For those of you with a leaning towards culinary matters, I thought I'd pop in and blither (quite a lot) about the fantastic weekend that G and I just had at the Ashburton Cookery School, .
The course we attended was called 'Fish and Seafood Plus' and promised to give a good grounding in fish and seafood preparation skills. It ran over two days and was logged as a 'Level 3' course (meaning that it is geared up for non-professional food ponces who are comfortable cooking for dinner parties and so on but want to expand some specific skills.) The course was my surprise birthday present for G and I dithered over whether to go with him. Suffice to say I am so pleased I made that decision.
The school is located in a pretty town in deepest Devon...
Before I go into any detail about the course, I will simply say that the weekend was brilliant from beginning to end and I really could not recommend the school more highly. The experience is somewhere between a course and a holiday. You do learn a lot of skills, but you're treated so well while doing so that you feel less like a student and more like a VIP in a 5-star hotel. The whole time is spent cooking and eating, with no tiresome chores whatsoever, and every time you turn around you discover that invisible house elves have been and cleaned up your work station and done all of your washing up.
The kitchen is made up of workstations like this...
And the rest of the time is spent in the lovely dining room, eating what you've made. (By the end of it you could literally roll back to your hotel.)
The course itself is quite intensive but great fun. The only stressful part (for me) was havng to be the agent of death for so many things that were still alive. I realise this aspect might not bother most of you, and it is all about food honesty and so on, but as a reformed vegetarian I did struggle a bit. I had such a 'Thank God' moment when the chef delivered the bad news that the crabs had arrived from the fishmongers already cooked. I was also deeply relieved not to have to personally boil the living lobsters (I actually felt a bit sick during that bit). But I did murder some living scallops (which G refused to do for me) and put some live mussels in the oven. (I may well go to hell, but they didn't half taste good... )
As hypocritical as it may be, I fared so much better with the things that were already dead ...and am delighted to report that G and I now have pretty good filleting skils! (Using a proper filleting knife has a lot to do with it.)
Anyway enough pre-amble... here is what we made! If you would like any of the recipes, let me know.
Poached John Dory on a bed of griddled courgette with a red pepper coulis
(The coulis was gorgeous enough to eat with a spoon )
Seared Squid and Scallops on a bed of apple and chilli salsa
(This was my joint favourite dish - the salsa rocked and all of it was absolutely divine)
Plaice and Mussels Papillote on a bed of Fennel with Prawn and Dill Butter
(This was my other joint favourite - who knew plaice could taste so amazing? And the prawn butter was a revelation!)
Black Bream Saltimbocca Style with Sage and Bok Choi
(It was really hard to find room for this after all of the above, but it tasted wonderful. The meaty people wrapped theirs in parma ham)
Spicy Crab Cakes with Two Dips, Salad and Edible Flowers
(These were obsecenely gorgeous and served with cucumber & dill dip and sweet chilli sauce)
Saffron Fish Soup served with Croutes and Garlic Rouille
(This was sublime and included lobster, various fish that we had filleted and tiger prawns.)
Crispy Mackerel with Crushed Potatoes and Mustard Sauce
(as with the day before, it was seriously hard to find room for this. However it was so delicious we managed to cram it down. The mustard sauce was fabulous)
Fruit Marinated in Vanilla and Guava Syrups with Crushed Praline and Clotted Ice Cream
(This pudding was a little unexpected extra thrown in to finish off day two, It involved painting a stripe of guava syrup onto the plate and coating with crushed praline. The fruits had been marinated in a mixture of flavours with vanilla, and the ice cream was drizzled with the guava syrup. Thanks to the invention of the second stomach for puddings, we all managed to nom the lot.)
Summary of Skills learned:
- All of the above recipes (using various cooking techniques and sauces)
- How to gut, fillet, de-bone and skin different types of fish
- How to cook and deconstruct lobster
- How to deconstruct and prepare crabs
- How to gut and prepare a whole squid
- How to de-shell and prepare scallops
- How to make fish stock
- Plus some meaty skills for meaty people (which I failed to take careful note of)
Some general tips learned:
- How to recognise fresh fish and seafood
- When to use butter vs oil, and when to mix them
- General presentation skills (bring on the squeezy bottles!)
- General knife skills (I now know the easy way to chop shallots into tiny pieces)
Goodies brought home:
- Fish tweezers
- Bake-o-glide liner (fabulous stuff with a million uses)
- Mini spatula
- Vanilla Pods
- Squeezy bottles (aka instant presentation skills)
- Ashburton shopping bags
Things added to my shopping list...
- A fish filleting knife
- A chinois (much better than a sieve in a lot of cases)
- Another course at Ashburton (quite fancy doing the patisserie one sometime)
Here are a few top tips that came up which I think are worth passing on.
- Strange but true - you can cook food with cling film on it. (e.g. if you stuffed and wrapped steak into a sausage shape in clingfilm, you can then slice it into medallions and fry the pieces with the clingfilm still around the edges and it won't melt... but wll keep the shape)
- Adding salt to sweating onions helps the sweating process
- When you want to caramelise onions, cut them into thin strips lengthways, not 'burger-ring' style - they will cook down much better.
- Use self-raising flour to flour cake tins, not plain. It raises in the tin and makes releasing the cake easier.
- If you want a £3 bottle of balsamic to take on the flavour and texture of a £30 bottle, cut a fig in half and heat up the vinegar in a pan with the fig. When it thickens up, re-bottle the balsamic and job done. (Apparently the thickening is due to an enzyme in the fig, which also adds richness to the flavour)
- In general, the chefs use loads of seasoning but are big on avoiding seasoning until near the end - especially sauces, because it gets saltier as the liquid evaporates. (Hence they always cook with unsalted butter cos they prefer to control the salt themselves).
Link to cookery school here.... www.ashburtoncookeryschool.co.uk/
More pics on Flickr here... www.flickr.com/photos/susanflockhart/set
- Current Mood: hungry