Friday, May 23, 2008

Shrimp on the Barbie (I'm Serious)

For me, there's almost nothing more satisfying than finally doing something I'd always talked about doing. Ever since I took more of an interest in food and cooking I've wanted to take a cooking class and last weekend, I did.

My friend Steph booked the three and a half hour barbecuing seafood course for herself, but was unable to attend (and unable to get a refund) and couldn't bear to see it go to waste. You'd think I would have jumped at this opportunity as soon as it was offered, but I was hesitant at first. I'm a novice cook (I'm only just learning soups) and I thought barbecuing shellfish was a little advanced for me. Shouldn't I start with a simple fish curry before I gut, butterfly and sear a garfish? But I guess cooking doesn't have to be like math, so armed with my pre-algebra level skills I dove into culinary calculus. (What a nerdy metaphor!)

Lucky for me, I wasn't attending any old cooking class; for an afternoon, I was educated at the Seafood Cooking School at the Sydney Fish Market. They have a great set up with a mini lecture hall facing a demonstration kitchen and a larger room with multiple fully equipped workstations. This place was like Chuck E. Cheese for beginner chefs like myself who do most of their cooking on a single teflon pan; you could play with anything you wanted and you didn't have to clean up. But before I had my pick of butcher knives, we had to learn how to prepare six barbecued seafood dishes.

Not wanting to miss a single sizzle I sat in the front row and took notes. It turns out that sitting in the second row and thus viewing the demo stove at a higher elevation might have served me better, but I still saw the meal come together. I learned a couple of new tricks including how to select fresh seafood, how to mash garlic into a paste with the back of the knife and how to get live mussels to close before cooking.

Watching the instructor plate dish after delicious fishy dish was torturous in a way because I made the mistake of showing up hungry. It seemed sort of mean that she didn't award the plates to eager students who correctly answer seafood barbecuing safety questions. When I sat in the front row at the Rachael Ray show, Rachael personally handed me a fruit kebab and that seemed the classy way to go. When the instructor at the seafood school finished, I asked what was going to happen to the beautiful demo dishes. "We save them for the staff or wrap them up for later," she said. After just talking about the importance of serving mussels when they are fresh and steaming in a garlic butter sauce, I was surprised by this aspect of the seafood school routine. Oh, well.

After an hour and a half of dos and donts, we were eager to get our hands dirty and get cookin'. We were instructed to find a workstation and thus form groups of five. When I approached one of the front tables I didn't feel the need to meekly ask if its occupants wanted to be my partners. I paid (actually, Steph paid) and I had just as much right to claim the table as anyone else. I figured if I made a new friend, great, but I wasn't lonely or desperate. I was used to working solo in the kitchen.

As it turns out, though, dividing the work of preparing six dishes between five people is in many ways harder than working alone. Miraculously, we all haphazardly volunteered to make different parts of the dishes and it all came together. The exercise was organized well in that we all prepped and cleaned our own pieces of seafood; we all practiced beheading the prawns and squid and carefully removing the digestive tracks.

Almost all of the dishes involved garlic and I offered to chop a couple cloves. A red haired woman on my team watched my work carefully and when I finished told me that it needed to be chopped finer. I don't know how she became the overlord of our counter space, but I gave the garlic another go for the sake of perfecting my knife skills. Later, I left my cutting board to check on the progress of the barbecue (the red headed overlord's red faced son had nominated himself grill master even though this is the skill we had paid $135 to master) and returned to find this woman chopping my garlic!

She didn't apologize or explain; I guess it was assumed that she wouldn't allow my lack of skill to compromise her meal. Later she had a problem with my squid dressing. "There's meant to be four tablespoons of liquid here, but there's only about two," she accused as she held up my plastic mixing bowl. "If you don't like it, you can can do it," I replied to that horrid cow, but she hadn't heard me or was perhaps ignoring my rudeness. I was seething and tried to avoid her for the rest of our class.

When we sat down to eat the feast that we had prepared, the dictator and her grill-hogging son were perfectly nice to me. Looking back, of course I was the horrid brat and she was just trying to help me learn. I'll admit that my garlic mincing did need some work and I didn't measure a single ingredient of the squid dressing because I thought I could wing it. I guess my home kitchen is a more appropriate place for experimenting and it's the only place for a bad attitude. I've emerged from the experience with stronger cooking skills, but my ability to work in a group...? Well, maybe I can find a class on that.

1 comment:

Ms. Beav said...

Laney you need to watch "Top Chef"! You would be hilarious on that show.