Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Back to School with a Knife and a Rabbit!

Chef knives
It was like my first day of school, but instead of a pencil case filled with shiny and carefully sharpened pencils, I admired my knife roll and the carefully selected knife purchases. A cooks knife, paring knife, small serrated blade, a boning knife and a speed peeler. I knew this set would grow over time but for now these blades were to be my pride and joy.When I started college back in September, I was apprehensive about the level of skill I would need to commence a Level 3 NVQ in Professional Cookery having not done levels one and two. We were given a ready steady cook challenge after our induction and I had gotten myself all worked up thinking this would be a test of creativity, skill and palette, like a master chef challenge. I knew from watching Greg Wallace's winces that this is not always a pretty experience. The trolley was finally revealed and I have to say my heart sank a mile; chicken, potato, plums, apples, lemons, salt, pepper, butter, cream, peas, eggs and seasoning. Hardly inspiring. Apart from seasoning, there was nothing to put a bit of excitement onto a plate, there was nothing to show flair and creativity. But then I realised this was a simple task, cook something simple, well seasoned and perfectly timed. It was a test of time management, working methods and basic understanding especially for those the tutors had not seen work before.
I made a pan fried butterflied chicken breast, cooked in butter and lemon zest. I served with enriched mashed potato (egg yolk and cream) and some tart plum chutney and crushed peas to garnish.

The feedback was good, well seasoned, well timed, hot plate, mixed textures. All the pressure was lifted. I could do this! Mine was not an epic disaster, it was actually quite good. But I was not expecting that the following week, I would be presented with a glassy eyed rabbit!

One year on from stoic vegetarianism and this little bunny was looking up at me all fluffy and showing the marks of its last moments. Although the initial discomfort was unaided by the funky smell of the innards and the fact I had to decapitate the poor thing, I didn't find the experience as awful as first thought. In fact, it was like an anatomy lesson.
I learnt key quality points to check - no bad smells, head and feet attached, eyes moist and not sunken. If hung, I learnt that hanging meat for so many weeks lets it rest and mature and the head should be removed. The liquid evaporates and the meat shrinks which intensifies the flavour and softens the meat.
The gamey flavour is well matched with fruit sauces for a rich flavour. Elderberries/blackberries/currants/loganberries/bilberries.
A rabbit gives 2/4 portions in which you could serve back legs with half the saddle or maybe half a kidney. Using the whole animal and different parts on one plate creates texture and variation in flavour.

To prepare the rabbit

Using a cooks knife, remove the head, feet at the joints. Pull the fur away at the neck and grip firmly pulling from head to bottom. Pull the skin off by pushing a finger through from neck to front legs and pushing forelegs back and through the skin. You can then pull down the back to remove the skin from the flesh.
Back legs and tail should be easier to push through the skin.
Ensure guts are removed.
Remove sinew tissue as this is fat that wont break down.

To portion

There are 2 main portions - back and front legs and the loin.

Using a boning knife, remove front legs close to the ribcage cutting through shoulder joint. Trim excess bits and neaten.
Dislocate back legs, open out and cut as close to the body as possible and through the hip joint.
The loins are designed to strengthen the back and allow movement and balance. Straighten the rabbit and using a boning knife, start at the top and go into the spine. The loin get thinner as you get further to the hind.

It is important to know the age of your game as it will affect how you cook it. Young game require s quick roasting at a high heat. Older game will be tough and will do better pot roasted or in a casserole.

We decided to use the rabbit in two ways. We produced a Tom Kerridge starter plate of potted rabbit with carrot salad and soda bread.

The potted rabbit requires confit legs which is a kind of braising in submerged fat (usually duck fat). Infused salting for 12 hours before allows moisture to be removed and impregnates the flavour. Juniper berries, star anise, bay leaves, herbs and salt. This is then washed off the legs, which are browned in pan to seal and caramelize the flavour and colour.

We cooked the legs for 1 hour 30 mins in a preheated 130 oven, sunken into the fat and covered with foil to prevent evaporation. The cooled confit legs were picked, put into a small portion sized pot and the confit fat is reheated, sieved and  poured over to cover. Not a healthy dish but rich in flavour.

We baked home made soda bread and served with a pickled carrot and dandelion salad.

Soda Bread

Makes one loaf

125g flour mixed with a pinch of salt. Add 1/2 tsp bicarb and 100ml milk.
Combine to a softened dough. turn onto a surface and knead for one minute. Cook in a dry flat pan with a damp cloth over let it brown and expand then turn once. Bake in a 200c oven for 15-20mins to finish. Tap the bottom and if it sounds hollow it is cooked. Cool on a rack.

And secondly we produced

Pan fried rabbit loin with blanched kale, swede puree and espagnole sauce with a pancetta crisp.

1 rabbit Serves 2

*Cook in the following order to make the most effective use of your time.

Espagnole sauce

30g four, 30g oil to create a brown roux. We used oil to get a higher temperature than with butter without burning. Keep it moving in the pan to cook out until darkened brown. Add 1tbps tomato puree and cook out again to remove bitterness. Too much makes the sauce red and you want the dark roux to shine through. Add blacked carrots, onions and leeks cooked in a skillet until literally black.
Add 500ml beef stock a little at a time to avoid lumps, simmer to reduce stock.
sieve through a fine muslin or sieve to remove impurities.

Dried Pancetta

Place between two heavy trays and cook for 8 mins 180c.

Swede Puree

Cut the swede into small even sized pieces and poach in milk. Cook by eye until softened. Add a little water to the milk so the proteins do not boil over. Add seasoning, thyme sprig and cover with a cartouche. Puree in a blender and season.

For the loins

We cut the loins in half and wrapped in pancetta. We pan fried for 3-5mins on a high heat to colour and leave a pink colour when sliced.

Blanch your Kale plate and serve.

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