Ashburton Cookery School Day 4

Such a great day today. I feel incredibly happy right now, although my current mood may be somewhat enhanced by the lovely wines we had to match our evening meal. We started the day by putting some ham hocks on to boil. I’ve always been put off ham hocks due to the long time they take to cook. But seeing it done today, there really is so little actual work to do, just covering the hock with cold water in a pan, bringing to the boil, straining off the liquid, adding fresh water and bringing back to the boil. Then you pretty much just leave it to simmer away for 4 hours or so. And when you think about how much meat you can get off your average £3.50 ham hock, compared with a pack of six or so slices of decent quality pre-sliced ham costing almost as much, that little bit of work seems extremely worth it. I also didn’t fully appreciate quite how cheap lamb breast was yesterday. I knew it was cheap, but I didn’t quite realise it was £2 a breast cheap. I suppose £2 may not seem all that surprising if you’re simply judging the unprepared cut of meat on looks alone. The thin sheet of fatty meat doesn’t exactly look appealing. But once rolled, braised, melting in your mouth and tasting amazing,  its almost difficult to believe you can pay so little for such good meat.

We were also taught how to make scones along with all the dos and don’ts of scone making…don’t over work the dough, don’t twist the cutter, keep the butter cold, make sure the egg wash doesn’t drip down the sides as that will stop the scones rising and add a little lemon juice to the (warm) milk to help the scones rise, a technique I knew about within baking generally but had never thought to use in scones. Simple though they may be, I’ve somehow managed to encounter nightmares making scones in the past, but these turned out to be the neatest and most risen scones I’ve ever made. However, with all the other food I’ve cooked and eaten today, I haven’t had enough room to try them yet!

Today being a pig-themed day, we made apple, leek and parmesan sausages. Piping the  mix of pork mince, pork fat, sweated onion, garlic, leek and apple into the skins and shaping into neat sausages was actually really good fun and not the hassle I’d initially imagined it to be. The texture of the sausages was also much better than supermarket ones in my opinion, coarse and ‘meaty’ rather than that smooth, squidgy texture you often get. Stuffed into a bread roll with caramelized onion, mustard and ‘gourmet’ ketchup, and served with a salad of mixed leaves and edible flowers dressed with matured balsamic vinegar (which tasted phenomenal, sweet with a slight acidity and a really deep, rounded flavour, and so thick and syrupy you could squeeze a dollop of it out onto your finger) I was very satisfied.

After lunch we prepared a roast pork loin with potatoes roasted in duck fat, caramelised honeyed parsnips, beetroot en papillote, sautéed cabbage, apple sauce and gravy. So cooking a roast may not seem anything all that special, but somehow this roast ended up looking and tasting like something that really was special. Perhaps it was because all the elements seemed so spot on. We were taught how to cook the pork perfectly so as it was still incredibly juicy, how to get the crackling crisp (and how it is almost impossible to get the cracking on supermarket pork to go crisp because the meat hasn’t been dried out enough) how to cook perfect roast potatoes (we tossed the par-boiled potatoes in flour before roasting to help them crisp up) and how to really enhance the flavours and appearance of the vegetables. Generally, roasts can never be anything more than average to me. This one was an exception.

For dessert we made lemon, almond and polenta cakes. This was the first time I’ve tried a polenta cake so I was very excited about it. The cake batter was simple to make; cream together the butter and sugar, then gradually beat in the egg followed by ground almonds, vanilla, lemon zest and juice, polenta and baking powder. The sweet, mellow citrus flavour was lovely, and the polenta elevated the texture with a subtle graininess without being anything near gritty. The vanilla mascarpone (10% fat free…definitely a better way of saying 90% fat full!) and raisins macerated in marsala worked perfectly with the cake, adding a welcome creaminess and juiciness to the verging on dry nature of the cake along with a subtle alcoholic note. I was also very pleased to see my quenelle somewhat improved from Monday’s attempt!

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