Filleting a whole fluke isn't a typical task for home cooks. Neither is mixing, rolling, and cutting fresh egg tagliolini. Over the past two days I got to do both and it was a pivotal reminder of why I am in this culinary program.
I came to BU as an experienced home cook—the kind that really cares about food, reads cookbooks in bed, collects magazines like Saveur and Bon Appetit, and jumps right to the dining section of the New York Times. I'm pretty adventurous and willing to take on "projects" in my kitchen if I have the time. But it's safe to say that a whole flat fish bigger than my cutting board has never graced my kitchen counter. I do have a hand-cranked pasta machine, but it spends about 364 days a year boxed up and stored deep in the back of a seldom-used cabinet.
The culinary lab is giving me exposure to ingredients and techniques that I would never come across on my own. On Wednesday, Jeremy Sewall taught me how to transform a whole raw fish into an elegant crudo. I filleted the fluke, removed the skin, and sliced on the bias as thin as I could. The delicate pieces were placed on a chilled plate and dressed with olive oil, ginger syrup (made from vinegar, sugar, and fresh ginger), lime juice, salt, pepper, orange supremes, and scallions. What a beauty.
Thursday we made enough pasta to feed Strega Nonna's entire village, even without a magic pot. Chef Dante de Magistris taught us that drier is better when mixing dough for fresh pasta. It takes some extra effort to blend and kneed, but it's much easier to work with in the end. We made egg dough for tagliolini and flour and water dough for orecchiette. And although they aren't really pasta, we also made gnudi ("naked ravioli") that involve shaping balls of spinach and cheese, then rolling into flour and egg whites to form a thin skin. They are boiled and served on a bed of fresh tomato sauce. I fell in love with the delicate texture and flavor.
The culinary lab is opening my mind (and my taste buds) to new possibilities in my home kitchen and to exciting ideas for the way I develop recipes for publication. I think it might be time to make friends with my fishmonger and wake up that old pasta machine from its long hibernation.