Back to basics, sort of

Today was supposed to be about reviewing techniques we've learned so far. At this point in the semester, we should be able to break down a chicken, make a quick pan sauce, cook and pureé vegetables, and successfully roast various foods in the oven. We should also be able to do these things within a realistic timeframe, and have a plate of hot food ready when chef Michael Leviton (or instructor today) expects. After turning the kitchen upside down as if it was struck by a tornado, then blowing through two—no three deadlines—I'm not sure we succeeded.

Perhaps our technique needs a bit more review.

Each of us was handed a chicken and chef Leviton quickly reviewed how to carefully butcher it into different forms. First, he spatchcocked the bird (removed the backbone and wishbone and flattened it), then he took half and cut it down into drumstick, thigh, and Statler breast (the "Frenchy" way of butchering that leaves only the first joint of wing attached). Then off we went to our workstations to replicate his handiwork. Since our first butchering day, I only buy whole chickens to use at home, so I've had a fair amount of practice cutting up birds without mangling them.

Leviton instructed us to pan-roast the half chicken and braise the leg and thigh from the other half. We were to place the bird skin side down in a hot skillet until golden brown, then into a 500 degree oven for 8 minutes. Then flip, and give it 4 minutes more. We also needed to make vegetable purees and roasted vegetables or potatoes to accompany our protein. The choice was ours. No recipes. This is where people started to get nervous.

There were carrots, parsnips, potatoes, asparagus, herbs, onions, garlic, shallots, wine, stock, spices, leeks, celery—plenty of produce to work with. Ahhh, the pressure! Decisions to make, a clock to watch, and nothing to guide us but our own intuition. It was certainly a challenge getting everything ready at the same time, but I think I pulled it off. My chicken was crisp-skinned and juicy. I made a simple parsnip purée and some pan-roasted carrots scented with orange and cumin. I deglazed the brown bits from my skillet with shallots, dry vermouth, chicken stock, and sage, then reduced, added stock, and reduced some more.

 Not the best angle, but here's my pan-roasted chicken with jus, parsnip puree, and roasted carrots

Not the best angle, but here's my pan-roasted chicken with jus, parsnip puree, and roasted carrots

Despite the mounting piles of pots and pans and a somewhat cluttered workstation, I was pleased with my end result. But planning and keeping track of time is something I need to get better at. Being a working mother who's used to hammering out weeknight dinners with a chef's knife in one hand and someone's homework in another, I've got a pretty good handle on multitasking. But doing it in a professional kitchen is another story. Today was a good trial run, but I'm hoping for overall success next time around.