Friday, September 2, 2011

Oral and practical exams today on dry heat cooking

My submission for practical exams on golden brown deep-fried dory fillet.
After passing the colour test, my heart stopped for a second as Chef cut
open to check the doneness. It's an immediate fail if the fish is uncooked.

Chef took a bite, pondered, squeezed some lemon juice over it and took
another bite. He asked me to taste it, and went on to ask what I thought.
(Shouldn't he be telling me??) I said, I would pay to eat this.
Honestly, that was what I felt! He smiled and said, You're done
here. Clean up your station and go.
We were divided into 2 groups, the first group of 8 went into the kitchen for practical while the second group of 7 was sent to the classroom for an oral exam on the theory of dry heat cooking. I was in the first group. We were given an hour to produce a golden brown deep-fried dory fillet. We had a chance to practise this last week - see earlier post. This I think is the equivalent of giving an intern 3 luxurious hours to research on a piece of work to produce a good press release. I decided to take my time and not rush since any mistakes would be costly and any damaged ingredients are not replaceable.

Chef is expecting to see a few things from us at every stage and I have this mental checklist in my head as I go along:

1. How we flour, eggwash and bread the fillet. Tap off excess flour so you don't get a heavy batter. Flour it enough to absorb moisture from fish so there is no water and no splatter when you dip it into the oil. Flouring correctly also gives you a nice crisp texture when you bite into it. In the photo above, Chef checks for thickness of my flouring. Can't really tell what he thinks of it!

2. Colour - golden brown is a sign of good heat control. The oil temperature should be between 175-190C. You can use a thermometer to be sure but I have also been taught to observe movements in the oil and small bubbles (or lazy bubbles as Chef calls it). One way to test if the oil is ready is to throw a few bits of bread crumbs in there. If it sizzles, it's ready. If it just floats there like nothing is happening, the oil is not ready. If you see smoke, the oil is too hot and you should reduce the heat and wait a while before putting in the fish. To reduce heat, you can add oil, or remove pot from fire or turn off fire. Then start the process again, looking for lazy bubbles. If the oil is too hot, you will get dark brown fillet immediately while the inside is still not cooked.

Having this knowledge has helped me overcome my fear of working on open fire with so much oil, and gives me a better sense of control. I'm a woman, I always need my sense of control! I also have a better appreciation and higher acceptance level of deep-fried now. If done properly, they are not soggy and greasy and disgusting!

So, overall, I'm delighted that I'm really learning. With each session, I gain more confidence in the kitchen and I'm happy I've made peace with an old enemy called deep-fry. The ultimate beneficiaries of this new skill, I suspect, are the kids. They can now have home-made KFC without me nagging at the ill-effects.

Now for the oral exams, here are some of the questions I can recall on dry heat cooking methods. Can you answer them?

1. What is the purpose of pre-heating an oven?

2. Name 3 types of heat transfers.

3. What is the purpose of basting?

4. What is the purpose of flouring?

5. What is smoking point?

6. Why is it you should not carve meat that's just out of the oven?

7. Why should you deep-fry food in small batches rather than all at once?

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