This weekend will be the tenth and final weekend of my culinary school externship. If you had asked me six months ago if I planned to spend my winter in the hot kitchen of a Michelin-starred restaurant, I would have laughed and told you that it just wasn’t my plan. But as life constantly teaches us, plans change, and sometimes the things you experience when you’re where you least expected to be can teach you things that you needed to know. Even if you didn’t know it.
Posts Tagged ‘culinary school’
Roasted chicken is one recipe that should be in everyone’s repitoire. It’s simple, it’s classic, and most of all, it’s nourishing. Few meals feel as comforting, homey and right as a well-roasted whole chicken on a bed of rustic seasonable vegetables. You can dress this up, or down, but the method stays pretty much the same.
In culinary school, we spent one class just learning how to perfectly roast different types of meats. In addition to pork loins and racks of lamb, this instruction included roasting some fifteen Cornish hens, loaded with aromatics and garlic, similar to the recipe below. Before this class, I’d always assumed roasting was as simple as cooking some meat in a preheated oven at one constant temperature – and sure, it can be. But, there is a trick of the trade that applies particularly to roasting birds, and that is to cook it for the first fifteen minutes at a slightly higher temperature. This achieves the equivalent of searing meat before roasting it (while allowing you to avoid the unwieldy task of searing a five-pound chicken in a skillet) – it gives ensures the exterior skin is crispy and well-browned, while locking moisture into the meat. The result? A perfectly cooked, brown and crispy bird.
Here, quite simply, is how to roast a perfect chicken.
Roasted Chicken with Seasonal Vegetables - Serves 4
Adapted from Ina Garten’s Perfect Roast Chicken
- 1 medium (5 to 6 pound) chicken
- 2 medium yellow onions, cubed
- 6 carrots, peeled and cut into chunks
- 2 bulbs of fennel, tops and bottoms removed, cut into wedges
- 2 medium sweet potatoes, washed and cubed
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 40 sprigs of fresh thyme, divided
- 1 lemon, quartered
- 1 head of garlic, cut in half crosswise
- 2 tbsp melted butter
- Kosher salt
- Fresh cracked black pepper
1. Preheat the oven to 450.
2. Start by cleaning the chicken – remove any giblets, rinse it well inside and out, and pat very dry. Trim any excess fat around the neck or bottom cavity. Salt the cavity of the chicken very well; then, put the lemon, garlic, and half of the thyme inside the cavity. Tie the chicken legs together. If you don’t have kitchen twine, cross the legs, cut a small hole in the excess skin at the bottom of each chicken, and slip the leg bones through the holes to hold in place.
3. In a large roasting pan or pot, add the cubed vegetables, olive oil and remaining thyme. Season liberally with salt and pepper and toss to coat. Place the chicken on top of the vegetables, and brush the chicken skin with the melted butter. Seasons skin well with salt and pepper.
4. Roast the chicken for 15 minutes at 450 degrees – this will dry out the skin and create greater crispness. Lower the temperature to 425 and continue roasting for another hour and 15 minutes. You can check for doneness by twisting the bone in the chicken leg; if it turns easily, the chicken is done. Alternately, you can cut between the leg and thigh; juices should run clear.
5. Remove from oven and allow chicken to rest, covered, for 15 minutes. Slice the chicken and arrange on a platter or plates with the roasted vegetables. Top with excess juices from roasting pan, if desired.
After a year of devoting Sunday, Monday and Tuesday nights to studying culinary technique and practice in the kitchens of the Institute of Culinary Education, my schedule has finally shifted, in some ways for the better, though in others, more challenging. I have my Sundays and weeknights back, which is an amazing change that I’ve been craving for a while now. On the other hand, I’ve surrendered my Friday nights and Saturdays for the next 10 weeks as I embark on the latest, greatest adventure in my culinary escapades: The Restaurant Kitchen Externship.
