The moment of truth … at least so far: we had our food graded by our instructor in this week’s class. Once again, we worked in teams (of four this time).
We had to prepare five dishes from recipes, and we had to prep them for a particular 5 minute window and plate them as though they were made for service.
Cooking to fit a particular window is far harder than I thought. We had too many dishes done too early, and fired (i.e., cooked) our fish way too early. Also, the group before us ran long, so our scheduled window came and went … we ended up wrapping all of dishes in foil and putting them on the flattop (above the stoves) to try to keep them warm. This approach works for some things and not others.
Here was the menu and a few things we learned from each dish:
Roast Cornish Game Hen with Wild Rice Stuffing (Richard)
First, I have to brag on Richard here. His cornish hen was PERFECTLY cooked and looked beautiful. Just before he cooked it, he realized that he forgot a couple of ingredients for the wild rice and had to empty it out, mix in the ingredients and re-stuff. But it still looked and tasted great. However, he forgot to untruss the hen before serving it to the instructor. Not a good idea. Also, wild rice takes FOREVER to cook.
Country Braised Chicken (me)
The recipe I used was actually quite good. The instructor liked the flavor of my sauce (basically a pureed reduction of the braising veggies and liquid with a little additional seasoning), and he thought the chicken looked and tasted good. I ALMOST got in trouble for puttting all four drumsticks on the plate, but saved myself by telling him I cooked it for family style service. He also liked the toasted almond garnish. HOWEVER, he thought I overgarnished (the chopped parsley was described as “yard clippings”) and he didn’t like that all of the sauce was buried underneath the chicken where the diner couldn’t see it. Oh, and the plate (and dish) weren’t hot enough.
Seared Pork Loin with Brennan’s Red-Wine and Mushroom Sauce
Once again, I was responsible for our yard clipping overgarnish on this dish. Chef thought that the sauce was too tomato-y and did not have enough taste of mushrooms, and it was too thick. He also didn’t like that our group put the sauce on top of the pork, which hid the beautiful sear on the meat. Meat was a little overcooked. The dish wasn’t hot enough.
Teriyaki Salmon with Pineapple-Papaya Salsa
Chef loved the flavor on the salsa, but the dice was too big. Also, he thought that our marinade was too soy-saucy. We marinated the fish far longer than recommended, so it broke apart on the grill, and we cooked it too early, so it was cold and kind of gross by the time we served it. Oh yeah, and we used too much of the salsa when we plated it.
Pan-Fried Flounder with Toasted Garlic
The flounder was also not hot enough, although it was cooked properly. The buttery garlic sauce tasted good, but was hardly a sauce by the time we served it. We prepared it too early, so the dish was cold and the sauce had a chance to harden up. He also thought the fish was underseasoned.
Altogether, it was a great learning experience–and a humbling one. It is one thing to prep a dish so that it tastes great the moment you finish it, and it is quite another to time things properly to have them taste good at a very specific time.
A lot of foods taste good when they come right off the heat, but not so much when they are reheated or sit for a little while. Part of cooking a lot of food and a variety of food is knowing what foods will hold if you cook them early (and how to hold them), and which ones won’t … and knowing to what point you can prep something that won’t hold so you can be as close as possible to done as early as possible.
I also learned that I do not know how to garnish … well, at ALL apparently. Something to work towards …