Raymond Blanc's cookery school is running online cookery classes, with live advice beamed to your kitchen from Le Manoir aux Quat-Saisons. Octavia Pollock gave it a try.
At a time when so many activities are curtailed, it is a tonic to the soul to spend a Saturday afternoon in the virtual company of experts and tucking into a delicious meal. Echoing many businesses, the Raymond Blanc Cookery School at Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons has embraced the internet to offer masterclasses online via Zoom, teaching a small group of would-be gourmets the tricks and techniques of top-class chefs.
On the menu was cauliflower soup and salmon with watercress and herb sauce, seemingly simply dishes elevated to heights never before reached in my kitchen by the skills of Mark Peregrine and Michael John. After considerately ensuring our glasses were charged with something stimulating, they led us in a chorus of chopping cauliflower and onion. In normal times, we would have been in the well-appointed kitchens of the Oxfordshire school, but now, we were scattered around the country, linked through laptops and iPads.
We had all been sent an ingredients and equipment list, as well as a smart apron, so could ensure we had everything we needed and there is definitely something relaxing about learning in familiar surroundings. The pressure is less, without fellow students glancing at your plates, and it fits comfortably into a day; children could even join in without the need for travel or babysitters.
With Zoom’s propensity to show the screen with the loudest sounds, there can be the odd hiccup when someone forgets to mute themselves — we had a few amusing moments watching a gentleman merrily operating his hand blender, oblivious to the fact that we could hear and see nothing else — but with such a small group, it’s easy to ask questions and share thoughts.
In between explaining why it’s best to use refined olive oil (rather than extra virgin; because it can get hotter without smoking) for cooking and showing how to chop banana shallots, our engaging tutors related how produce from the extensive vegetable gardens at Le Manoir had gone to good use during the enforced closure, supplying charities such as Age Concern. They revealed that Raymond Blanc’s mother had given him the Blend XPro he still uses, the school’s curry-powder recipe (equal parts turmeric, cardamom, cumin, coriander and cinnamon) and that storing fish in clingfilm will stop it breathing and cause it to go off more quickly.
We shared each other’s choices of tipple, but it would have been interesting to have been sent suggestions for wine pairings with the recipes.
The pace was swift, but the tutors were happy to wait for people to catch up and the food is designed so you can either eat it at the time or re-heat it later. As my psychologist ‘bubble’ friend pointed out, our brains benefit from learning new things and being engaged, so an afternoon such as this is exactly what we all need in these strange times. My friend and are already signing up for the next session. Bon appetit!
Virtual cook-alongs cost £90, including an apron and copy of Raymond Blanc’s Foolproof French Cookery. The next classes will run on March 5, 6 and 7, but more dates being arranged. To find out more and book, visit the website or telephone 01844 278881.
Recipe: Spiced cauliflower soup with coriander
Chef’s tip for this dish: the curry powder is sweated with the onions to help release its various spicy flavours. This must not be done at too high a temperature or it will burn and impart a bitter flavour.
- 200g cauliflower, cut into small florets
- 200g / 1x onion, white, peeled and finely chopped
- 1 tsp Curry powder
- 2 tbsp grapeseed oil
- 200ml milk
- 200ml water
- Salt and pepper
For the coriander puree
- 1x coriander bunch
- 50ml grapeseed oil
- Juice of half a lemon
- 2 tbsp oil mixed with ¼ tsp curry powder
- 1 tbsp coriander seeds, lightly crushed
In a large saucepan, sweat the chopped onion with the curry powder in the oil for 2 minutes, then add the cauliflower florets and cook over a medium heat for 3 minutes. Cover with the milk and water and simmer for 10-12 minutes until the cauliflower is totally soft.
Add a little more water if necessary during the cooking time to keep the cauliflower covered. Liquidize in a blender until smooth. Season and set aside.
For the coriander puree, puree the coriander, leaves and stalks, oil and lemon juice together in a good blender until smooth then season to taste.
Finally, to serve, heat the soup gently, then pour into bowls. Spoon over the puree and curry oil, and sprinkle with a few coriander seeds as the finishing touch.
Recipe: Pan-fried salmon with watercress and wasabi sauce
If cooked for too long, the delicate green spinach will turn grey and the freshness lost. And don’t cook the fish on too hot a pan: the idea of this dish is to give the salmon skin a crisp texture by cooking it slowly; therefore the initial heat should not be too high.
If you want to change things slightly, the salmon can be replaced by sea trout, turbot, brill or halibut, etc. And for another twist, the addition of some soaked mustard seeds adds add a delicious texture to the herb puree.
- 2 organic salmon steaks (approx. 240g), caled filleted & pin boned, skin on
- 1 tbsp (or 15g) butter, unsalted
- Half a small shallot (15g), peeled and finely chopped
- 50g watercress, large stalks removed, washed, drained & roughly chopped
- 100g (roughly 1 handful) baby spinach, washed, drained, roughly chopped
- 50ml whipping cream
- 2 tbsp (30ml) water
- Half tsp (2ml) Wasabi horseradish
- 2g (2 pinches) sea salt
- 1g (1 pinch) freshly ground black pepper
Start by making the herb puree. On a medium heat, soften the shallots in the butter for 3-4 minutes without any colour. Turn up the heat to high, add the watercress and spinach and cook for 2 minutes, stirring from time to time until wilted.
Add the cream, wasabi, salt and pepper, stir, return to the boil and remove from the heat. Taste and correct the seasoning if required.
If preparing in advance, spread the herb puree onto a large tray to cool quickly, which prevents loss of colour. Otherwise, serve immediately.
To cook the salmon, heat a non-stick frying pan over medium heat and add the olive oil. Add the salmon fillets, skin side down, and cook for 6-7 minutes until the skin is crisp. Then turn the fillets over and cook for 30 seconds.
Turn the fillets on to the skin side again, season with salt and pepper. Place in the oven for a further 2 minutes.
To serve, spoon the spinach and watercress puree and juices into the middle of your plates, and top with the pan fried salmon, adding a dash of lemon juice to each fillet and serve.
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