More snow. More cancelled classes. Tuesday we are finally back in the kitchen for "Principles of Poultry" led by chef Rich Morin of the restaurant Lineage in Brookline. The first task for the day is to learn how to truss and break down a whole chicken (2 separate techniques that would never be used together). I am pretty confident doing both, but it's still a learning experience to see how other cooks handle it. Maybe there's a better way? Maybe I've been doing it wrong all these years? Or maybe there's a small tweak to my technique that can make the job a heck of a lot easier or even just give me more confidence with my knife.
Practicing with the fresh chickens (and ducks!) under Chef Rich's supervision ended up giving me all of the above. I learned to be much more precise with my knife, letting the natural joints of the birds and gravity lead the way. After trussing a chicken for roasting (tying into a tight bundle with twine), we then separated another bird into parts—whole breast, wings, and legs. Most of the backs were removed and saved for stock. The legs, thighs, and wings were soaked in buttermilk for fried chicken. All good review for an experienced home cook, but I was more excited about learning to work with duck—a bird of a different feather (sorry, couldn't resist).
We broke down the ducks in the same way as we did the chickens (they are both birds after all), but the difference with the duck is the added management of the skin and fat. After removing the legs and breasts, we also trimmed off all the skin and fat off the bird's back and sides. This was saved to be rendered down to what chefs call "liquid gold". Rendered duck fat is a prized cooking medium.
Once the butchering was done, we tackled 4 recipes in the afternoon—quite an undertaking for our 2nd day of real cooking. On the menu was roast chicken and potatoes, coq au vin, buttermilk fried chicken, and duck breast with citrus and kale. Chef Rich's goal was to expose us to as many cooking techniques as possible, so we braised, roasted, pan seared, and shallow-fried to our heart's content. It was nice to hear him say that the recipes were "just guidelines". We still timed everything and relied on our trusty thermapens, but I felt the freedom to use my own intuition too. I have fried chicken in a cast iron skillet at home, (though not in Crisco which is what we used in class—I don't like using such a highly processed product), and I have made coq au vin and roast chicken, so I felt pretty confident with the recipes and preparations. What was new to me was the duck, a bird I think I've made only once before. Scoring and slow-rendering the duck breasts skin-side down was a revelation. The thick layer of fat melts away and allows the skin to become golden and crisp.
Rich Morin was a pleasure to work with and learn from. He's the kind of guy that you instantly feel buddies with. This created a very relaxed environment in the kitchen and I think that showed in the food. The teams worked together smoothly and we got everything onto plates at the right time (well, a little coach-like whoop from Chef Morin helped). We tasted all the dishes and reveled in the success of our first solid meal in culinary school.