17 February 2007

Valentine's day

Candy hearts and red roses it wasn’t. Chefette learned a new meaning this year to the phrase: “Valentine’s day”—big-time mise-en-place, and a non-stop busy service!

On the big night, we offered a special six-course tasting menu. We’d taken around 68 bookings (compared with c.35 on a typical busy night). We'd even started service an hour early to accommodate extra customers.

For my part, I kicked off the first four hours of the afternoon making 58 portions of beetroot tortellini. That’s 178 of the little critters. Then, during service, I had to open loads of oysters – over half a crate of them. And although I shan’t be winning any oyster speed contests for a good while yet, at least I managed to pick up the pace a bit by the end. Suffice to say, after all that shucking, my right thumb was amazingly sore the next day!!

Fortunately, everyone on staff was working on Valentine’s night. All three waiting staff, and four of us in the kitchen. Mostly things went smoothly, although there were a couple of instances of major staff confusion on table numbers. (Usually, we lay the tables out in a mix of 2s, 4s and 6s. But on Valentine's night the entire restaurant was laid out in 2s, so the table numbering got a bit creative at times). At one point, had brought orders for two different Table 12s. And then Table 8 kept getting Table 11’s food.

The low point of my night came when I had to dash outside into the courtyard to be sick. (Literally sick. In a black bin liner.) It wasn't the flu, just an oyster that disagreed with me. As I get older, my system is becoming hyper-sensitive to oysters. I end up getting sick more times than not after eating them. Even the cooked ones are starting to affect me. Woe is me.

Anyway, I'd love to know if any of you have any views on the recently held “1 million baht dinner” in Thailand?

It sounds like an amazing meal, but even so I cannot believe there was not a single Thai dish on the menu! An outrage.

05 February 2007

Cooking a pig's head

Apologies to anyone who (a) is a bit squeamish, or (b) thinks that Chefette wastes far too much space droning on about offal. But it’s not every day that you get to cook a pig’s head.

C and I spent an afternoon in the kitchen last week, each transforming a pig’s head into something fabulous. She made “brawn” with hers, a type of pig’s head terrine, with green peppercorns. I made mine into ravioli, with a red wine sauce (method recapped below for anyone who is interested).

If you're thinking about getting a pig's head, be aware that it's not exactly convenience food. The cooking wasn't particularly difficult, but there was a lot of time involved. It took me around 3-4 hours to cook the head, and another 2 hours to make the ravioli. The good news is that the results were spectacularly tasty, both for the brawn and the ravioli. After a long, slow cooking time, the meat from a pig's head is rich and flavourful, and the braising juices are full of body.

But it was the economics of the exercise that really made an impression on me. Each pig’s head cost £2.50 from the butcher. C got around 10 starter portions of terrine (which we put on the menu at £4.50), and I got around 25 starter portions of ravioli (which we put on as a special at £5.00). We sold all the terrine and 7 portions of the ravioli in two days, for a cash take of £80. And we were able to freeze all the remaining portions of ravioli, so when those sell it’ll bring an extra £90. All in, that’s a cash take of £170 on ingredients worth well under £10!

Off to Paris tomorrow with one of the Husband’s glamorous cousins for a girlie break. Will be eating at Bistro Paul Bert on Wednesday night. I seem to recall they have brawn on the menu – perhaps a comparative taste test is in order?

Method for pig’s head ravioli

For the ravioli:
Cover the pig’s ears with tinfoil to prevent burning. Roast the pig’s head whole on a bed of onions until it turns a dark golden colour on the outside (around an hour).
Then put the roasted head into a braising pan with onions, carrots, celery, a pint of chicken or veal stock and about half a bottle of red wine. Cover and seal with aluminium foil. Braise until the meat around the cheeks is very tender and falling off the bone, around 2-3 hours.
Allow the head to cool slightly after you take it out of the oven. Then, using your fingers, pull the meat off the head, taking care to remove all fat/skin/sinew. Shred the meat with your fingers into small pieces, and put into a bowl.
Ladle a couple of spoonfuls of the braising liquor over the shredded meat. Taste carefully and adjust seasoning as necessary. The finished mixture should be well flavoured, but still fairly dry – too much steam when cooking may cause your ravioli to explode.
(NB: the cooked brain can also be incorporated into the meat mixture. It should be moist, soft and springy when cooked. The flavour is extremely mild, and it adds a smooth texture to the mixture. The tongue meat is firmer and stronger tasting. I would reserve it for another use.)
Roll out some homemade pasta dough into thin sheets for the ravioli, and fill with spoonfuls of the shredded, braised meat. Take care when sealing the ravioli to press out any excess air pockets.

For the sauce:
Degrease the remaining pan juices as best as possible, then reduce them down until they are dark and fairly concentrated. Taste the mixture at regular intervals, until you reach the desired concentration. Then add a couple of ladles full of homemade tomato sauce (or simply some chopped tinned tomatoes and some sweated garlic), and cook for a further 15 minutes. Season as necessary with salt and pepper. A pinch or two of sugar can also help to bring out the tomato flavour.

Serve the ravioli with a small amount of the concentrated sauce, and some freshly grated parmesan.