River Cottage HQ, Dorset: Day 2
RIVER COTTAGE HQ - 4 DAY COOKERY COURSE, DORSET: DAY 2
I hadn’t realised how drained the first day at River Cottage would make me and still felt tired when I awoke the next morning to get ready for day 2. Standing on your feet all day whilst listening, learning and cooking is more tiring than you might think and the adrenaline of the whole experience with bouts of both nerves and excitement definitely contributed to that. Still, it was a good feeling of tiredness and I was eager to get stuck into meat day.
Arriving back at the top of the hill at River Cottage, I met my cooking bench partner Serena and some of the other cooks and walked down to River Cottage. It was such a refreshing early morning walk looking at only countryside surrounding us and the bonus was it was all downhill!
Since it was meat day, we were given homemade beef sausage rolls with spelt pastry and a BBQ sauce for breakfast which I enjoyed over a cup of coffee before popping my apron on for the day ahead!
First off we were prepping shin of beef for a ginger and soy slow cooked broth so after watching our chef Joe show us what to do, we went back to our benches and began browning the cubes of beef shin in oil. We then added garlic and ginger and slightly softened before adding soy sauce, chilli, cider vinegar, apple juice and some water. Covering the pan with some tin foil, we then popped the whole thing in a low oven for 3 hours. Straight away I decided I needed to buy a pan I could place in the oven like that and mentally added it to my kitchen shopping list!
For the second dish, it was more slow cooking and this time braising Guinea Fowl. We were shown how to joint our guinea fowl to make a breast and a leg and then we seasoned the skin side and browned this in a casserole dish. If I was cooking this at home, I would have thought that with the skin stuck to the dish during cooking that it was burning, but we learnt when it’s done the meat literally lifts easily from the pan and then you can turn it over. Next we added carrots, celery and onion and some white wine. After boiling the wine for a minute, we then added bacon, thyme, bay leaf, black pepper and some water and put the lid on the pan and left to cook in a low oven for 3 hours.
We were then told to gather around the front of the kitchen to learn about meat, which made me slightly nervous when I saw Joe emerge with a whole animal carcass cut into two! The carcass, which had been washed and cleaned up, was from a Hogget, which is something I’d not heard of before and learnt is a lamb that has reached 12-18months old but is not quite a sheep. We were going to be learning about all the different parts of an animal we can eat and at River Cottage they really do use pretty much all of an animal.
Using a large knife and a saw, Joe showed us how to butcher the animal and remove each part such as ribs, shoulder, neck, leg properly. He then began roping in members of the class to have a go by picking them out or asking people to volunteer and I must say, even though seeing the carcass didn’t make me feel squeamish, I didn’t really fancy sawing at an animal and didn’t think it was something I’d ever do again so decided just to watch. It was useful to learn about the different cuts of meat and how cheaper cuts are a good option to choose as they can be really delicious depending on how they are cooked and what they are flavoured with.
Joe cut the hogget fillet into large pieces and we all picked one. He showed us the best way to pan-fry a piece of meat in the way that it’s done in a restaurant and I have to say, it was a small tip but very useful thing to learn! We were told to oil and salt the meat, but not to season with pepper as it can add a bitter taste to the meat, and then add to a very hot pan that is starting to smoke. When the first side is done to your liking, you should add a large knob of butter and turn the meat over, basting the meat with the butter so the butter begins to caramelise slightly and the meat remains moist. Then remove it from the pan and pour the butter and juices over the meat and allow to rest. We followed this same technique with our hogget fillet for lunch and it was juicy, moist and extremely tasty and was very similar to lamb. I have since tried cooking other meat at home and it really is a fantastic way of pan-frying meat.
After enjoying our hogget for lunch, along with some rosemary and garlic potatoes and pesto from the chefs, we returned to the front of the class to see how to make our own sausages. I was quite excited by this and after mixing the large tray of sausage meat with spices, I volunteered to have the first go at filling the sausages using the sausage machine. It was quite easy to do but you had to have a steady pace and not turn the handle on the machine too quickly along with making sure you held the sausages under one hand as they filled up and not allowing them to be overfilled. I quite enjoyed it and have considered buying a machine and making my own sausages at home now.
For our final cooking of the day, we were making pork pies! I was really eager to do this task as it was something I’d never made but enjoy eating. The pork pies were made with coarsely ground pork flavoured with mace, nutmeg, allspice, fresh thyme, black and white pepper and salt along with some water and the pastry we were making was classic hot water pastry. I couldn’t believe how easy the pastry was to make by simply heating lard and water in a pan and mixing it into both plain and strong white flour and salt. We worked with it whilst it was hot and the pastry needed minimal needing before we hand shaped our pork pie casing.
I managed to get the hang of hand crimping and I was impressed with how my pork pies looked and even more so with how they tasted as they were the best pork pies I’d ever eaten! We didn’t include jelly in ours and for me that was perfect as that is the one part of a pork pie I don’t like, but to add jelly this is simply made from stock and gelatine which is inserted into the pies after cooking.
Lastly, we removed our guinea fowl from the oven and chopped the meat and some of the vegetables up onto a board before placing in vacuum bags and sealing in the fridge to be used for a pasty filling on our pastry day.
We sat down and enjoyed a second lunch of the day with our shin of beef broth which had lovely thai flavours with extremely tender meat that just melted in the mouth. It was the perfect end to the day.
I had really enjoyed meat day and definitely learnt some skills that I wanted to continue to practice at home including hot water pastry, braising meat, pan-frying meat and cooking with guinea fowl. I am also very tempted to purchase that sausage making machine also!