I've been so busy with attending cooking school, getting ready for each lesson (reading ahead, preparing notes), and work (wines sales - more on that again some time), and trying to squeeze in a little downtime with the missus and the kid that I've neglected my blog!
I've learned a tonne of things since starting at the French Culinary Institute a little under two months ago. I went in with the attitude "if I'm not shown it here, I don't know it ...", meaning I don't want to bring all my bad habits (or even my good ones) into the training kitchen, I want to take full advantage of the expertise of my intructor(s) and learn how to do the the right (French/ FCI) way, because that's what I've decided to invest my money and time on ... I did know a fair bit going in, but I also didn't. My interpretation of things was never for a production environment, and I never achieved as many efficiencies in my techniques and yield as I am now learning.
The great thing about taking these professional lessons, as opposed to reading about stuff in a book, or even watching a good detailed demo on TV, is seeing the chef prepare things in all their various stages, from raw, uncut, product through to a final dish (which you can then taste), ask any questions you need to, and then go off and do it yourself - and get feedback all along the way and and the end when you present your final dish.
I think three things stand out so far that I wish I'd applied before at home - I "knew" about all of them, but preparing food at home, uncritiqued, I never really applied them properly in the case of the first two, and never really understood the usefulness of the third one.
When Sauteing ...
... don't move your protein (or other product, e.g. mushrooms) when you put it in a hot, uncrowded, lightly-oiled pan when you are sauteing something. The temptation is to toss things around, or to take a peek at the underside of something too soon, but don't do it. Allow it to sear properly, which it won't do if you move it. If you move it it will release juices and steam - bad! Leave it longer than you might want to before you move things, and you'll get better results (ok, so don't leave it there to just burn!). Also, you should only turn a protein once. Put it in "service side" down, then turn itwhen it is ready on that side. Finish it in the oven if you needed to, for larger items, to cook through.
When you are cooking a protein in liquid, or you are making a stock, don't boil it (it is ok to boil vegetables in salted water) - it'll make the protein tough and/or dry, or make your stock cloudy You can bring something to a boil, and then reduce it to a simmer. A simmer is barely moving liquid, no more. Really very gentle! I used to think a simmer was a low boil, but it is less than that, it is a slight ripple. Don't cover completely with a lid either, it'll raise the temperature too much and you'll not be able to see and control what is going on. We rarely use lids at the FCI. We do use them when we're putting something in the oven for a braise or something like that. I think lids were invented by cookware manufacturers just so they can sell you a "Seven Piece Set!" that includes a three lids, a frying pan, and three saucepans!
Simmering a consommé. You really don't want this to boil - you'll break the clarifying "raft" (that yucky looking thing on top, a mixture of egg whites, ground lean beef, veggies, and herbs. Some people eat it afterward, chef's treat!).
A cartouche is the best thing I never used until I started this program. It seemed a bit too time-consuming to make (it isn't) and a bit too fussy. You use this paper disc when you want to cooking something in a little bit of water, but don't want the water to evaporate before the item is cooked. Or you can use it if you have something that you want to cook through, without color, and get the liquid out of, but there's not a lot of liquid to start with, (mushrooms, tomatoes ...). Of if you are braising something in a covered pan in the oven, put a cartouche directly over it too.