After several days of poultry and meat, it was refreshing to be looking at fish. Spread out on the table as we entered the kitchen were oysters, clams, a lobster, a whole salmon, 2 whole monkfish, trout, branzino, scallops still in their shells, and a school of whole soles. Jeremy Sewall, a native New Englander and chef at Island Creek Oyster Bar, was our instructor for the day and got things started by having us identify the various sea creatures on display. I barely passed the test.
Chef Jeremy spent some time talking about the different species and their origins. Most of the fish and shellfish were local—the sole, clams, oysters, scallops, lobster, and monkfish. The salmon was "responsibly farm-raised" from the Faroe Islands and the branzino was the only fish that came from as far as Europe—Greece, I think. Of all the ocean dwellers on the table, the only ones I misidentified were the salmon (I thought it was striped bass) and the branzino (John Dory, I thought). What I knew for sure about all of them was that they were going to be delicious once we got to work in the kitchen.
After watching Jeremy filet a sole, we each got our own to practice with. Since it's a flat fish, it's quite different than filleting something like salmon or trout. Instead of one filet from each side of the fish, flat fish give you 4 filets—one from either side of the backbone on both sides. Following chef's advice, I made a cut along the length of the backbone, then downward toward the tail. From that point, with the tail end of the filet in my left hand, I made gentle strokes with my knife close to the bone and lifted the piece off. I then removed the skin from the filets by inserting my knife in the tail end to create a little handle, then wiggling the knife while pulling the skin toward me. I was proud that I was able to make quick work out of skinning the 4 filets. After the sole, we each shucked a few oysters. I used to have to shuck oysters at Chauncey Creek Lobster Pier, a teenage summer job I had for 3 years. That was a long time ago and I've only shucked oysters a few times since. I learned from chef Jeremy that the connective muscle is always located in the upper right part of the shell (something I never knew!), so that's where you need to carefully scrape your knife after you've unhinged the top from the bottom. The reward for successfully opening the mollusks in class was to give them a squeeze of lemon and slide them down the hatch. After having only a Larabar for lunch, the fresh, briny ocean elixir was quite satisfying.
There were more technique demonstrations, like cutting the loins from whole monkfish, filleting and skinning salmon, and extracting meat from a cooked lobster. We also practiced some simple cooking techniques. The whole, butterflied trout was pan-fried, the salmon grilled, scallops seared, branzino roasted, and sole poached. I enjoyed the combination of individual hands-on cooking and chef demonstration. I only wish I took more photos of the cooked food—I guess I was just too hungry!
Before the afternoon seafood extravaganza we had a lecture from Chris Merlo about ServSafe—the food-safety training manual that is required for anyone interested in owning or managing a food service business. I fully expected to be fighting back the yawns during a 2 hour talk about pathogens, sanitation, and time/temperature abuse, but Chris—a professional teacher—was so engaging as she walked us through the key points of this "necessary evil". Her study guide will be invaluable as we all prepare for the exam on Wednesday. Hopefully I will get a better score on Servsafe than I did on the seafood identification quiz.