The particular restaurant team I have joined asked me to sign a non-disclosure agreement before beginning to work there, which included an agreement to not blog, tweet, Facebook, or generally discuss on the Internet anything about said restaurant while I’m working there. Hence, I can’t actually mention the name of my externship site on the blog, and will be fairly cautious and self-limiting in what I discuss – so much so that the photos in this post aren’t even of the restaurant I’m working at. However, I do want to share my point of view on my experiences, what I’m learning, and how I’m growing throughout this process, since it’s a huge part and the final puzzle piece of the culinary school journey.
While last Saturday was the first official day of my externship, I’ve already worked at the restaurant twice – on Black Friday, and the following Wednesday, as a sort of try-out. From those experiences and my other trails, I already knew (as most culinary students quickly realize) that one of the biggest challenges of an externship would simply be the hours. A typical shift in a NYC restaurant can last upwards of 14 hours – and that’s 14 hours on your feet, in a hot kitchen, with little to no break, family meal being the only exception. It’s definitely something that takes a lot of brain power and Advil to get used to, and I swore off watching the clock within my first few hours.
Another thing that will definitely take some getting used to is being the low man on the totem pole, so to speak. As a business professional that has worked in my particular niche industry for three years, I’m used to a certain amount of respect and credibility in the job that I do on a daily basis. But in a restaurant kitchen, I have zero seniority. The general advice chef-instructors give their students on their externships is, “Keep your head down, and don’t speak unless spoken to. Say ‘Yes Chef!’, and that’s it.” And in general, this is the best policy to follow. I’m lucky in that the restaurant I’m working at has a wonderful friendly, upbeat vibe in the kitchen, but there’s no mistaking the fact that the most spoken word out of my mouth should be “yes.”
Finally, in the weeks leading up to the externship, I struggled a bit with the idea of having to perform. In my mind, I was seeing this externship as a job, and when you take a job, they way you are perceived and treated by your coworkers is largely evidence of how well you perform or prove your skills. And having zero restaurant experience and amateur skills, wondering how I well I would perform and how I would be perceived became, quite frankly, stressful.
But then, the monday before my externship began, at my graduation, a speaker said something that made my perspective completely shift. They said, “You’re almost there, with your internship the last part of your culinary education.” And then I realized – remembered – that really, this experience is all about learning. And if I approach each and every one of my 14 hours shifts as a marathon opportunity to learn and grow, it takes a load of expectations off of my own shoulders. Funnily enough, Saturday afternoon, a line cook showed me the fastest way to peel the apples I’d been struggling with; when I commented on how easy he made it look, he said, “Don’t worry – that’s why you’re here. To learn.“
So what have I learned so far?
Well, I’ve learned that it will take me approximately 2 hours to dice ten apples into quarter-inch cubes that are exactly the same size – and that I need to work on that time. I’ve learned that the nearest Gristedes doesn’t always carry Yukon gold potatoes on Saturdays, but the gourmet grocer a few blocks further is a great back up (thanks, iPhone). I’ve learned the value of hearty meal after hours of standing labor, and that for the next ten weeks, family meal will be my saving grace. And I’ve learned that being the low man on the totem pole isn’t always so bad, because it makes life a lot simpler.
After all, what is simpler than knowing your answer will always be yes?
Last night was an evening I’d been looking forward to for quite some time. Way back when in late February, when I first received my culinary school syllabus and eagerly tore through it, I spotted a couple of lessons, way near the end of the program in module five, mysteriously dubbed “Market Basket Cooking.” I was intrigued.
The first thing that came to mind was the Food Network show, “Chopped.” Personally, I’ve never been a fan of the show. Something about the multiple rounds of elimination and the frenetic pace stressed me out as a viewer in ways that Iron Chef America or Top Chef never would. And months ago, as a culinary youngin’, imagining myself at the helm of that experience, peering unknowingly down into a jumbled basket of ingredients, I was detachedly anxious, hoping my future skills would be enough to carry me.
