For the very first cooking class I held a special Test Kitchen, a workshop with a group of invited participants on 16 August. This was to test the kitchen facility I will be using and to give my team the experience of not only working with me but trying out the St Helens Community College kitchen. Another purpose was to work with ‘real’ students, albeit people who are not strangers to cookings schools and know their food.
The day started with fish stock. Fish stock is so simple, no browning of ingredients first as you do with meat stocks. Just a fish skeleton, some vegetables and aromatic herbs all go in the pot for a short time, long cooking of fish stock will impart a bitter flavour.
Then it was on to whisky butter mussels using mussels from local diver Mark Howard whose business name is cutely named Pirate Bay. Softened unsalted butter was blended with whisky and chives and then a large teaspoon of the mixture added to mussels on the half shell. They spent a meagre minute or two under the grill.
Next up were prawn and green pea bruschetta. Prawns are available all over Australia and this makes a substantial rustic starter or a snack for lunch. The prawns heads are cooked in oil until the oil is well flavoured and then the heads are removed. These prawn heads are crispy enough for a snack on their own. The prawn flavoured oil is then ready for cooking the prawns. A great suggestion from one of our students was to use broad beans and in summertime they are grown widely around here. I often make bruschetta with broad beans but for the short window when both broad beans are in and the scallops are still available this combo would be sensational. Scallops finish around November in Tasmania at the time when broad beans here come into their own.
This test drive of the school was a condensed workshop so we moved on to the main course, a fish tagine from North Africa. A tagine has become a generic term for a stew or what appears to be a one pot dish. This is a combination of my travels through Tunisia and Morocco. It is light and fragrant and is suitable for firm flesh fish which is lightly poached. The addition of whatever other shell fish is to hand can transform it to a more substantial dish. The couscous that accompanies this dish is the Israeli style couscous, small beads resembling tapioca and it is suitable as it stays in shape and floats in the broth. Other fine grained couscous would only merge into the broth clouding and thickening the broth which is not the desired taste or effect. A tagine is an earthenware cooking pot with high conical lid that lets out steam. Some cheap versions do not have the little opening. In Morocco I found people would cook the ‘tagines’ in steel pots, maybe a couscousier would be used (double steamers) but the women who taught me used pressure cookers and brought out earthenware pots for serving. Not all ovens are large enough to house the tall tops.
The new monogrammed aprons arrived in time. My crew are wearing sailor style striped tee shirts.