Today was ALL about cooking. Each small group was to prepare a dish from start to finish. The menu? Perfect Roast Chicken, Seared Steaks with Peppercorn Pan Sauce, Beef Bourguignon, and Monkfish Stew with Saffron Aioli. Since my team was responsible for making the Fish Stock the day before, we would be preparing the Fish Stew. I was a bit nervous about this challenge. First of all, this was my first time in class handling a "protein" and second, the monkfish was priced at $29/pound! What if we totally screw this up?!? But I must say that I did feel better as I eyed the team across from us who were preparing four massive cuts of Dry Aged Prime Steaks (grass fed!!) priced at $119! If you haven't noticed, Sur La Table's classes use very high quality food. The kind of food that you should really let real chefs deal with. But it seemed that our leader Chef Gilligan/Miyagi believed in us. And if he did, I did too.
At my stew station, I stared at the vegetables I was about to chop. Each one of them needed to be "fine" -- which also meant they needed to be chopped correctly. My teammate and I were extremely focused. Feet positioned, knife pinched, each chop as if it were a step from one dance move to the next. We were silent for some time and then I softly heard her say -- "doesn't this feel a lot like Top Chef?" Thank, God I wasn't alone! I smiled, "so I'm not the only one thinking that today feels like restaurant wars?" She laughed, "it so does!" From that point on, we agreed that we were going to kick some foodie butt.
Our very professional-looking chopped fennel, carrot, garlic and onion were added to our GORGEOUS Le Creuset pot. I add this detail because if you've ever seen one of these funky-colored cast-iron pieces, you'd fall in love. They can go on the counter, then on to the stove, and then you can move it elsewhere and serve. As I poured the olive oil and added my vegetables into the BMW of pots, I realized that I had to stop staring at it or I'd lose control and buy every last one of them after class -- which would land me living on the streets...given that they cost around $200 each. Trying to stay focused, I grabbed a silicone spatula and began stirring the vegetables, allowing them to "sweat". In cooking terms, sweating is when you cook your vegetables over low to medium heat until they become translucent as opposed to brown. Sweating allows the vegetables to stay hydrated and by moving them around the pot, you make sure that they are cooking evenly. If you were to dehydrate your vegetables and brown them, you would be caramelizing them. Two days ago, I did not know any of this. Isn't it amazing what a little time in class will do?
This stew is simple. Granted, I'm speaking in hindsight. But from here on out, you'll see how simple this recipe actually is. Seriously. Give this stew a try.
|My first fish stew|
At the 30 minute mark, remove your bouquet and discard. Check your flavors. If you need more pepper, add it! At this point, you can add your monkfish. The fish will cook for about 10 minutes over the low heat. Once the fish is ready, you'll want to add 1/4 cup of heavy cream. This will give your stew the nice chowder texture that you'd want in a fish stew. Allow the cream to settle for about 10 minutes (make sure the liquid does not boil!). Lastly, top with finely, chopped tomato concasse (that's skinless, seedless tomatoes) and a little parsley for color.
We were super excited about our stew. We knew it was looking great and our flavors were there. Until...we realized we forgot the Aioli! We can't serve Monkfish Stew with Saffron Aioli and not have Aioli! GEEZ! Chef even demonstrated the Aioli due to it's tricky technique. But as you know, in Restaurant Wars, you have to think quick and get moving and so....OPERATION AIOLI went into action.
DON'T FORGET THE AIOLI
All you need for this amazing (and potent) drizzle is 4 garlic cloves, sea salt, about 10 saffron pistols, a cup of extra-virgin olive oil and an egg yolk. The tricky part is making sure the aioli is blended well. We first tried a food processor -- adding the minced garlic, some salt, and half the oil -- but when we added the yolk and slowly tried to drizzle the rest of the oil, the mixture was broken. Chef gave us a handy tip. While most of cooking does well with very expensive, fancy food processors and blenders, this aioli would come together much better with your own hand and a whisk. And so that's what we did. Amazing and smooth. We heated the saffron with a little oil and then added this fragrant spice to our mixture.
WOOHOO! Our stew was ready. And it wasn't the only sexy dish in the room.
|You saw the after, now here's the before|
|A Beef Bourguignon that Julia Child would be proud of|
|Peppercorn encrusted Dry Aged Prime Steaks|
|If you're going to eat like this, you need a little sexy salad|
And no one expected our surprise "graduation" dessert....
|Individual Chocolate Souffles a.k.a. Heaven in a Cup|
Chef tasted all of the food we made. While it looked perfect, it was really up to him on whether it tasted perfect. He seemed extremely happy with everything he was eating and then went to pick up his small bowl of Monkfish Stew. My teammate and I held our breath. Would he take a sip and spit it out? Would he squint and swallow and barely get out the words...."not bad"? He spooned a mouthful and his eyes lit up. He nodded frequently, seeming to enjoy what he was tasting. And then he said...."I'm impressed. This is the best this stew has come out in our classes." I did an internalized fist pump. My teammate leaned into me...."I think we won Restaurant Wars". I smiled. And the prize was the best three days of my foodie journey so far.
You can find the complete recipe for Bourdain's Rich Fish Stew in his Les Halles Cookbook