Tuesday, December 5, 2006

Day 5: Goo. Bone dust. Ether.

To avoid the risk of redundancy, I recently omitted the fact that we had done more cornet work. I have a feeling this will be a very regular occurrence for us, so listing it daily seems somewhat unnecessary. However, we didn't have cornet work today, and I feel it worth mentioning that it feels enormously relieving to have skipped a day of this task, which is steadily becoming more laborious. It's also worth noting that those little paper cones, fragile as they are, are capable of eviscerating even the hardiest of egos with terrible haste.

On mise en place duty this week, I am obliged to set out any ingredients Chef will need for class, which today consisted of pectin, sugar, and a most beautiful boat of raspberry purée. Surely you've noticed by now that I tend to have a somewhat emotional attachment to a number of foods. You may add raspberry to that list, near the very top. When I've prepared raspberry sauces in the past, it has generally involved spending wads of money (money which was surely set aside for some more basic purpose, like electricity) on all the frozen raspberries I could find. I would normally then proceed to thaw the raspberries in an environment completely devoid of anything relating to the color white, and then press them through a strainer with the back of a spoon to remove the seeds, very necessarily. Now that you have some idea of what it actually takes to get a useful quantity of this gorgeous substance, you can be pleased to comprehend exactly how exciting a high-quality one-kilogram tub of it can be. We mixed it with the remaining ingredients from the mise en place, and cooked it, then pouring it onto oiled sheets to make what is called pâte de fruit. (That first word is said "pot," not "pah-TAY." There is no liver in with the raspberries this time around.) If this were a Dummies book, I would simply say it was a pretty sophisticated and delicate Jell-O Jiggler, and leave it at that. Our anti-Jigglers are setting up overnight, for further treatment tomorrow.

From pectin, a gentle thickener derived from plants and generally unoffensive to even the most sensitive among us, we proceeded to discuss and explore gelatine. This substance, not okay with vegetarians and present in very many foods, is derived from not only bones but also other unneeded animal components. Powdered gelatine is a familiar staple to every American, but much of what we dealt with this evening was sheet gelatine. This form of gelatine much more clearly evokes its origins. A few moments in clear water give it a texture and appearance which greatly shorten the gap in imagination between viscera and Jell-O. I take it as a sign of potential mental illness that my mind immediately went to braised meats, and the beautiful stuff that isn't flesh and isn't fat, but that melts throughout and gives the meat its succulence. Time will tell, I suppose.

We underwent another tasting today. This time our samples were markedly broader in spectrum, thankfully. We began with the innocuous, if cloying, preserves family. This included jelly, jam, and preserves, and a substance new to me called nappage, which is essentially firmer jelly used for glazing things. Following this we changed gears dramatically, and tasted baking soda and then baking powder. Placing salty and sour fizzing powders directly on our tongues was certainly a good start at eliminating the pasty lingering of sweetened fruit; although if left to my own devices, it's not necessarily the method I would choose. This whole brief ordeal was followed directly by the much less weighty extracts department. We began with that most familiar vanilla. Everyone who has ever held a bottle of vanilla extract has tasted it one time, having been invited in by its warm fragrance and just as quickly ushered back out the door by its bitter alcohol. We moved quickly on to pure orange extract, which when ingested directly makes one feel as if one has just inserted dentures made of very hot orange peels. The spearmint essential oil which followed will keep my breath fresh for another month. (By now, my hands smell like I have just been on a spree at Bath and Body Works.) Next, the rose water, which delivered quite adequately on Chef's promise that it "tastes like grandma."

Finally, we reached the liquers we had all been eyeing for three hours. There was a fairly straightforward spread of them to begin - cassis, Calvados, and something like Grand Marnier - and then the more exotic eaux-de-vie. These awfully crisp distillations of fruit into perfectly clear alcohol picked up where orange extract left off, in the task of sinus-clearing. (I'm not kidding, I could suddenly smell the sink across the room.) The clean finish to a heady tasting session, however, did not go unnoticed. The resultant belching from this inpouring of semi-liquids, fizzing powders, and fruity spirits is pretty much what you would expect if you ate fruit cocktail two weeks past its expiration date.

Which would certainly be cheaper.

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