New techniques like brining, new game season birds such a grouse and snipe, new kitchens to work in…. Week 3 is go, go, go.
Can it only / already be week 3? There are moments I still feel very much like the new kid on the block, others where it feels like we have been here an age already. In this lovely little bubble of Ballymaloe the realities of time can feel more slippery than ever.
Monday morning was definitely new kid on the block territory. Every week we start working in a new section (sometimes in a new kitchen) with our new partner. So this week I said goodbye to the lovely kitchen 3 and hello to the ‘demo kitchen’. This is the kitchen where we have our afternoon lectures, in a big open room with a full kitchen set up and giant mirror up above you. Whilst the equipment and basic set up seem to follow the same general pattern across all the kitchens, there was still a lot of unfamiliar territory and therefore a lot of question asking to be done.
“Where do I find the [insert kitchen item(s) as appropriate]? Oh in this drawer right in front of me”
“How do these oven timers work? Ahh, so I’ve turned the temperature off instead of the timer on”
“Ummm yes that was possibly me who put the lamb in the hen bucket and not the stock pot”
“Oh shite, that’s where the salt is. Hmmm…yep, that means I definitely forgot to put salt in my bread”
You get the idea. Nothing like having to pull your leek trimmings from one bucket, wash them and put them back in another one to make you feel like you’re first day back at school. However, given the sheer volume of new things my brain, body and all 4 senses have been bombarded with over the past 2.2 weeks, I keep reminding myself this is all part of it and no doubt to be expected.
Besides the new kitchen environment, I’m working alongside (or in this case back to back) with my new partner for the week – the lovely Chuck. Chuck also happens to be one of my housemates and is a super foodie who does things like make his own sourdough starter and then whip up a loaf of bread at 5.30am this morning. I’m hoping to pick up some of these good sourdough vibes!
We’ve had a lamby theme to our cooking on both days for the mains. Monday was roast lamb with appropriate accompaniments and today was Shepherds Pie. On Monday, I actually focussed on pastry, bread and vegetables. My favourite favourite favourite was the Pissaladiere, a classic French tart. A short pastry case, covered in meltingly soft onions and sharp, salty anchovies and olives. Truly delicious.
And today I was on the Shepherds Pie. But this wasn’t just leftovers, this minced lamb got the luxurious treatment all with the help of the lovely potato. I was almost going to call it the humble spud, but I should watch what I say here. We are – obviously, we’re in Ireland – deep in potato land. Never has one vegetable been associated so definitively with one country. So deeply rooted (if you’ll forgive me) in their history, their culture and their cuisine. And lucky us, we get to be taught how to cook this amazing vegetable by the experts themselves.
I’m a big potato fan which I must get from mum and the Irish side of our family. We grew up with potatoes; baked, mashed or cut into wedges they regularly featured in our family meals. Sometimes, as mum says, you just need to have a potato to make your meal. Or, as Darina also articulated today;
“This is a great dish for a dinner party, simply served with a green salad and rice or noodles. Oh but you know we’re Irish so we’ll probably serve it with mashed potato as well” – Darina
In the last couple of weeks we’ve had potatoes in soup, roasted, baked and as they were today; duchesse. Which is a rather fancy name for a rather fancy mashed potato. Of course there are a few other ingredients that join the potato to help it attain such lofty heights, but the potato is well and truly the star of the show. There are no short cuts to getting this right. No simple peel, boil and mash here.
After scrubbing the potatoes are boiled in their skins. There are two stages to the boiling, first they’re put in cold with with lots of salt and bought up to the boil. Then after 15 minutes they’re drained so they just sit in about an inch of water and then steamed. Once the potatoes are ready (which you tell by touch and putting only one skewer through the largest potato in the pot) they’re drained and immediately peeled. Under no circumstances are the potatoes to get cold, as this is when they get gloopy and lumpy. (Mashed potato sin.) So with the help of your tea towel you peel them while they’re hot and then whip (we used a Kenwood beater) until smooth. Only once there are no lumps is hot milk, egg yolk, butter and salt and pepper added.
Finally, in the case of today’s Shepherds Pie, the potato went into a piping bag and was (not particularly elegantly in my case) piped onto the meat. Was it a lot of work? Yes undoubtably. Would I want to do it every time I made potatoes. Perhaps not. But it’s not hard to see why this is a popular dish at Ballymaloe House.
To me this care, attention and love that is put into simple, wholesome ingredients really sums up what Ballymaloe is all about. It is simply delicious food, where you taste the care and attention put into it every detail.
“It’s often the little things that make the different from something being ok, to being really amazing” – Darina
This is why you don’t peel the spuds first; “because all the nutrition is just in the skin and if you peel before you boil then it all just leaks out and the potato just soaks up the water”.
This is why you must treat the potatoes gently; “because if you handle them or rough them up too much they release too much starch“.
This is why at the Ballymaloe House restaurant at dinner service everyone stops what they’re doing when the potatoes are ready and peels them; “because it’s crucial the potatoes stay hot. And there really is nothing worse than lumpy mashed potato”.
So you see it’s lots of little things, taking the time to do it right and determination not to cut corners that means it’s mashed potato but not as we know it.
Ahh – this was meant to be a short post! Even I’ve got carried away with potatoes. Look what this place is doing to me!
There are so many other things to mention that we’ve covered in these past few days. These magical florentines I made today which were divine. We learnt about kumquats and beetroot. Saw meringues and yeast breads made. Enjoyed more chicken dishes and salads with mackerel. Talked chargrilling. And discussed desert trolleys.
Luckily I am so tired I must get my beauty sleep so it will all have to wait until another day. Wednesday awaits!