Cooking School Journal: Fabricating


Wow. It’s been too long since I’ve written. It’s funny, once you are used to using a laptop, sitting down at a desk and typing on a desktop computer seems almost impossible. Well, maybe that’s only the case for harried stay-at-home moms who never seem to be in any place except the kitchen, laundry room or car.

Yes, I know. Joe and I both suggested putting the desktop iMac in the kitchen, but it’s not airport compatible, so it would have to be hardwired to the blahbity, blahbity, blah, blah, blah. Anyway, it wasn’t gonna happen.

Last I left you I was talkin’ tough and ready to sear some meat. Well, Monday afternoon rolled around, and it was 104 degrees outside. At 5:55pm I was hanging out in the backyard in a sundress spraying the girls with a hose and wondering if and when Joe would come home so that I could get ready for class. I was secretly praying that he would be stuck in some meeting until midnight, and I could blame my apathy squarely 100% on him.

No such luck. 5:56pm he rushed in, took over the hose and said “Sorry. Long meeting. You better hurry,”

Can’t he ever do anything right?

I put on my required long pants, long-sleeved shirt, socks and tennis shoes. I grabbed my oppressive heat-trapping baseball cap, knives, textbook and notes and headed to hell’s kitchen to carve up animal carcasses and learn how to serve them to the masses.

I was ten minutes late, and when I arrived everyone was in groups getting everything mise en place. When I walked in, they stopped and stared at me. “She’s so late,” they whispered to each other.

“I’m sorry I’m late,” I said lamely.

I rolled up my sleeves and learned how to cut up an entire side of beef. What I would call “butchering” is actually termed “fabricating” in the kitchen. Fabricating is the term for breaking down an animal carcass into consumer cuts. Today, we were going for the tenderloin…the prized filet. The filet is so tender and surprisingly flavorful considering how lean it is.

Joe and I love filet mignon.  The best we’ve ever had was at a restaurant outside of Santa Barbara called the Hitching Post. They were so tender that neither of us needed a knife. We cut our steaks with our forks and licked our plates clean.

In her lecture Chef just so happened to mention The Hitching Post as a place where “they serve ridiculous portions, and the people that go there are such gluttons that they actually lick their plates clean!”

Ouch. I’ll keep it to myself.

The reason the filet is so tender is that it never gets exercised. Its purpose as a part of the cow (all vegetarians should log out immediately) is to sit on the inside of the rib cage and act as a cushion for the internal organs. Less exercise means more tender.

From the  tenderloin, four consumer cuts are fabricated. Many of the names are used interchangeably and it can be confusing. Here is the consensus from two of my favorite references: LaRousse Gastronomique and Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Chateaubriand is cut from the middle of the tenderloin and should be 3 -4 inches in diameter. Next is the tournedo at 2 1/2 inches, and at the end of the tenderloin is the filet mignon which can be as small as 1 1/2 inches.

We were working with tournedos which we trimmed well, seasoned, seared over high heat and cooled.

I placed my tournedo on the edge of  a square of  puff pastry. I then topped it with a dollop of duxelle (dook-SEHL) — which is finely diced and sauteed mushrooms, shallots and herbs. On that I plopped and a dollop of spinach mousse. We then pulled the puff over top and tucked it under the bottom of the meat  to make individual Beef Wellingtons.

After a quick egg wash, cutting a small vent on top, and decorating with extra pastry, they went into the oven — 12 -15 minutes at 450* and then let them go another 10 at 350*. Keep your eye out. You want the pastry to be golden, not dark brown.

These were delicious, but really rich. They can be served with a sauce like bearnaise or a simple reduction, but they stand up on their own too.fc42la7m-00_sm

We also had to each fabricate and trim a NY Strip. If you imagine a Porterhouse steak, On side of the bone has the NY Strip and the other side has the filet. NY Strip is delicious!  We coated ours in peppercorns and seared them for Steak Au Poivre. We deglazed the pan with Brandy (my eyebrows survived) and reduced the pan juices with Port to make a very yummy sauce.

Then we broke up into groups to cook a recipe.

The home-schooler already had her group of glaring girlies. She doesn’t seem to particularly care for me. The boys were already busy rolling out the puff pastry. Crazy Linda was not there.

So, I paired with Alice and Calabasas Jerry.  Calabasas Jerry is new. He’s as old as the Statue of Liberty. He and his wife were on a cruise to the Antarctic last semester, and although he is a graduate, he needed to make up this particular class.

Alice needs a new haircut. I’m pretty sure she still has a “Members Only” jacket and pair of L.A. Gear high tops in her winter collection. She seems a bit trapped in the 80s, fashion-wise…1417255-1-thumblg

But VERY nice.

She also seemed to be avoiding the home-schooler, too. Maybe she and I are on the same page about that.

Our recipe: Veal Curry with a Mango and Cashew garnish. Yeah, I know. What a waste of veal.

(Here I must apologize to my friend  Loren, who once chanted, “Out of the crate and off the plate!” as I wolfed down my Veal con Funghi at La Ginestra in Mill Valley.)

I was in charge of fabricating the veal shoulder into bite size pieces. The hardest part for me was trimming off all of the ‘silverskin’– which is a membrane attached to the meat under the fat. When cooked it shrinks up and is tough. That took forever. You have to hold the membrane taut at one end and slide you boning knife between it and the meat. The trick is to let the knife slide it’s way down and not saw away at it.

Calabasas Jerry, meanwhile,  prepared the saffron rice. It looked and smelled delicious.

I browned the veal and deglazed, while Alice peeled, pitted and chopped the mango and minced the cashews. While the veal braised in the curry sauce, we kept tasting it. It was so bland. Salt wasn’t helping, ginger wasn’t helping and curry powder wasn’t helping. Alice remarked that this was the most bland curry she had ever made. Jerry and I agreed.

When we plated and served, Chef took a taste and paused. Her eyes looked up to the ceiling and then back down at us and she tasted it again. A long pause was followed with,  “It’s a little boring.”

Alice and I looked at each other.

I could tell that she was thinking  what I was thinking, “Well,Chef,  it’s your recipe. A%*hole”.