When I decided to leave my desk job to attend culinary school, I knew it would be a challenging experience. What I didn’t anticipate was the mental and physical exhaustion. It feels a bit like I’ve just come home from a trip overseas. I often have no idea what time or what day it is. Starting at 6:30-7am is starting to take its toll. Many of us chug coffee and Red Bull all day like our lives depend on it. And it’s kind of true. We have to be fast and focused and the crash at the end of the day seems inevitable. If we’re not learning, cooking or eating we’re supposed to be mopping, scrubbing, doing dishes and making stock for the entire school. The days, the dishes, and my kitchen teams have all started to blend together.
We’re making three or four technique heavy recipes per day. I now have a binder containing fifty recipes. Fifty! In a month! When I’m not at school I’m practicing techniques (the knife skills need a LOT of work), reading, writing papers, typing up notes and recipes… it’s time consuming, to say the least. My desire to cook and clean at home has diminished for obvious reasons. I’m still working on finding the proper balance between my personal and culinary worlds. Sometimes they feel like two entirely separate universes.
I’m sharing my favorite sweet and savory dishes from the past week. On the savory side, I’m offering up a beef bourguignon recipe that knocks the socks off every other version I’ve tried. Like most of the my culinary school recipes, this one relies heavily on technique. I can give you the ingredients, but if they’re not used properly the results won’t necessarily be special.
On the sweet side… poached French meringues on crème anglaise, topped with caramel. It’s a light dessert that plays with texture and temperature. School is definitely turning me into a sweets person. When I eat out I’m typically too full at the end of the main course to order dessert. But the desserts we’ve been making are fun and have that perfect level of sweetness. I’ve enjoy making them so much that a few times I’ve wondered if perhaps I belong in the pastry program!
LE BOEUF A LA BOURGUIGNONNE
This recipe is all about glazing and deglazing. In the culinary world, glazing means using high heat to create brown bits on the bottom of the pan. To deglaze, a liquid is added to the pan and then the bits are loosened and scraped off with a wood spoon, incorporating them into the ingredients. Most of the flavor in this dish comes from the glaze. We used beef chuck, cut into approximately 2 bite pieces (it shrinks down when you cook it, so be generous). Don’t use any other cut than chuck if you want the best results.
We used veal stock. Beef stock would work just fine but I wouldn’t recommend making this with store-bought product. If you don’t want to save up bones for stock, you can actually buy beef and veal bones at some higher end grocery stores such as Whole Foods. Or call your local butcher. It’s worth it if you want restaurant quality taste at home.
We used clarified butter, which is butter with the milk solids removed. It’s incredibly easy and fast to make, tastes delicious, and won’t burn at a high heat. I won’t go into details about how to clarify butter right now, but there are plenty of tutorials online. It stays good in the fridge for months, so clarify in large batches.
You need a large pot that can go from stove top to oven. I haven’t offered up many ingredient quantities here because we didn’t use them in school. When making this recipe, think logically about how much stew your pot can hold, the amount of beef you want to serve, add a similar quantity of mirepoix, and eye everything else out. Taste taste taste!
- beef chuck
- clarified butter
- mirepoix (diced onions, celery and carrots)
- tomato paste
- brown stock
- fresh thyme
- lardon (diced bacon)
- pearl onions
- Trim excess fat from the beef chuck and cut into smaller pieces.
- Season both sides of meat well with salt and pepper.
- In a very hot pan, add enough clarified butter to coat the bottom and sear both sides of the meat well. Don’t be afraid of burning the meat if you’re not used to searing. This is one of the most important steps. If the pan doesn’t sizzle, remove the meat and let it get hotter. You want a dark brown color on both sides. Don’t flip the meat back and forth a lot. Just be patient.
- Remove the meat and set it aside. There should be a nice brown glaze on the bottom of the pan.
- Turn down the heat a bit and add mirepoix and salt. Salt will release the liquids from the mirepoix and you can use that liquid to deglaze the pan. You’re not trying to caramelize the vegetables yet, just sweat them.
- Once that pan is deglazed and the mirepoix has a nice coating of glaze, add 2-3 tablespoons of flour to coat mirepoix.
- Turn the heat back up and incorporate the flour to caramelize the mirepoix.
- Turn the heat down, add ¼ cup burgundy to deglaze and scrape all of those bits off again.
- Add tomato paste to glaze; turn up the heat.
- Deglaze one final time with burgundy, adding enough liquid to partially cover mirepoix.
