Chapter 27: Week 25: A little cheffy common sense

If you’ve never started your day by sticking your hand up a chicken’s bottom I heartily recommend it as a way of waking yourself up, clearing a muzzy head and getting yourself to the head of the queue for the loo.
Well, it’s not that bad really. Today we’re doing ‘Habiller une volaille affilée’, dressing a drawn piece of poultry – in this case, a chicken. Volaille almost always means chicken, but can mean turkey, guinea fowl, even rabbit – which is very handy for serving rabbit to those who think they won’t like it but who will, once they’ve tried it. As in ‘volaille surprise’ – which looks like breasts of chicken wrapped in bacon and served with a tomato sauce. The surprise, of course, is that it’s rabbit not chicken.
We learn how to ‘vider’, empty the chicken – most of the guts are gone, it’s just the heart, lungs and delicious liver left. I do like a good chicken liver salad, sautéed until they’re just pink inside and deglazed with some raspberry vinegar.
Tasty.
And we also get to learn how to tie up a chicken with the giant darning needles we all bought at the start of the year because they were on the list of ‘must have’ kit. Actually I didn’t buy mine, my Restaurant Chef gave me one of his since he had several spares. He’s kind like that. We learn how to do this even though it’s now been taken off the list of required things to know for our CAP exam – nowadays all chickens are tied up with elastic string which is cheaper and quicker. You can also slip off the elastic to poke around inside an allegedly PAC, Prêt à  Cuire (ready to cook) chicken to make sure it’s been properly emptied before seasoning the inside and then slipping the elastic back on to hold it all tightly together. The idea is to hold the legs and wings tightly together so that you have as compact an item as possible which will cook evenly – if you leave extraneous wing tips and feet sticking out they’ll cook more quickly and even burn before the rest of the bird is done. Perhaps not too important at home, but in a restaurant where you serve every bit of the chicken, it counts.
It’s just a detail and one I hadn’t really thought about before; I’ve bought hundreds, even thousands of chickens in the past all tied up like this and never really known what to do with their bondage gear – leave them tied up, set them free, what’s the difference? It never says anything on the label about the string so I’ve always considered it optional. But a little cheffy common sense points to the right answer, so leave it on it is.
We roast these chickens – and thanks to my Restaurant Chef I already have this one down pat; 15 minutes on one thigh, 15 minutes on the other, 15 minutes on its tummy and finish off with 15 minutes on its back to crisp up the skin over the breast. This avoids cooking the breast too much, exposing the thighs to more heat – when we do a dish with a chicken cut up into portions we cook the breast for 12 minutes and the thighs for 15, since they need it more.
To go with the roasts we do Pommes Dauphine, a mix of pâte à choux and mashed potato, both of which we’re now expected to be able to produce without any further information from our School Chef. He wants us to add 400 grammes of mash to a choux pastry based on a quarter of a litre of liquid, which ends up as a roughly tant pour tant mix – equal amounts of each. My Restaurant Chef thinks this is wrong, we should be putting a quarter choux to three quarters spud. Last year’s Seconde de Cuisine had it the other way round. Oh, how the French do love to argue about recipes. All agree though that these are piped into attractive shapes on a baking sheet and baked, unlike last week’s recipe in which we piped a different pastry/potato mix into a vat of oil.
Lunch, and the fried fish in the school canteen at lunchtime has gone through all four levels of the Kitchen Kids ‘Make it inedible’ regime, and they’ve succeeded once again. France’s future cooks – I’m bringing sandwiches. Luckily, most of these individuals won’t be let loose on my lunch without the supervision of a proper chef.
We start this afternoon with a nap. Sorry, with our Hygiène class, talking all about Water and its various roles. Its first role is Plastique, one of those Faux Amis French words – it doesn’t mean plastic. Indeed, I’ve never really got any sort of handle as to what it means. In this case it means that water aids in the construction of our billions of cells and in repairing wounds, so I guess it means something to do with building. Water also has, it turns out, a role to play in blood. Yes, it’s the water in blood that makes it so liquid. Well, you learn something every day. If you’re 16 and stupid, that is. For a classroom full of adults it’s not the best way to start an afternoon in a sunny classroom after lunch which may have included a glass or two of red wine. Well, unless you like to start your afternoons with a siesta, that is, which it seems most of us do.

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