Chef Ana Sporer strode into the classroom with fiery red hair and a fiery, wisecracking spirit. she's a force out of nature, barely taller than my five-foot-one frame and constantly winking blue eyes. somewhere in her late fifties, she trained in restaurant and hotel kitchens before opening her own acclaimed joint, ruby's hotel, up in the catskills of new york.
in the walk-in this morning, there's a tub of chicken breasts and a tub of steaks. we're nervous, excited, this is our first time actually cooking. what if i present undercooked chicken? i've never cooked a steak before.
module 2 at ICE is divided into several sections: dry heat cooking methods; moist heat cooking methods; beans, grains, legumes, and advanced vegetable preparations; and breakfast cookery. we're beginning, appropriately enough for the beginning of november, with the introduction of sauteing and roasting in dry heat cooking methods.
so, what is a dry heat technique? it's more than simply baking. a dry heat technique is any that does not fundamentally involve water - this includes sauteing, pan-frying, deep-frying, and roasting (among others). sauteing, cooking an item in over medium-high heat in a sautoir or sauteuse with a minimal amount of fat, is really the backbone of most kitchens.
there's a round metal tray in front of me. i lay out two chicken breasts, as alien to me as anything, and gingerly salt and pepper each side. chef ana has us turn the burners on to get the pans smoking hot while she demos.
she's easy with her movements, like a dancer. she squirts in a swirl or two of canola oil - just enough to coat the pan with some extra give. she waves her pale hands over the oil, feeling for it to get hot and start to warm her palms like a bonfire. "it's a series of analytical questions that you've gotta ask yourself before you approach the stove." she says, "sauteing is a high heat, quick method. we don't have time to break down a lot of muscle fiber or cook through - so we can only use thin, tender cuts of meat. you got a pork shoulder? yeah, you're not gonna be sauteing. use your head. think it through. i'm just talkin' to ya."
i squirt in the canola oil, trying to mimic the exact amount. dip the thin end of the chicken breast in, just to make sure that sizzle is there, that the oil is hot enough. lay the breast down, presentation side first so it gets that beautiful, crispy brown coat. let it sizzle for a few minutes, until the proteins cook and curl inward, releasing the pan. the meat is ready to flip when it no longer sticks. so we flip, go another few minutes. finish in a 350 degree oven for 8-10 minutes, just to be sure.
once the breast is resting, in go diced shallots and four ounces of red wine. we add the red wine off the stove, so the flames don't shoot up and singe our eyebrows. i add a healthy bit of chicken stock, reduce down till the sauce is fluid but viscous, covering the back of my serving spoon. cover the chicken in the pansauce.
pan-frying and deep frying are related methods, dependent on whether or not you submerge the item entirely in oil or otherwise. oil cooking, like sauteing, is considered a dry heat cooking method as it lacks water in the preparation.
we come in to giant pots of canola oil over the fires, the air thick with the smell of oil and frying. my pores already feel clogged over. today we're doing southern buttermilk chicken, broccoli tempura with soy-wasabi sauce, sole meuniere, and french fries.
chef ana stands at the front of the class. "here's the key - keep your oil in the right temperature. don't let it drop below 350 and get over 400. make sure it's at 375 before you drop your food - especially the chicken - because the temp is gonna plummet."
keeping the oil hot is crucial to maintaining a beautifully fried and not oily exterior. i set up a standard breading procedure for the chicken, keeping one hand for the dry ingredients and one hand for wet. flour, batter, crumb. flour, batter, crumb. across the table, my companions are dredging the sole filets in flour. someone is carefully rolling parsley into a cigar shape and slicing through, neatly, to sprinkle over the top of the finished sauce. i cut up chunks of butter and hold them in a six-pan until necessary.
each day typically involves five recipes. as they become more complex, each member of the five-person table takes command of one recipe and, while others help as they finish their own dishes, are responsible from start to execution of the dish.
"we're gonna wrap the front table up in paper and i want everyone ready to present their dish by 9 pm. if we get done in time, we'll all sit down family-style and eat." chef ana yells out across the kitchen, her voice clear as a bell.
want to see previous installments about culinary school? check out the culinary school tag!