Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Lobster Bisque

I received the best Christmas present this year- my dad got me six cooking classes at C’est Bon cooking school, and it’s just WONDERFUL. The chef trained in France, and the other chef who helps her trained in Switzerland. They speak French, and I basically spend every Saturday morning now living out my fantasy life as Sabrina, and immerse myself in their knowledge for several hours. 

Finished product, with a melting quenelle. 
My first stop on the way home from the class is the grocery store, so I can utilize all my new skills. I practice with my knives when I get home, I hang on every word the chef says, and I’m quite certain that if I ever left the charity world, I’d put myself in the Cordon Bleu as quickly as I could.

That all being said, I am in a basic class, which is a requirement of the school. My level of ego can only handle this because it makes it seem even more SERIOUS, because you must have the right techniques before going any further with your cooking. So, I gracefully accept my position in the basic class and remember everything they say. I often feel like the teacher’s pet too, because I know about the things they teach us much more than anyone else. I am sure everyone else finds me completely obnoxious, which is, I suppose, my burden to bear.

Some others in the class have a fair level of knowledge too, but others do not. One particular girl in the class seems to have an issue with reflecting on what she’s about to say before she says it. Thusly, she asks idiotic questions regularly.

Now, be forewarned, when I told my best friend about these idiotic questions she said I was being elitist. Let me give you an example of the questions, and we'll decide together if she is an idiot or I am an elitist.

Obviously a dinner this fancy needs an appropriate table.
Today, we started with a béchamel. We know that this requires beginning with a roux, which requires equal parts flour to butter to start. After confirming this several times, she then asked if you use the equal amount of milk as to butter and flour. This is a ridiculous question, because how would you have a bloody sauce if you only used a few tablespoons of milk? Then, she asked if you could make a cheese sauce using BRIE. Are you kidding me?! What kind of tomfoolery is that? What, you’re going to peel the brie? Or are you going to throw in that rind too and expect it to melt? What kind of person destroys a perfectly gorgeous brie by snarking it down into a cheese sauce? Brie is a star- she will allow others in bit parts, but let's not get it twisted. She is not meant to become a background flavour for your broccoli.

We also made pastry today in the class, which was wonderful; but of course she felt the need to ask another stupid question about that. This time however, in a rare moment of self-awareness, she pre-empted her question with, “This may be a stupid question, but…”


Then she asked if the recipe for the pastry dough would be the same for any other kind of tart. As in, "We used this pastry for this quiche, but could you use it for, say, a tart? Or maybe a pie?" OBVIOUSLY. The instructor of the class has patience in epic proportions.

But, despite her occasional interjections, we do make some amazing recipes. And I do learn something new as far as technique every week. Last week, we made an incredible mushroom soup, and, instead of adding our cream to the soup, we made it into whipped cream and topped the soup with a quenelle     of it! What joy that gave me! You know how I adore a jazzy serving opportunity, and that really would highlight my skills.

I came home and made a lobster bisque that night, and of course topped my soup with a quenelle too! Making a quenelle is not as easy as you think. I watched several YouTube tutorials on it, and next time I paint my nails, maybe I'll even make a tutorial too. (But I'm not doing home videos without painted nails, that would just be embarrassing.)

Straining the stock
So here's the recipe for a lobster bisque, in case you want to be fancy one day. Start with 2 lobsters, live or not. I wanted so badly to use live lobsters, and I braced myself for the homicide of the Homarus americanus in my very own kitchen. "A real chef," I told myself, "would use live lobsters. They would never value the life of a crustacean over the necessary freshness of flavour. A real chef would bless the live lobster, they would use every portion of meat for the soup, they would boil the shell into stock, they would HONOUR the spirit of that little homard."

But, I couldn’t bring myself to do it. The potential of self-loathing and sobbing in the powder room for twenty minutes while my guests were here was too great a chance to take. Instead, I used two fresh lobster tails. You will also need cream, celery, carrots, fish broth (if you can find it, otherwise use vegetable or chicken stock- but we will make our own fish broth too) garlic, sherry, tomato paste, chopped tarragon, flour and butter.

Start by cooking your lobster meat- please don't overcook it. Overcooked lobster meat is akin to eating a leather boot. Or a bicycle tire, as the brilliant Albert Burneko would say.  If you are going to use live lobster, I admire you. You can find lots of ways to kill them humanely before they go in the big pot of water beforehand (the general Internet consensus seems to be to drive a knife into the spot behind their heads,) but there is also a movement out there that says because they lack a cerebral cortex (or something) they can't actually feel themselves boiling to death. For me, I had a serious fear of one getting loose into my house and what kind of shenanigans might happen if my dog and I had to chase down a live lobster.

Well isn't that a lovely salad! 
Anyway. You can steam it until the shells just barely turn red, then take it off the heat. Remove the meat from the shell. Now, place the shells in water and simmer for as long as you possibly can to create a stock of sorts. Add whatever aromatics you have kicking around, like a bay leaf or an onion or fish heads. Or whatever.

Now, let's make a roux. Start with equal parts butter and flour (two tablespoons of each works well) and cook in your pot until it smells like cookies baking. (I learned that in my class, yay!) It will look a bit golden, (cook with all your senses, Chef would say) and this is because no one wants their bisque to taste like raw flour. Now add some minced garlic, chopped carrots and celery and sauté until they look translucent. Deglaze your pan with a splash of sherry and let that reduce by half. Now, add your fish stock, plus any extra stock you need to beef up your soup a little. Stir with a healthy amount of tomato paste. At this point, you should have a lovely orange-ish creamy looking type of soup with some veg in it. Simmer for 40 minutes until everything is soft. Then puree.

At this point, your lobster meat has likely cooled. You are going to add it at the last minute before you serve, but just enough to heat it through. Not enough to start cooking it again. You can add a splash of cream to your soup, but you are also going to make it into whipped cream, because your guests need to know this is not some proletariat bisque. This is some next level shit, your bisque is BOURGEOISIE. And you are going to top that soup with a goddamn quenelle, and people are going to know what's up. Sure, they will backstab you. They will say, "Oh, that Bailey. She thinks she's so good because tops her soups all jazzy like." And you know what? They will be right. Because you know you're that good.

(Apparently the theme of today's blog is my unmanageable ego.)

Make your whipped cream. Turn this into a quenelle by giving it three quick rolls between two spoons. There is a wrist action involved- I can't describe this very well. Therefore, I promise to make you a quenelle video soon, and in the meantime, there's this thing called YouTube you can check out.

There you have it. Serve with some nice bread and a salad. (Editor's Note: You are probably not as lucky to have gorgeous, fresh, homemade bread at your dinner table, such as I was. My lovely dinner companion Jenny brought bread, straight out of the oven to this dinner. It was still warm, and it was incredible. This is a late addition because I didn't want to brag.) 

As you enjoy your bisque, think about how awesome you are.

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