After the stress of yesterday's production schedule (Kitchen Academy - Course II - Day 19), today was a relative breeze. Production was only 2 dishes, 4 plates: Tea-Smoked Duck Breast with Acorn Squash Purée, Gingered Tangerine Supremes, Tangerine Gastrique and Arugula; and, Pan-Roasted Breast of Duck with Spiced Butternut Squash Purée, Roasted Plums, Plum Gastrique and Duck Glace.
Simple enough, no? Yes, but.
Today was also a time fire exercise. What this means is that we were given specific thirty-minute windows in which each dish had to be presented. The tea-smoked duck had to be presented between 7:30am and 8:00am. The pan roasted duck between 9:30am and 10:00am. During the first presentation window we were not allowed to prep our second dish.
Normally, we simply have a 10:00am deadline for all dishes, putting them out as soon as they are done. In some ways having specific presentation windows simplifies things (you don't have to decide which you'll present first), but can also complicate things as you have to stagger your prep. Frequently, for example, I would dice, chop, and/or mince all my onions for all my recipes at once, then move onto the next vegetable. However, due to time constraints, I had to finish all my prep for the tea-smoked duck first, and then get onto the pan-roasted duck. Not a big deal, these weren't particularly stressful plates, but still a good learning experience for organization.
Another good lesson is why we are training to be chefs, not simply recipe-makers. A lesson I forgot. The recipe for the tea-smoked duck breast calls for a Kabocha squash purée. Instead, we substituted acorn squash. Acorn squashes are generally smaller than kabocha squashes and our squashes were a bit on the small side in any case. What this means is that you have to adjust the recipe to take this into account. Don't use (as I did) the same amount of Chinese Five-Spice Powder for an acorn squash that you'd use for a kabocha squash.
"Why does your squash look and taste a bit like licorice?" "Um, that would be the star anise and fennel seed from an excessive amount of Chinese Five-Spice Powder."
Actually, the licorice flavor wasn't overpowering, but it was definitely there just barely in the background. As a fan of licorice, I sort of liked the effect, especially since the squash also had some nice sweetness from brown sugar and there was a good amount of ginger powder as a foreground note. Still, there was too much spice in the purée.
Recipes are like maps. Sometimes your directions just don't make sense due to construction or something. What we're supposed to be learning is how to read the map so that we can get where we're going despite unforseen roadblocks on the most direct route.
And, have I mentioned that gastriques are quite cool? I like that sweet/tart flavor combination. I'll have to play with them a bit, but I think that the addition of some dry mustard at the very end might enhance the flavor somewhat. A bit more and you should get sweet/tart/spicy, sort of like an Italian mostarda.
Tea-Smoked Duck Breast with Acorn Squash Purée, Gingered Tangerine Supremes, Tangerine Gastrique and Arugula
Pan-Roasted Breast of Duck with Spiced Butternut Squash Purée, Roasted Plums, Plum Gastrique and Duck Glace