Assessment 1: Principles of Poaching, Boiling, Braising, Steaming, Stewing & Precision Cutting

The following are pictures that I took at home whilst practising for assessment 1 last Saturday. We were tested on skills learnt in the past 4 weeks i.e. principles of precision cutting, steaming, boiling, poaching, braising and stewing. I had tremendous fun learning these basic principles and I’m glad to be able to hone my skills with each class. Old habits die hard so the past four weeks have really been an eye-opener for me. Although I love cooking and have made many enjoyable meals at home, cooking in a commercial kitchen (albeit through tutorials) is different and it was great to be able to put the ‘WHY’ into the ‘WHAT’ or ‘HOW’ we apply certain cooking techniques. 


Most poignant for me was the poached egg lesson. ‘Come on! Eggs?‘ Yes, the egg, one of the most basic foods and yet there are so many ways to cook, use and celebrate the egg. As for my poaching lesson , I let out a fairly loud cry when my trainer added what I thought was a LOT of white vinegar into the water for a poaching liquid. But I since learnt that was the very reason why my previous poached eggs have never looked as good as the ones served in breakfast cafes. Vinegar strengthens the albumen which is the egg whites, therefore allowing the surrounding whites to be stabilised  and cooked faster, while preserving the runny yolk inside. In fact, acidic components in the liquid are essential to the poaching technique so ingredients like white and red wine, lemon juice, vinegar, even milk which contains lactic acid are commonly used to make poaching liquids to poach fragile foods.  For poaching the egg, a rule of thumb is, 60 ml of vinegar to 1 litre of water. And then, there’s the temperature of the poaching liquid at 93oC – 95oC, with pinhead sized bubbles and only the gentlest of movement in the water as opposed to rapid boiling. Too rapid, and you risk destroying the delicate shape of the egg, not hot enough and the poached egg will have a flat bottom instead of a well-rounded shape, due to it sticking to the bottom of the pan and insufficient water to allow the egg to float. A revelation indeed. 😀


BOILING  (Pasta)

For our boiling technique which is defined as the “subjection of food to heat totally submerged in a liquid at 100oC”, we applied this to pasta.  Rule number one, always add pastas to boiling water, never cold. You do this by bringing plenty of cold water to the boil, add plenty of salt and then in goes the pasta. Apparently salt sets the starch in the dried pasta, thus preventing it from sticking. A rapid rolling boil serves the same function. Adding salt to boiling water enhances the flavour of the pasta and I’ve personally noted this; so flavoursome that you can just eat it alone with just olive oil and crushed garlic compared to if you salt it after the pasta is cooked. It just doesn’t give the same results. In class, we made a compound butter with finely chopped parsley, crushed garlic and lemon juice. Once the pasta is cooked al dente (to the tooth), a knob  or slice of the compound butter is melted into the cooked pasta. For this spaghetti I made at home, I added a few drops of truffle oil that took it to a whole new level. YUM!!!


STEAMING (Chicken)

Steaming is without a doubt a healthy method of cooking. Heat is applied to the food via evaporation of boiling water into steam. This give a moist result, preserves colour, flavour and the nutrients as compared to boiling where the water may leach out essential nutrients from the food. For my steamed chicken breast, I was amazed at the pure flavour of the steamed chicken. As my cousin mentioned in one of his recent blog musings, our generation tend to over season things, so I was really amazed at the flavour of just chicken. For the chicken pictured above, I placed a whole chicken breast on a bed of thinly sliced ginger, and steamed it for about 18 minutes (this does depend on the size of the chicken), then I made a simple sauce of crushed garlic (1 clove), sesame oil and soy sauce. Delicious! although beware of the lingering stinky breath. :mrgreen:


BRAISING & STEWING (Rice Pilaf and Goat Curry)

Braising and stewing share some similarities. For one, they involve gravies and sauces and two, they are suited to tougher cuts of meats which means that ‘time’ does its magic in yielding a tender, melt-in-the-mouth result.  Braising uses a combination of dry and moist heat; dry from being finished in the oven, moist from the part submersion in liquid. Stewing on the other hand, usually involves simmering on the stove top with food sufficiently covered with liquid that forms the resulting gravy. In class, we applied the braising technique to osso bucco and rice pilaf, stewing to ratatouille and lamb roganjosh. We were only assessed on rice pilaf. But for home practice, I made a goat curry borrowing the method from the  lamb roganjosh tutorial. Beautiful curry! It was worth the 3.5 hour wait (goat is tougher than lamb but I love the flavour). As for the rice pilaf, diced onions are first sweated with oil (we used butter in class), then garlic,1 bay leaf and the raw long grain rice are added and sautéed in oil until rice turns an opaque or milky colour and smells slightly nutty. Hot chicken stock is poured just to cover the rice; then the contents are covered with a cartouche ; entire pot sealed with foil, then braised in the oven.



Ok, julienned carrots, checked. Tomato concasses, checked. Sliced and diced onions, checked, vinaigrette, checked and orange segments? Panic!! I didn’t observe the orange segmenting tutorial properly in class but fortunately, this video on segmenting orange with Antony Worrall Thompson saved me. Segmenting an orange has been a breeze since (I practiced with 3 oranges and a grapefruit). However, I probably scored a B in this segment of the assessment as I have to do it twice. The oranges on exam day were shockingly dry, resulting in instant breakage. GAH! To watch a video on tomato concasses (1 cm dices) and how to skin and deseed a tomato, click  here for a demonstration by Antony Worall Thompson.  As mentioned in last month’s chicken salad and precision cutting post, julienned carrots are 40mm x 2mm x 2mm matchlike strips. The picture compilation below shows diced onions, julienned carrots, tomato concasses and a segmented grapefruit as I ran out of oranges ( before realising I forgot to take a photo of the segmented membrane)

Overall, I scored a combination of A’s and B’s for the practical assessment although there were more B‘s (80% – 89%) than A’s , so MORE PRACTICE for me. The next few weeks will be devoted to roasting, baking, grilling and frying; deep-frying being my nemesis. I’m not a fan of deep-frying so fingers-crossed, I’ll pass with frying, I mean flying colours 😉

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