Chapter 10: Week 7: Making progress

I get the whole idea of progressions; I understand why we do them and I even think I understand how to do them. But, to start with, I find it hard to actually write one down. A progression? It’s literally how you plan to progress through the day, in 5, 10 or 15 minute increments, all written down neatly on a proper form so your chef can write on it in red exactly where you’ve gone wrong.

See, standing in the restaurant kitchen at 9 am it’s easy to see what needs doing first and why – square away the meat and put the roast in, make pastry for the tart cases, finish up with veg prep and the staff meal. Unless we’re roasting chicken for the staff, in which case we need to think of doing that at 1015 so the chicken will be roasted and rested by 1130. And if we’re making puff pastry that needs to be started first to allow the rests between turns. And of course if chef wants to cook the potatoes in their skins then that needs to be organised by 10 to give them time to roast and then cool a bit before peeling them.
OK, OK. So it’s not obvious, unless you’re Chef and you’ve been doing this for 18 years and you don’t need to write anything down.

But I do get how to do it: you start from the end and work back, starting with what you plan to serve at midday – for example – and then work backwards towards the start of the day. Whatever takes the longest to cook, do that first. Then work through your meat, fish, veg and patisserie in an order which allows you to keep your workstation clean and free of contaminants, doing everything of one type all in one go and then moving on to the next. Simples

We get a choice of progression sheets at school; I find them both pretty easy to use, although School Chef reckons the one-column version is easier for us beginners – not so much chance of us trying to get ourselves to do two things at once, I suppose.

So, progressions done today we’re supposed to be doing ‘Cotes de Porc Charcuterie’ – pork chops with a cooking juice and stock reduction and gherkin sauce – and ‘Oeufs pochés bragance’, poached eggs sitting in half a tomato covered with a béarnaise sauce. This is French Cooking As She Was Done By Escoffier, and don’t you forget it my lads. If it was good enough in 1905, it’s good enough in 2005 now shut up and make that bizarre sauce.

On my progression form this means cut up the chops from the the whole ribs into portions of 4 ribs each, Frenching the bones – cleaning off the meat residue to make them look pretty – then do the veg prep while roasting the ribs, make the béarnaise while cooking the veg and reducing the cooking jus and poach the eggs when everything else is done and keeping warm for five minutes.

But the pork hasn’t arrived so we start poaching eggs, which I think will be leathery in three hours time but there you go.

Then the pork does arrive, but it’s not in whole ribs – they’ve been cut up into individual chops. Whilst they were still frozen. With a band saw. So, they’re not pretty and it’s a much too easy job to cut off what remains of the mangled vertebrae for us. In theory we: Remove the vertebra; de-nerve and de-fat; aplatir (tenderise by beating, apparently not the same thing as beating recalcitrant children), manchonner (oops, School Chef forgot to order the ‘paper condoms’, as Restaurant Chef calls the little hats you stick on rib bone ends) and reserve. Then we pan fry them, put them to one side to keep warm, recover the caramelised sugars from the pans and add some instant powdered stock to make a bit of a sauce, add in the julienned gherkins, monter au beurre et voilà , main course.

Poaching the eggs is easier than scrambling them as we did last week; salted water just barely simmering, drop in the eggs one at a time one after the other, remove when cooked. When are they cooked? Harold McGee has an interesting idea about how if you get the percentage of salt exactly right in the water, you drop the eggs in and they rise to the surface at the moment they’re done. I’d love to tell you what that percentage is, but Chef’s borrowed my book at the moment (Restaurant Chef, that is). He doesn’t understand most of it and reckons McGee would make another fortune if he had it translated into French.

After lunch we have Droit. Every week we, the students, ask each other “Is it Droit or Hygiène this week?”, then groan at the answer, whichever it is. We hate each one more than the other. This week: Business partners! So that’s banks, other financial partners, staff, the government, suppliers and clients. Who’s the most important? Duh. There are also ‘indirect’ partners – fashions, opinion leaders (journalists! The scum!)…it sort of goes on a bit, I think.

Still. Back in the kitchen we go over ‘dégraissage et deglaçage’ – defatting and deglazing, or Getting The Most Out Of Your Cooked Meat. This is something I’ve never really thought about before. It’s something I’ve always automatically done with roasted meats – make a gravy with the bits that stick to the pan – but have almost never done with pan-fried meats, apart from making a mustard sauce in the pan in which I cook chicken breasts. And even then never really thought of it as the same sort of thing (reserve the chicken, deglaze with a large serving/soup spoon of mustard of your choice per portion, add two spoons of cream when the mustard bubbles, mix, season, serve).

Choux pastry this afternoon, something else I’ve already practised in the restaurant. In fact, I know it quite well because RC is keen on it, and all our stagiaires have to know the recipe by heart (and so frequently stop by my plonge to ask me to remind them what it is): half the flour to the quantity of water, half that of butter, 16-20 eggs per litre depending – add the last one or four only if needed.

I show School Chef the technique Restaurant Chef learned from the Patissier at the Martinez in Cannes for drying the détrempe of flour and water – with your sauteuse on the corner of the forneau, push the paste to the side of the pan furthest from you and then chop and drag it towards you in small pieces across the bottom of the pan. This may leave a crust on the bottom of the pan, but this doesn’t matter. When you’ve dragged it all towards you, turn it over and start again. It works better than just aimlessly smashing and stirring at it, ensuring that every bit gets an even chance of being dried out.

We make Profiteroles with the Choux, filling them eventually with crème patissière – unfortunately, a good 10% or so are judges ‘unfit for service’ so we have to eat them ourselves. Ahem. The sacrifices we make…

After that I got the bus home (Delphine, bless her, dropped me off at school at 0745 so I didn’t have to ride my bike, I’m still not well), made some pizza dough and then went straight to sleep. I made ham and mushroom pizzas when Delphine got home, we watched an episode of The West Wing (which I like lots) and I slept a solid 9 hours, only to wake up absolutely exhausted the next morning. Luckily I can go to work and spend 15 hours washing up for a bit of a rest. Lovely.

 

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