Monday, October 12, 2009

Three and Twenty

Monday morning: back to the kitchens and back to work! I started my day "sponging" fresh yeast in tepid water, which basically means crumbling yeast into a Pyrex jug (you can NEVER have enough of them!) half-filled with lukewarm water to activate it. It sounded simple enough, but I managed to get it wrong. Well, a shade of wrong. The water into which I crumbled the yeast was a little too cold, which meant my bread took twice as long as everyone else's to rise.

Given the choice between too hot and too cold water, too cold is definitely the lesser of the two evils. Too hot water kills the yeast, and your bread is as good as dead. Give it a quick funeral and start over. Too cold water just means that your yeast will react lazily, like a teenager, and you'll have a mother-daughter standoff until the stubborn yeast eventually comes around. The sooner you start thinking of yeast as a living thing, the better (albeit crazier!) you'll be. In other words, it was a good lesson in breadmaking. Don't panic if it doesn't rise as quickly as the recipe says it will. Put it somewhere warm and wait it out.

I also filleted my first fish (a tiny whiting fish) and made a Middle-Eastern spice dip called "Dukkah" (or "Duqqa"- it sounds about as interesting as it is). I broke for lunch to say goodbye to my weekend guests, and then headed to the afternoon demonstration. On the menu were roast chicken, roast guinea fowl, cranberry sauce, red currant sauce, butter sponge cake, and "summer pudding". Before we got to cooking anything, local gamekeeper Tom Duane (and his trusty dog Benny) gave a brief lecture on various breeds of game birds and how to pluck, gut, and cook them. On display were pheasant, grouse, mallard and teal duck, partridge, snipe, and woodcock - some stuffed and some freshly hunted. Game is, technically speaking, anything that has a hunting season (deer, pheasant, etc). Those species that can be hunted all year long are called vermin (rabbit, pigeon, etc). After a live display of plucking and gutting the fowl (which was, surprisingly, not as gruesome as I imagined), Tom and Benny left us to finish the cooking process.

Here is a random assortment of tips from the demonstration:

- When eating game, do not be alarmed if you find a small amount of pellet in your meat (haha- no seriously). After shooting game, it is nearly impossible to get all of the lead out of the bird. Just brush it aside on your plate (and be grateful that your restaurant is serving you wild rather than farmed game!)

- If you are ever in the position where you have to gut your own bird (deserted island? husband not at home?), be careful not to break the gall bladder when removing the innards (the gall bladder is the really slimy sack next to the other really slimy sacks- you cannot miss it!) The gall bladder contains bitter juices that will sour the taste of the meat.

- Try to buy crabs whole, or buy the pre-picked meat of the entire crab. Buying only crab claw meat encourages fishermen to remove the claws and throw de-clawed crabs back into the ocean- a waste of food and a less-than-desirable fate for Mr. Crabs!

- Parchment Paper is another kitchen staple

- The bottom of the leg of a roast chicken is the last part to cook. To tell if a roast chicken is cooked, cut where the bottom of the leg attaches to the breast. If the juices run clear, you're golden.

- For pete's sake, rest your meat once it is cooked! 15 minutes makes all the difference. Find something to distract yourself so you're not even tempted to touch a carving knife with a ten-foot pole. You can keep your roast warm in a low oven while you wait.

- When stuffing a turkey (or chicken for that matter), wait until the stuffing is quite cold before placing it in the bird. This avoids the creation of a nice warm cavity for bacteria to flourish. If you are going to cook the bird immediately after you stuff it, bacteria won't have a chance to form, so warm stuffing won't do any harm.

- Don't over stuff a bird or it will not cook properly. If your family is full of stuffing lovers like mine, make some extra and cook it in a casserole dish (it won't be as flavorful, but at least there'll be enough stuffing to go around!)


  1. Binny, you do mean "gall bladder" I believe. There is no such thing as a "gull bladder". Plucking your own fowl! Knowing the difference between game and vermin! I always thought vermin were foul, low brow people.

  2. Thank you, mother- my spelling needs a little work!