they were doing Midwestern meal of sorts. They had a stuffed pork loin with sauerkraut and some beer-battered fried fish along with a bunch of roasted vegetables, which were extremely good, and a totally rockin' apple turnover.
We have service again tomorrow, and this time it is an ala carte menu with many selections. This is really going to be a test of our abilities to sling hash and not get any on us or anyone else for that matter. I'm going to practice the Duchesse potatoes again this weekend, and I'll try and take some pictures of how they turn out. I'll also let you know how the potato ricer works just as soon as I get my bandolier made...I think some rhinestones would really dress it up, don't you?