Long time readers of this blog know that I have a weakness for cooking classes. No matter how simplistic they may be , I always feel that there is something new to be learned. I have been taking classes at the University of Richmond Culinary Program for the past two years hoping to graduate with a Certificate from the school. My last class last January left me disillusioned. The subject was chocolate and I was so excited to see what it was all about. It started with the instructor calling my beloved chocolate, Scharffen Berger – Sharffenberber and it went downhill from there. I lost interest in taking my final exam and decided to go take cooking classes in other cities.
Anyway this past September they opened a new facility called Center for the Culinary Arts. I – and a hundred other people- was invited to the open house and was appropriately impressed with the new cooking school. I eagerly checked their class offerings and found one that I was interested in taking: Fish and Shellfish Identification, Prep and Cookery taught by Dave Booth, manager of the Yellow Umbrella seafood store. If there is something I am the least confident about it is fish. I really do not know how to identify fish specially when they are whole which is kind of sad.
The class started with how to choose a Fishmonger you can trust. The store should not smell "fishy" but should smell like the ocean. The staff should be knowledgeable and should be able to tell you when the fish was caught, ways to prepare it and how to store it when you get home.
We then proceeded to how you can choose a good quality whole fish and the chef brought out a lovely whole bass. I probably know this in theory: clear eyes, cherry red gills etc… but it helps a lot when you are able to see the fish itself, touch and smell it. He also showed us how to fillet a whole fish.
Lastly he talked about judging the quality of steaks and fillet which I kinda knew but it helps to have that knowledge reinforced. The fillets should have a moist sheen with no hint of slime. The fish fillets should appear slightly transcluscent and not opaque.
Fish should be stored at a temperature of 32F which is unattainable in a home refrigerator. So it is best when you take your fish home to put a bag of ice on top of it.
One important tidbit I learned is how to estimate cooking time of whole fish and fillets which are approximately the same.
For roasting at a temperature of 450F : 10 to 12 minutes for every inch of thickness at thickest part.
Braising : 10 minutes for each inch of thickness.
Sauteng : 10 minutes fo each inch of thickness.
Poaching : 8 to 10 minutes for each inch of thickness.
Steaming : about 8 minutes for each inch of thickness since steam is realllly hot.
See a magic number here: 10 minutes give or take.
For our group exercise we each had to fillet a half of a whole fish. Since there were only three in our group , I got to fillet an entire beeline snapper. And I did pretty well with little wastage. I just imagined I was deboning a chicken breast . Same concept, let the bone guide the knife.
Even if I was not a fan of salmon, I did choose to go to the group that did the it because the technique here was poaching and I really wanted to try it.
Salmon with Leek Sauce
3 tbs butter
3 leeks, w hite part only finely chopped
5 shallots, minced
2 tbs. flour
2 cups fish stock or clam juice
1/3 cup creme fraiche
salt and ground white pepper to taste
juice of 1 lemon
1 3-lb salmon fillet or six 6-ounce fillets, skinned and boned
In a saute pan or skillet, melt 2 tbs of butter over medium-low heat and saute the leeks for 10 minutes, or until tender. Set aside.
In a small saute pan or skillet, melt the remaining 1 tbs butter over medium heat and saute the shallots for 3 minutes, or until transcluscent. Sprinkle with flour and stir for about 3 minutes. Gradually whisk in the fish stock or clam juice to make a smooth creamy sauce. Stir in the creme fraiche, leeks, lemon juice, and salt and pepper. Set aside and keep warm.
In a large saute pan or skillet, bring about 3 inches of water and a pinch of salt just to simmer over medium-low heat. Add the salmon and poach for 8 to 10 minutes, or until springy to the touch. Carefully remove the salmon and transfer to alrge platter or individual plates. Pour leek sauce over and serve immediately with boiled or steamed potatoes.
* In the absence of creme fraiche you can substitute sour creamed thinned out a little. It’s going to break a little but would smoothen out after a few minutes of cooking
The salmon was delicious even as I said I was not too fond of it. I found out a couple of years ago that they put coloring in the food of farmed salmon to give it that color otherwise their color would be grey.
The University of Richmond Culinary program is really geared towards the hobby cook and is not a speck as gruelling as the Bootcamp classes at the CIA which can be used to judge whether you want to go into the culinary profession or not.
These U of R programs are more for recreation and enjoyment rather than for professional culinary training and if you accept that that is the objective of the class … you will have fun…specially when you can drink wine while you cook .
If I find anything interesting with the next segment of the class where we will be dealing with shellfish I will post about it.