Monday, September 17, 2007

Everything in mooo-deration?

Today was a bit of a change from the last week, but it's good. I think the class is starting to gel has a whole and we're starting to get each other's quirks. Everyone has said that we have worked extremely well together as a class. I find this really surprising. Not because I expected there to be some huge problems in the class, but because I never thought that a group of people in a class to learn the same thing would create a lot of conflict. I guess you never really know. But it's good to be apart of a group that seems to bounce along together. I'd hate to feel uncomfortable in a room full of knives.

The morning field trip to Kinnealy's was very educational. I think I learnt a lot that I wouldn't have expected, and I think I've realized a few logical and obvious things about the meat industry that I probably wouldn't have thought of had it not been for the trip. Namely: rigor mortis, aged beef and the delay from slaughter to shelf.

In retrospect, it's only logical that a cow, like any other animal would experience rigor mortis, but somehow it never occurred to me as a part of the slaughtering and butchering process. Thinking of it now makes the whole process even more dark and almost lusty. It's very humbling to really think about death from such a honest and generally gruesome point of view. I had always approached it in a very clinical matter, but knowing more about the death and thinking about the process more honestly has made me really hold meat eating in a higher regard. I'd always believed that animals that are killed should not be wasted, but now I've changed my thought process from not wishing waste to not wishing excessive killing. There's nothing worse than having meat go to waste.

Walking around Kinnealy's was also amazing, particularly to hear Jimmy (I think was his name) talk about the number of employees that had worked there for years and years. I'm sure they make a decent wage, but the idea of spending hours in a cold room handling nearly frozen meat is just too much to bear. I doubt I'd last very long under those conditions.

After a short detour to Flour (had the lamb sandwich - unbelievably good) with Potter, Catherine and Kevin, we returned to class for the butchering lesson where we watched Chef Charles fabricate a lamb carcass (with my boning knife!).

Watching someone take apart an entire lamb is a pretty intense experience. I highly recommend it. It's a strange feeling of primal satisfaction mingled with intense guilt and hungry morbidity. Hearing a saw cut through bones and watching my boning knife slice through flesh makes you appreciate the difficulty in taking apart an animal. It's not for the faint at heart, or the out of shape.

Anyway, I was trying to keep up and remember all the names of the different cuts, sirloin, loin, ribeye, chop, chuck... it's insanely difficult to remember all of the cuts in one viewing. I tried to relate the various cuts to where they would be located on my body, but Catherine pointed out it was a little weird. I'm fairly certain I know where the flank and ribs and chuck come from on an animal, but I'm still a little confused about the tenderloin and the various other loins.

One question I had after class was why--why do we cut above the 13th rib? What's the point? Wouldn't it make more sense to keep the ribs together in entirety? Wouldn't that also allow for that extra elusive rib chop?

After watching the lamb get fabricated to managable pieces, we were tasked with removing silver skins and cutting the additional pieces into chunks for lamb curry (to be made on Thursday) and lamb sausage (for some future class). Despite spending over 20 minutes on trying to remove the silver skin, I couldn't seem to cut it just right. Clearly, my knife was being effectively used by chef, so I couldn't blame it on the tools. I could only take off little piece by little piece even though I'd seen chef do it my simply sliding a knife right under it. I'll continue to practice at home, particularly now that I know what can cause a piece of meat to be so inedible.

Trimming the fat off, on the other hand, was extremely easy. The knife almost guided my hand so that only fat was removed and the lean muscle was left intact. But lamb is a very fatty piece of meat and soon there were little pieces of lamb fat all over the kitchen and on the floors making it very slippery. What I wondered is why lamb meat doesn't marble with fat like that of a cow. Why does it lay on top of the muscle? Chef wasn't able to answer that, but he did show us the differences in the fat. Caul fat is a flakier white fat found deeper in the lamb and is better when making lamb sausages. The outside fat, he said, could be very dangerous if not trimmed properly, particularly on the grill where flare ups can become a serious problem.

By time we moved on to chicken, I was more confident with my boning abilities. I often handle entire chickens because I invite friends over every Sunday for a roast chicken. I'm accustomed to handling and trussing a chicken; and I've also gotten quite good at carving a chicken. So when chef asked us to truss and then fabricate a chicken, I felt comfortable doing the job well. He show us a variety of ways to truss a chicken, and then, he showed us something that nearly blew me away in its simplicity and brilliance: cutting a leg between the bone and Achilles and tucking the other leg into the hole. This, for me, was one of those "OH MY GOD!" moments where you're shocked at the simplicity of it all and stupidity of having not thought of it before. I'll say right now, it's damned near changed my life.

Fabricating the chicken wasn't too difficult, although it took me a few tries before I could identify what the 'oysters' were between the thigh and body. It was also challenging to crack the breast bone and vertebrae the same way chef had to remove the wishbone. My hands kept slipping and not cracking the right part. In the end, I think my chicken breasts looked slightly worse for wear. Comparatively, chef Charles was next to me fabricating entire chickens in less than a minute... what a show off! :)

Luckily, at the end of class my knife (desperately in need of a sharpening after taking apart a lamb and several chickens) and I were ready to take a shot at using the whetstone. Watching chef show us the basic movements and explain to us the sounds that should made while sharpening helped immensely. I think my boning knife as a new lease on life.


After class most of the students stayed to attend the wine tasting class with the very quirky teacher. He gave each of the four tables 16 paper cups with lids and asked us to blindly smell and try to identify the contents of the cups. Most of us were able to identify the food related ones easily, but there were some that were very frustrating (canned green beans) because we knew the smell, we just couldn't place it.

It was amazing to see how different people responded and picked up on the different smells in each of the cups. Some people found some things to be very citrus-y and others found them to be devoid of any smell. It really actually made me think about how that can affect how people taste food--what does an orange smell like to someone else? Do we smell the same things? Definitely an idea worth chewing over.

Wines were terrible though! I thought I had be totally spoilt by the array of wines available in California, but (and thank God!) the teacher explained that he actually exaggerated different qualities in the wine by adding in acid, etc. It was an excellent way for him to explain how to pick up on the different feelings of the wines though. I was still a little disappointed by the wines he chose to end the class with... maybe I was spoilt by choice in California...