- Add brown stock to cover mirepoix.
- Add thyme and 4 cloves or garlic.
- Add beef back to pot.
- Season well and add more stock as needed, bringing to a simmer. You want the liquid to cover the meat, maybe 3/4 of the way up the pot.
- Make a lid for the pot out of parchment paper. Carefully push the parchment directly against the stew. This will allow the ingredients to steam and cook in the oven without loosing too much liquid.
- Add to oven at 325 degrees for at least one hour. The longer it cooks, the softer the meat will be. 2 hours should do the trick.
- While the stew is cooking, saute button mushrooms, diced bacon and pearl onions. Using separate pans will prevent the bacon flavor from overwhelming the mushrooms and onions. Use clarified butter, salt, and perhaps even a bit of stock while sauteing.
- Carefully strain the mirepoix out of the sauce, reserving the meat. This is the most tedious step. Use tongs since the meat will be hot. Discard the mirepoix.
- Thicken the sauce with a roux if necessary; add meat back to the pot. Adjust the seasoning if needed. Don’t be shy with the salt.
- Add in the mushrooms, bacon and pearl onions. Tada!
And now for something sweet…
L’ILE FLOTANTE AU CARAMEL
This recipes uses French meringues, which are cold meringues whipped to a stiff peak. It also uses crème anglaise, which is the base of vanilla ice cream in sauce form. The caramel on top is simple to make and should be done at the last second. As I mentioned before, what I love most about this dessert is that it plays with texture and temperature. The crème anglaise is served cold in a shallow bowl, the room temperature meringues are soft like marshmallows and sit in the liquid. Caramel and toasted almonds lay on top, creating a nice crunch. Everything is light. In my mind, it’s the perfect dessert.
- French meringue (equal parts by weight- sugar & egg whites. For this recipe use 6 whites and 6 oz sugar)
- Poaching liquid (2 parts milk to 1 part water)
- Crème anglaise (see below)
- Caramel (recipe below)
- Toasted, sliced almonds
- Using a flat-sided, non-reactive saucepan (preferably stainless steel), bring poaching liquid to a simmer. Don’t let the milk get too hot or it will souffle the eggs. Fill the saucepan 3/4 of the way up.
- Using a mixer on high speed, whip the egg whites. When they start to lighten in color and thicken a bit, switch to medium speed and add a bit of sugar. Add around a tablespoon of sugar at a time to the egg whites until the reach a stiff peak. Don’t over-whip and don’t let them sit too long or they will start to deflate.
- Shape meringue with two large silver spoons into quenelle (think football shape).
- Gently drop the meringues into the liquid and poach 4-5 minutes per side, 3-4 meringues at a time. When they’re finished poaching they should have the soft, bouncy feel of a marshmallow.
- Serve warm on top of 2 ½ – 3 oz cold crème anglaise (see below).
- Drizzle with caramel at the last second (see below).
- Top with toasted almonds.
This recipe is the base for super yummy vanilla ice cream. For the purposes of this recipe it is served as a sauce. Use real vanilla beans, not extract.
- 3 Yolks
- 2 ½ oz sugar
- 1 Vanilla bean
- 1 cup whole milk
- Add milk to stainless steel pot (aluminum and copper are bad for dairy. Non-stick will also work in this situation).
- Scrape vanilla bean, removing seeds.
- Add seeds and bean to milk.
- Whisk sugar into egg yolks.
- Slowly temper milk into yolks, stirring (this prevents the eggs from cooking).
- Add the mixture back into pot.
- Using wood spoon, heat and stir mixture until it coats the back of the spoon. Something similar to the consistency of heavy whipping cream.
- Strain into clean bowl, chill over ice. Don’t skip this step. If you want to hurry up the chilling process, move the crème anglaise into the fridge.
Make this at the last second, while the meringue is poaching. You don’t want to let it sit too long or the sauce will harden.
Use 25% water to caramel. For example, use 8 oz of sugar and 2 oz of water. Add to a small saucepan, mix the sugar into the water with your fingers to make sure everything is coated. Make sure the sides of the saucepan are free of sugar granules. Use medium heat to bring the mixture to a simmer. Do NOT stir or the sugar will crystallize. When the color starts turning brown, remove from the heat and it will continue cooking to the right consistency. After it has cooled slightly and thickened up, use a wood spoon handle to drizzle thin lines of caramel over the poached meringue.
Serve in a shallow bowl, 1 meringue to a bowl. Sauce on the bottom, caramel and almonds on top.