Chicken, duck, lamb, pork, beef, chicken livers, duck livers, brains, oxtail, lamb’s fry (which is really liver too) and chicken feet. Think of a part of the animal, any animal, and chances are that we cooked with it in some manner during meat week.
We started the week with chicken. Innocuous enough. We all know how inoffensive chicken is. We each were allocated half a chicken to joint. I felt quite sorry for my poor chicken. Lets just say butchery is possibly not a field I should pursue.
I was unbelievably grateful that my group got allocated the chicken liver pâté and not the black bean chicken feet. Apparently one of the key points in the preparation of chicken feet if you wish to chew them is to clip the toenails. You don’t need to clip the toenails, however, if you are only using them in stock. Aren’t you glad I clarified that for you. I am quite a fan of chicken liver pate, but haven’t eaten it in ages as most commercial pâtés contain stabilisers and gums and a whole lot of other mystery ingredients that needn’t be there, so it was great to learn how to make it myself.
I am not a huge duck fan as I usually find the meat too fatty for my tastes. I have learnt this week that if it the duck is cooked correctly it shouldn’t be too fatty. After sectioning the duck, we had to remove the tenderloins to tea smoke them. Tenderloins on a duck are quite small and difficult to find if you don’t get the breast off correctly. They are, however, worth the effort as they are delicious. We rendered as much of the duck fat as we could, and the resultant fat was used to make duck confit. A fantastic use of the whole bird.
Wednesday was all about the wood fired oven. Whilst we have a wood fired oven at home, it doesn’t get used nearly as much as it should. I discovered a number of ways to better utilise it, which I am sure will make my friends very happy. We also covered terrine making. Terrines are something I have long wanted to make but always put in the too hard basket. Turns out they are a lot easier than I thought. High on my list of essential kitchen equipment is a new terrine dish.
The remainder of the week was about respecting and utilising the whole animal. The very best way to use the cheaper cuts of meats is through long, slow cooking. This breaks down the sinews and fat in the tougher cuts, making for some meltingly tender dishes. Osso bucco, Asian braised oxtail, slow cooked lamb shoulder rubbed in vanilla and kangaroo pie were only a sample of the dishes we made.
Throughout the week, the bones were made into stocks for use in the slower cooked dishes, and the organ meats (which is really just a polite term for offal) challenged us all. Personally though I discovered a number of techniques that I had relegated to the too hard basket are actually really simple and can produce wonderful results. I made my first hot water pastry pie. Think good old English pork pies, but with chicken. So very quick to make. I jointed a chicken, a duck and an oxtail. The oxtail was by far the most difficult. I clarified duck stock with a raft, which is a mixture of egg white, minced meat, eggshells and vegetables. A really simple technique that produces a wonderfully clear consommé. I discovered I can devein a liver and I can cook a duck breast. All in all it was quite a successful week.