Friday, August 07, 2009

No Soup for You!

I enjoyed Jerry Seinfield as a stand up comedian. I'm going to admit it now that I did not watch his show. I quickly lost interest after the first season. It was just too mundane and inane for me. But I did like this particular episode.

Monday began week four and our task was to make soup with either the chicken stock or the veal stock from last week. Chef wanted us to work with different people so he assigned a few groups of two and let the others self pick. Me, I was told I was making soup by myself. Two times people said they did not have a partner and would work with me and two times Chef said no, I was working by myself. The second time he got a little angry, I think because it was obvious people were not listening to him. Off course I felt like a teacher's pet. Oh well, there are worse problems to have. Bar Code wanted to know why I was special and got to work alone. "I don't know, because Chef said so."

If anyone showed up late they were to work with me.

A few people immediately went to the Internet to look up a soup recipe. My first class Chef told us he strongly discouraged people using recipes off of the Internet, most of them don't work, so I didn't even bother looking at a computer. We have good recipes in our On Cooking book though often you have to rescale them. I'm not a soup kind of guy so the first problem was finding something I would even like. I had to move past my first few choices since they didn't use any stock and that was part of the assignment. A few others looked way too complicated. I finally settled on Mulligatawny Soup. Never heard of it. Evidently this is a popular British soup. It wasn't too complicated and I thought it might be palatable. We were supposed to make a half gallon of soup. No problem, I just doubled the recipe.

At that point Ridges came in and I told him he was working with me, we were making soup and since he was late I had already picked it. The soup is really easy, diced chicken, mirepoix (diced celery, carrots and onions), sliced mushrooms and diced apples in a chicken stock with curry powder. I found some left over grilled chicken breast in the walk-in so we didn't even have to cook any chicken. Ridges and I spent the first part of the morning just prepping all of our ingredients. We had two quarts of some nasty looking chicken stock from the previous week. I'm standing there slicing mushrooms, Ridges is next to me and I see SloMo standing at the corner of our table spooning out the fat from his chicken stock into ours. Ridges just stares at him and finally says, what are you doing? Oh is this your stock, man I'm sorry. So now our stock is looking really bad. We pull two more stocks out of the walk-in and they are both congealed nastiness. Ridges pulls the last one and it's clear. It also happens to be the one he and I made. Not sure what everyone else did wrong. So now we were back in business.

Now that everything was prepped it was time to start cooking. We sweated the mirepoix instead of sauteing it. That took a little longer. Next we added the chicken stock and spices and brought it to a boil, simmer 15 minutes. At this point Ridges and I debated about whether or not we should strain the mirepoix out. Since neither of us had ever heard of this soup we didn't know what it was supposed to look like. We finally decided yes, strain it, to let the chicken, apples and mushrooms shine.

At this point I look at the table next to the stove and it is an absolute chaotic disaster. RK and SloMo are making gumbo. RK is sauteing chicken, I think, but seems absolutely lost. SloMo is screaming stuff. They've got two pans going on the stove and two more on the table. SloMo has butter in one and is dumping flour on top of it. Chef asks what he's doing and SloMo says making gumbo. It looks like he's making cookies. Chef asks how do you make gumbo? You make a roux. That's what I'm doing SloMo retorts. How much flour and butter asks Chef. SloMo say something about 20 ounces of flour because that's what the book says (there we go again. I don't think boy wonder resized the recipe). Chef makes them dump it out and start over with oil and flour. He whisks it himself and explains to RK how in New Orleans they use oil and bake the roux in the oven to prevent it from burning, stirring occasionally. They never did get a dark roux for their gumbo.

We've got everything going well. We add the chicken, apples and mushrooms and basically just need to simmer for 15 minutes. I ask Chef when he wants to plate. He wants us ready by 11:00. We are serving a buffet line for school administrators at noon. It's 10:30 so we are going to have no problem. Chef looks at me, smiles and points to the gumbo disaster and says they won't be ready. Unfortunately Ridges and I were the only ones ready at 11:00, everyone else took all the way until noon or soon after. I have no sympathy for the others. Part of cooking is looking at the recipe, knowing what you need to do and being able to plan things out so you are ready in time. That's why I passed over a good twenty recipes when I was trying to find one. I certainly would not have attempted the gumbo with a thirty item ingredient list.

We got the buffet going and most people passed over the Mulligatawny soup. I think the name was too scary. If we had called it Chicken Curry with Mushroom I think more people would have tried it. Though curry still scares people away. The apple was good but I'm not sure people would have identified it as apple. I was impressed because apple in cooked savory dishes is something I avoid.

One group made chicken noodle. I passed on that. I also passed on the roux since I saw what went into it. The southwestern chicken tortilla soup was so so, not enough broth to really be a soup. I passed on the cream of broccoli though I heard it was good. Bar Code and MILF made borscht. Having taken Russian in high school I have had it several times. There's was OK. I've never had it chunky before but MILF swears that is how her Russian uncle served it. I also have to give credit where credit is due. Mouth showed up nearly two hours late and Chef assigned cream of mushroom soup to her. Hey wait a minute, there's no stock in that! Regardless, or irregardless as the say down here, her soup was outstanding. I ate three cups of it. It was the best soup there hands down.

After lunch we got everything cleaned up. We had recombined all of the chicken stocks, reheated and this time we were going to chill them down and freeze them. Everyone thinks we are going to get out early when Chef throws a curve ball: pick a new partner and come up with a pork dish for tomorrow. I never pick a partner. I don't care who I work with though I am hopeful I can make the rest of the year without working with Mouth, SloMo, Baby Face, Igor or Chico. MILF whips around and says you and me. Fine. Actually I'm looking forward to working with her, I like her, she's good, she's considerate and I think I can show her a few things, after all the best way to learn something is to teach something.

I tell her that we should avoid the Internet. She fetches her book and I flip to the meat section. I start with lamb explaining to her that pork is an easy substitute in any lamb dish. We've got two huge boneless loin to work with and need to make enough to serve three to four. Roast lamb, lamb chops, stuffed leg... I ask MILF what she would like to make. She says when she thinks pork she thinks Cajun. Fine. Lamb shish kebabs. Hey! I say we could do Cajun pork kebabs. MILF loves this idea. We'll do cherry tomatoes, onions, half slices of jalapeno peppers and serve it on dirty rice. See, once again the secret to success is combining ideas.

Chef gave us the thumbs up and we headed into the kitchen. We decide to make out own Cajun seasoning, there was a recipe in the book. I tried to explain to MILF that since we didn't need to make the six ounces of spice mix we could easily scale it down by substituting a tablespoon for each ounce of spice called for. The ratios would stay the same. I'm not sure if she understood me or not but that it what we did. The flavor was spot on. Next we cut our pork into chunks figuring four per skewer, tossed the meat in our Cajun blend and wrapped it up to sit over night in the walk-in.

No comments: