November 20, 2011

sushi workshop!

The Five Star Club on campus hosted an after-school workshop on sushi-making. I love to eat sushi and didn't get to attend last semester's workshop, so naturally I went.

Chef Andy from We Be Sushi was our guest instructor for the day. He's been making sushi for 50 years, and his mother for 50 years, so with a century of accumulated experience, I knew this was the real deal.

sushi wrapping instructions

Before diving into the hands-on stuff, we got a mini lecture, replete with diagrams, on how to (and not to) wrap our sushi. For regular maki rolls, you want to spread your rice (get two mounds about the size of two large eggs - wet hands to prevent sticking) over the rough side of a half sheet of nori (seaweed), leaving a half inch of space at the top. The rice should be heavier on the top and bottom with a trough in the middle for the other ingredients.

base layer

Sprinkle a layer of sesame seeds and swipe a pinch of wasabi (if desired) before laying on fish/vegetable/etc. Make sure the nori is positioned half an inch from the bottom edge of the bamboo mat (which is wrapped in plastic to prevent sticking).

double press

The actual rolling motion occurs twice. The first roll has the bottom edge of the bamboo mat touching the top edge of rice. The second roll incorporates that half inch of seaweed space. To keep the rice fluffy, apply only a little pressure to the rolls. When finished, place the roll with the seam side down so the steam moisture can seal the nori edges together.


We made a lot of different rolls - cucumber, mushroom avocado, spicy tuna, salmon, tamago (egg), and California roll. For the inside out rolls, rice should cover the entire half sheet of nori and there only needs to be one rolling motion.

rice shaping instructions

After that we moved on to nirigi sushi, with precise shaping instructions. First lay your fish in your palm vertically in the crook formed by your fingers, then dab a dot of wasabi in the middle. Then grab a matchbook-sized piece of rice and lay that on the fish. Then pinch the top and bottom of the rice once (with thumb and index finger), then half-close your hand (as if making a fist) while laying your index finger across the rice pressing down (as shown above). Then rotate the piece so the fish is on top. This time pinch the left and right sides (with thumb and middle finger), then lay your finger across the fish pressing down. Finish by rotating the piece 180 degrees, pinching the the left and right sides (with thumb and middle finger) and laying your finger across the fish pressing down.

We made shrimp, salmon, albacore (white tuna) and unagi (eel) nigiri.

After that Chef Andy showed us how to make sushi rice from scratch, without a cooker (the rice we had used for our rolls/nigiri had been pre-made in a cooker). The pictorial instructions are here, but basically you take equal parts of nishiki rice and water, let the rice soak in the pot for at least an hour, then bring the pot to a boil over medium high heat and let it boil for 1 minute, then let turn the heat down to medium for 2 minutes, then turn the heat down and simmer for 7 minutes, then turn the heat off and let the pot sit on the stove for 15 minutes.

sushi rice making

After that the rice is combined with sushi vinaigrette. For 1 quart of rice you'll need 7 oz Japanese rice vinegar, 4 tablespoons sugar and 1 heaping tablespoon of salt. The vinaigrette mixture can be boiled if you want the salt and sugar fully dissolved.

Using a big bowl, combine rice and vinaigrette, then comb through the rice with the skinny edge of the rice paddle to break up any lumps. Use immediately, or keep in a covered container.

And there you have it, sushi and sushi rice as a master taught it.

buffet time!

For the buffet we produced many appetizers and cold platters. I took the not-as-fun task of slicing meat and managed to have a lot of fun arranging the meat platter.

meat platter

We had mortadella, roast beef, pastrami, turkey, smoked ham, chicken galantine and pâté.

fruit platter

From there I moved on to building fruit platters: cantaloupe, honeydew, watermelon and pineapple, with strawberries and kiwis and grapes for garnish.

kiwi flower

I tried reproducing the honeydew flower technique on a kiwi. Had limited success (a couple of petals were broken).

honeydew flower #1

Then I attempted it on an actual honeydew. The hardest part was actually getting the melon to open - apparently I didn't cut deeply enough and had to retrace a few times. It looks a little rough around the edges, but it is my first and only attempt so far!

another fruit platter

I think at one point when I was arranging this platter, Chef said something about a "future garde manger chef in action". Maybe, if I don't end up in pastry first!

melon carving

Besides small things like mushrooms and potatoes, Chef Oakley can also carve all manner of decorations. In advance of us preparing platters for the Fall Semester Buffet in the PCR, he showed us how to carve melons.

To cut a honeydew into a flower, first cut petal shapes (almost like an elegant zigzag) around the circumference. This actually could make two flowers, since the top and bottom turn out the same (although we shave the petals off one half and upend it to make a base for the other).

cutting petals

Then trace petal shapes within the original petal shapes.

cutting out petals

Cut into the outer layer of flesh for each petal and fan the petals outwards.

honeydew flower

To finish, Chef took a small ice chisel (he does ice sculptures too) and carved lines inside.

Oh, and Chef also carved a poinsettia out of a watermelon too. So beautiful.

November 19, 2011

fun with potatoes

tourne-ed potato

Another vegetable we were taught to carve with a paring knife was the classic tourné-ed potato. As with fluting mushroom, it required steady hands and repeated fluid arching motions, which looks deceivingly easy once you've mastered it but is incredibly hard starting out. This one was my... tenth attempt?

potato mushroom

Chef Oakley also showed us other things we can do with potatoes, such as converting them into mushrooms (by whittling down one end and peeling spots off the other end).

potato claws

We also saw how to cut potatoes into two interlocking pieces - I call them claws because they look like crab claws to me.

kiwi claws

The next day when we were doing fruit platters I managed to recreate the technique on a kiwi. Just cut two vertical slits on either side, then with the fruit standing on a table edge, hold your knife at a 45 degree angle to the table edge and cut in till you hit the slit. Repeat with the other side, then pull the top and bottom apart!

November 18, 2011

fluting mushrooms

Besides meat/protein, occasionally we get to do fun things that stray into the realm of garde manger. Like fluting mushrooms.

fluting mushrooms

I've fluted mushrooms before, with a channel knife, back in PCR for the shrimp louie salad. Fluting them with a paring knife is much harder, which is what Chef Oakley was trying to teach us. You know you're doing it right if the strips you carve out hang on the edge (see above) for you to peel off at the end.

fluted mushrooms

Here's the line-up of mushrooms I practiced on - some of them have stars in the middle because Chef taught us how to make designs using the tip of our paring knives.

indenting mushrooms

Besides stars there was also this pattern that spiraled outward to cover the entire mushroom cap.

indented mushrooms

My attempt is on the left. Chrissy got creative on the right and made a porcupine!

grinding meat

From time to time we'll take all the accumulated scraps of meat (some too fatty to be eaten straight) and grind them all into ground meat.

grinding meat

The industrial grinder we have is really scary. It sucks down multiple pounds of meat at a time and grinds it up in seconds. A complete monster and a marvel of machinery.

One day we took two sheet trays full of twice-ground beef and turned it into hamburger patties with this other monster of a machine.

hamburger patty machine

You basically feed the top of the machine with ground beef and it ejects a patty at a time, complete with patty paper. All I had to do was take the ejected patties and pile them on a sheet tray and I couldn't even keep up with the machine.

sausage tying

Another thing Chef does with ground meat is turn it into sausage. This piece of machinery spits sausage mixture (not automatically but via churning) into casings, which are then tied up. I haven't gotten to use this yet, but hopefully once before the semester ends.

fish butchery

One would think that butchering fish would be similarly easy to butchering chicken. After all, it's easy to identify all of the parts. However, that is not true.


The list of difficulties is long, just like this salmon.

I think it has something to do with fish not being mammals, their structure is kind of alien. The scales, the slipperyness, the flaky flesh that tears easily.

me & fileted salmon

The procedure is basically to cut into the head, take the two sides off the spine, then take the belly bones and fins and finally the skin off.

plucking pin bones

Then we had to pluck the pin bones out with pliers - they're small and embedded and remind me why I didn't like eating fish growing up - all the bones.

I've since grown into eating it - as least the boneless fileted versions of it, but the butchery's still hard.

family meal

Down in Meat Lab we're split into three teams, two teams for butchering while another team embarks on skills week.

During skills week that team learns to make all of the mother sauces (béchamel, velouté, espagnole, tomato and hollandaise), after which they come up with a two-day menu to feed the rest of us.

skirt steak

The first team to do skills week made an entree of skirt steak with chimichurri sauce over a bed of spinach, mushrooms, shallots and polenta cakes. This was the most delicious meal I had eaten in a while, not just because I liked the ingredients, but because the steak and sauce were done really well - the steak was charred on the outside and juicy on the inside, and nicely fatty, and the sauce was herby and tangy and spicy.

plating skirt steak

The coming together part was really exciting to watch. And real professional-like.

family meal

We call this "family meal", just like how they call staff meals in restaurants.

pork leg butchery

pork leg butchery

Aside from chicken, we also butcher pork a lot - another relatively inexpensive meat. One day we each got to butcher a pork leg. Compared to butchering chicken, other types of butchering are incredibly involved. Not only is it hard to separate meat from bone because everything is more densely packed, but there are way more parts to keep track of - I can't even name all the parts in a pork leg!

me & pork leg

The leg took me a good hour and a half to butcher. Hard to explain the process without step-by-step pictures (or a long video), but I decided not to go into detail because chances are that you won't be butchering a pork leg anytime soon (and if you are, I'll call Chef Oakley, Meat Lab chef instructor). Good rules of thumb for butchering meat is following the bones (or cutting bones out first in order to divide up parts) and following seams (fat/connective tissue surrounding muscle groups).

pork leg parts

Out of each pork leg we got two pork roasts (seen trussed with butcher's twine), pork skin (discarded, although the fat could be made into lard and the skin into cracklins), bones (for stock), and other meat/excess fat for grinding into ground pork.

chicken butchery

chicken butchery

Chicken's the most ubiquitous protein of our operation, given that it's relatively cheap and people like to eat it. This means that we butcher chicken almost every day down in Meat Lab. Butchering chicken is surprisingly easy, and I'm glad to have learned it because it means I can now buy whole chickens and cut it up myself to save money (whole chicken is a lot less per pound than say, chicken breast).

getting down to business

The most common pieces we butcher chicken into are: whole legs (skin on) and chicken breast (skin off). But we've done all sorts of variations, not just with skin on/off but bone in/boneless and different styles such as airline breast (chicken breast with drumette attached) or butterflied breasts pounded thin (such as for paillard).

All of the drumettes/wings are saved and cryovac-ed (vacuum packed) for when there are parties and they need appetizers. All of the carcasses/bones/skin gets saved for stock, so there's very little waste.

I think I've cut up 20+ chickens by now, so if anyone would like a demo, feel free to ask!