Day 1: Soups and Stocks
When I decided to switch my educational focus from biology to nursing and then, finally, to food six years ago, I intended to go to culinary school. However, life, money, and a move from Hawaii to San Diego, California, forced me to put it off indefinitely. Until Tuesday. Tuesday, July 5, 2011, was the first day of culinary arts class as part of the Gastronomy program at BU. This particular round of the course is a first in a lot of ways — it is the first time it is offered during the summer, and it is the first time it consists of 12 Gastronomy students (as opposed to 6 Gastronomy students and 6 students from the community). On the schedule for this first day was knife skills, soups and stocks. One of the assignments for class is to journal every day we have class. This is my first journal entry. I will be posting subsequent journal entries with photos from class (please excuse the crappy photos taken with my phone).
About 15 minutes into the beginning of class, we were in the kitchen and given a demonstration of how to sharpen knives. This was great timing, as I had just bought a sharpening stone for my Target-bought knives and realized I didn’t know how to sharpen them. Now I know.
The first food item we worked on was chicken stock. I also learned the difference between a stock and a broth — stock is used with bones, broth/bouillon is made with bones and meat. We made a classic chicken stock with mirepoix vegetables (50% onion, 25% celery, 25% carrot) and some herbs (thyme, bay leaf and peppercorns). It was pretty simple — simmer the bones, skim off the gunk, add mirepoix and herbs, simmer some more (for about 90 minutes).
While the stock was simmering away, I started on the next item — French onion soup. This soup is also very simple, but takes patience. Caramelizing the onions takes the longest time (almost half an hour). The thinly sliced onions are cooked slowly over medium heat in clarified butter until they turn brown — caramelized, not burnt. The smell in the kitchen of all of the onions caramelizing at different rates was intoxicating. I wanted to just eat the onions as is, right out of the pan.
After the onions have reached the desired caramelization point, the pan is deglazed with white wine to get all the good bits on the bottom of the pan. Beef broth is then added and the soup is transferred to a sauce pan where it simmers. Seasoning took place at this point, though I wonder if I should have added some salt to the onions while they were caramelizing. Kevin, our teacher, told us that generally all of the soups were under-salted. I must have added almost 1/4 cup of salt and it still could have used a bit more salt. Oh well. Now I know — don’t be shy with the salt. Then I put the soup into a small soup crock and put croutons and mounded gruyere cheese over the onion soup, and placed it in the salamander (a broiler situated above each stove) to make the cheese melty and bubbly. Once it was done, I took the soup out so it could cool while I worked on the gazpacho.
I was looking forward to all the chopping and knife-wielding for the gazpacho, but I was not looking forward to eating it (I am not a fan of bell peppers whatsoever, and this dish has all of 5 main ingredients and 2 of them are bell peppers). Regardless, I dove in.
First, I worked on coring and peeling (after blanching) the tomatoes. Then I chopped the red and green bell peppers, cucumber, garlic, and then the tomatoes. After processing all the vegetables with a little red wine vinegar in a Robot Coupe, olive oil is drizzled while the mixture processed to emulsify. Tomato juice is what was listed on the recipe, though we were provided with tomato puree, which thickened the soup and gave more of a tomato flavor. When it came time to season with salt and pepper (I omitted the cayenne because I can’t handle too much spiciness), I was worried that I wouldn’t like it. I took a deep breath, grabbed a new tasting spoon and tried it. It didn’t taste like bell peppers as much as I had thought. The cucumber and tomato balanced it out nicely, and the raw garlic clove added a nice kick that the cayenne probably does for people who can handle capsaicin more than I. And I was really looking forward to having the cool soup after being in the hot kitchen for 3.5 hours.
We ran a little behind and didn’t leave the kitchen to eat until 9:30pm, which is when the class was scheduled to end. As we ate and people had wine (sherry with the gazpacho, and burgundy with the onion soup), two people presented their analyses of the dishes. I hadn’t realized how far back in history the two soups are found to be. I had made French onion soup once or twice before this class, but I had never made gazpacho before. Now that it’s not as scary (or unappetizing), I will probably make the gazpacho at home more often, especially in this New England summer heat. And I’m looking forward to learning more every day in the class I’ve waited so long to take.