Friday, November 5, 2010

Take 2.

Making something perfect is never easy. Today I learned the hard way. Once I got to the restaurant I was instantly put to work. I grilled off chicken breasts and popped them in the oven, so that we’d have plenty for the chicken salads at lunch service. Then I was given several bigger projects that would keep me occupied the rest of the day.

We have been serving fig jam as the condiment of choice on both the ham and cheese sandwich and the salami sandwich. The sweetness of the figs creates a delightful contrast against the saltiness of the meat. Because we did not have any more dried figs, I had to use fresh figs. After I destemmed the figs, I cut them in half and added them to a saucepan with sugar and water. I put them over medium heat and let them simmer until completely broken down. Once the figs and sugar became jam like I pureed it in the Robot Coupe until the texture was uniform. The fresh figs made quite an impact on the taste of the jam, the flavor was not as concentrated as the jam made with dried figs, which gave it a more mellow flavor making it the perfect accent to the sandwich.

My next big project was breaking down leeks and fennel and then sweating them in a large rondeau pot for rice. After finally locating the leeks (sometimes it seems almost impossible to identify and locate ingredients in the very well-stocked walk-in) I cleaned them and cut them into 1-inch pieces. It is very important to clean leeks because most of the time there is still sand and grit located in the filaments. Once I cut the fennel and leeks into 1-inch pieces, I put olive oil in the bottom of the pot and added the vegetables, then put it on the stovetop. Well, not such a good idea. The high heat scalded the bottom of the pot, burning most of my vegetables. Lesson #1: Do not leave vegetables sautéing without keeping an eye on them and stirring constantly. We had to throw out half of them and start over. Thankfully, my second batch turned out much better because I put it on the french top (this cooks at a slower rate), and was able to be used in the rice.

My final and biggest project of the day was making mushroom soup. After the leek and fennel debacle, I was determined not to mess this up! First I had to roast garlic. You do this by putting garlic in a saucepan and then adding olive oil. Just pop that in the oven until golden brown. While I waited on the garlic to roast, I broke down 5 quarts of mushrooms and then 4 large Vidalia onions. When I went to check on the garlic, it was burnt. So frustrating! I had to repeat the process. Finally the garlic was ready, considering I watched it throughout the entire cooking time. I used the oil that roasted the garlic to coat the bottom of the pot. Then I added the onions and mushrooms until the mushrooms were tender. Next I deglazed the bottom of the pot with white wine (typically the recipe calls for sherry, but we were out). After a nice stir, I added a thyme bouquet, blanched almonds, parsley, and vegetable stock. Then I reconstituted some dried porcini mushrooms and added them plus half their cooking liquid to the pot. When the soup came to a simmer, I removed the thyme bouquet and began to puree it in a blender. Then I had to strain it and pass it, then season it. Pushing the soup through the sieve was very time consuming, but it makes the texture silky smooth and delicious for a warm soup on a cold fall day.

Although I had to repeat a few steps today because of my mistakes, I learned some very important lessons. It is essential that you keep an eye on everything you have going on in the kitchen. We have to multi-task in this business, and often times you get distracted on new projects and forget about other things you have started. It is important to stir things constantly and be aware of everything needing to get done. I consider myself a good multi-tasker in general, but in the kitchen I need to be thinking about all the projects I’m responsible for and working on all the time.

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