When we walked into our kitchen classroom last night and saw our secret ingredients written on the board, there was a unanimous sigh of relief. Scallops, grape tomatoes, spinach, and slab bacon were fairly compatible with a variety of flavor profiles, and we were working in teams of two to create two appetizers. Along with one of my frequent classroom partners, we put our heads together for a quick brainstorming session, sketching plates and jotting down prep lists, and I was once again reminded of the quick shots in Top Chef that cut between teams as they mind meld to plan their menus.
Arborio rice was stuck in my head, after briefly reading it on our stock list, and I couldn’t shake it, so I caved and decided risotto was in order. Leigh Ann recalled that the best thing she’d ever had with grape tomatoes was a roasted grape tomato concasse at DB Modern, so I opted to recreate it. After sifting through the rest of the ingredients, we decided to deviate from the overdone mushroom risotto and instead mix in leeks and lots of white wine and citrus to bring out the natural sweetness in the scallops. It’s a dish I would have ordered at any restaurant, and from this stemmed my confidence in betting it all on this fairly straightforward plate.
A few hours later, it seemed that I had emerged for the better in keeping it simple. Though my leek risotto could have done with a minute more’s cooking, it was rich, savory, and had a clean tang of citrus that cut the creaminess nicely. The scallops, which we couldn’t escape pan searing for both our appetizers, were crisp on the outside and perfectly tender in the center. And the roasted tomato concasse, which had been jazzed up with a bit of roasted garlic, olive oil and dehydrated lemon zest, provided a nice additional layer of slow-cooked flavor.
On the spectrum of what our class made last night, there are two takeaways as to where this dish fell out. In overall execution, Chef seemed to find it on the strong end. The scallop was well cooked and the risotto had good flavors – he kept going back for more bites, and the plate was quickly empty, always a good sign. On the other hand, some of my other classmates took greater risks in their cooking and stepped outside their comfort zone, something which I definitely did not do. I’ve both cooked risotto and roasted grape tomatoes many times, and acidic, fresh flavor profiles are absolutely my sweet spot.
On the bright side, that makes this dish a win, and a recipe I’ll gladly share here today. On the other hand, though, I’m curious how well I’ll fare without my safety net, and I’m hoping to push myself a bit more into the unknown tonight, with individual market basket entrees. In the meantime, please enjoy this wonderful leek risotto recipe, which is only made better with the accompaniment of a perfectly seared sea scallop and heap of roasted grape tomatoes. This warm, hearty dish is quintessential of autumn, and can come together in about 30 minutes. Enjoy!
Creamy Leek Risotto
Makes 4 appetizer portions
- 1 cup of arborio rice
- 1 tbsp butter
- 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1/4 cup minced shallots
- 1/4 cup leeks, quartered long ways and thinly sliced
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 3/4 cup of dry white wine
- 1 tsp lemon juice
- 3-4 cups of chicken stock
- 1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan
- 1/4 cup of heavy cream
- 1/4 cup fresh chopped parsley
- Salt and fresh cracked black pepper, to taste
1. In a large saucepan or medium pot, heat olive oil and butter over medium heat. Once butter is melted, add shallots and leeks and cook, stirring often, until softened – about five minutes. Add garlic and cook one minute more until fragrant.
2. Add the arborio rice to the pot and stir until rice is coated in butter and opaque, about 1 minute.
3. Add half a cup of the white wine and the lemon juice and cook, stirring constantly, until the liquid has been absorbed. Then, using a ladle, continue to add chicken stock about a quarter to half a cup at a time, and continue to stir constantly. As you continue to stir, the risotto will absorb the liquid, thicken, and cook. You can also add the remaining wine as one addition if you prefer a more tangy flavor.
4. Continue adding stock and cooking until the risotto is tender and creamy – about 25 to 30 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the cheese, heavy cream, and about half the parsley. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
5. Serve immediately with a sprinkling of extra parsley as garnish. Can be served alone, or topped with a seared scallop and dollop of roasted grape tomatoes.