By Owen Morris
Last night's class was all about sauces and making the classic five sauces. The mantra: there is no harder station in the kitchen than the saucier's. All five of the leading sauces require constant attention and stirring and skimming over long periods of time lest they turn out murky and too thick, or the the vegetables sweat just a minute too long and start to caramelize, turning a white veloute an ugly brown. Making a proper sauce is like walking a narrow trail on the side of a mountain -- one small misstep and it's over.
We made four of the five leading sauces last night. For veloute, the basic ingredient is a white stock, like chicken stock or fish stock, that's heated and then added to a blond roux until the proper thickness. Roux is one of those fancy French terms for equal parts flour and fat (nearly always butter) mixed together. For a blond roux, the flour and fat is cooked just long enough to congeal and turn slightly golden. Once the roux is the proper color, the stock is slowly incorporated into the roux (this requires constant beating and stirring) and then brought to a boil. While it sounds easy, variables such as temperature -- if the roux and stock are too close or far apart in temperature, they won't mix -- that make it a headache.
Besides veloute, the other four leading sauces are bechamel (milk and white roux), espangol (brown stock and brown roux), tomato (tomatoes with no roux) and hollandaise (butter and eggs). From each of these sauces come a dozen or so niche sauces called small sauces. For instance, after making the leading sauce bechamel, adding cheese and butter makes the small sauce mornay.
Which brings me to my specific job last night.
BY OWEN MORRIS
I'm taking advanced culinary classes at Johnson County Community College, and plan to journal about each week's experience here.
The first thing you learn about serious cooking is that it uses a lot of pointless French words. For instance, what any normal American would call a melon-baller, I am now told by my textbook (Le Courdon Bleu Professional Cooking Sixth Edition) is actually to be referred to as a parisiennes. The proliferation of langue française is supposedly due to the overwhelming influence French cooking has on modern techniques. But listening to chefs you realize the real reason the language has survived is that it creates a subculture in which chefs can identify each other.
There’s another, bigger benefit as well. Previously, as a layperson I might have made chicken noodle soup but no more! My chicken noodle soup is now consommé printaniere. Better to raise eyebrows (and menu prices) that much more.
An actually useful French phrase is mise en place, which was the basis of my advanced culinary class last night. The literal translation "to put in place." The real-world translation is, "getting your shit together ahead of time."
To that end, the class spent 90 minutes listening to a lecture on making sure to prep in advance, proper holding after preparation and the utter importance of blanching to save vegetables’ color and extend their shelve life by days. Some other important lessons useful to at-home cooks: keeping parsley stems in water and under plastic wrap will extend their shelf life from a couple of days to a month; make sure the steel you use to sharpen the knife is as long or longer than the knife itself.
After a quick overview on stocks, it was off to the kitchen to make some that will last us for the rest of the semester and practice good mise en place.
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