The Best Cooking Classes in Paris
*disclaimer: sorry folks, but I didn’t take as many photos of the food as I would have liked since my hands were full. If you need more specific quantities, baking times, or temperatures, leave a comment and I’ll track the info down from the cooking school. After all, it was one of the best cooking classes in Paris!
Once in the kitchen Julie became quite the task master and channeled her assembly line days in a 3 Michelin star rated kitchen and SNAP! she cracked the whip. Our stations needed to be clean and we needed to learn to respect the ingredients.
So here’s what we had on the docket to prepare:
- Roasted squash with garlic
- Sautéed rutabaga with sage and honey
- Baked white fish wheels stuffed with spinach
- Sautéed brown and oyster mushrooms and onions cream sauce
- Crème fraiche with red grapes, red berries, and mint
- Baked apples stuffed with medjool dates, hazelnuts, and pecans
Roasted Squash with garlic
The squashes we used have a thing skin that’s edible. So we rinsed the exterior and just cut away any areas that looked like barnacle. Then we sliced the squash into slivers and scraped out the seeds and fibrous strings. Next they were rubbed with olive oil and seasoned with salt and pepper and arranged on baking sheets. I was tasked with cutting slivers of garlic to scatter on top of the squash slices so they’d be infused with the flavor of garlic as they baked. Easier said then done….here’s why.
Julie wanted the garlic cut in a way that respects the shape of the garlic clove. I’m used to smashing the cloves with the side of my knife and haphazardly chopping it up into tiny uneven bits. To get a really elegant “French” look, we used a paring knife to cut off the root end of the clove, and then peeled away the skins. Once naked, we sliced the cloves down the middle and pulled the stem/root out from the middle of the clove. Apparently that’s the part of the garlic clove that most people find hard to digest. Who knew? Then we cut the halves into slivers making sure not to cut them too thin, because garlic is delicate and tends to burn easily.
The squash roasted in a hot oven for about 20-25 minutes. I think she had the temperature at around 385° (maybe closer to 400°).
Sautéed rutabaga with sage and honey
One thing I’m really bad at is planning. Julie knew that the rutabaga (which is a cross between a golden beat and a turnip) would take at least 40 minutes to boil and we wanted to sit down to eat before midnight. So she threw the rutabaga in a pot of water and added a few sprigs of fresh sage and salt to the water for additional flavor.
Once they were almost tender all the way through, we used the back of our paring knives to scrape off the rough skin, revealing a beautiful golden interior. Then we cut them into very thin slices and sautéed them in a frying pan with butter, olive oil, fresh sage, and a drizzle of honey. Salt and pepper to taste.
Baked white fish wheels stuffed with spinach
We bought the fish filets from the farmers market and could feel there were still some tiny bones left. Julie gave us kitchen tweezers (thing smaller tongs with precise edges) and we removed the bones. Her recommendation was to do this with a bowl of water nearby. Dipping the tweezers in the water allows the bones to fall into the water so you’re not just scatter bones all over the fish. The fish was delicate so we tried to pick at the fish as little as possible. She said it’s really about feeling the bones with your fingers and not so much about catching them with your eyes, and my fellow classmates tried picking out the bones without looking.
Once the fish was cleaned we prepared the spinach stuffing. In a hot skillet we melted some butter. Julie pointed out the best way to know when the butter is hot enough to add the spinach is when it stops foaming and making a sizzle sound. Once that subsided we added bunches of fresh spinach leaves in batches to the pan (we’d already rinsed them, pulled out the stems, and spun them dry). Spinach immediately starts to shrink so we seasoned it with salt and pepper and once shriveled, we placed the cooked spinach in a bowl and worked on the next batch, starting with more butter, until we finished all the spinach. To remove all the moisture from the sautéed spinach, I put them in a chinoise (cone shaped strainer) and used a little elbow grease to press and strain out the liquid.
With the spinach sautéed and strained, we salted and peppered the fish filets and then evenly layered the spinach over the fish, pressing it down with our fingers to cover as much of the white flesh as possible. Starting from the wider end, we rolled the filets up and either stuck them with wooden sticks or tied them with cooking string.
The fish got baked for 12-15 mins on lightly oiled baking sheets in the oven at 325°
Sautéed brown and oyster mushrooms and onions cream sauce
First we had to properly clean the mushrooms. The oyster mushrooms were sliced in the same direction as the gills on the underside. The brown mushroom skin tops were delicately peeled off, pulling away from the underside of the cap and towards the top of the mushroom. Then we cut a small portion of the stump off the brown mushrooms and sliced them into ¼ inch slices.
The mushrooms were sautéed separately since they would cook at different times. We learned the trick to really pulling out the nutty mushroom flavor and getting those perfect little caramelized golden brown bits on them is to make sure the pan is really hot and you’re only using a little olive oil. Too much oil and they won’t brown. Can’t rinse the mushrooms before cooking them, because they soak up a lot of liquid. They also have a lot of moisture so you need to brown them in the pan before you salt and pepper them, because the salt will pull the moisture to the surface and they won’t brown. Once browned, season with salt and pepper, fresh tarragon, a few tablespoons of butter and fresh lemon juice. Take them off the heat and set aside in a bowl.
Finely chop up a whole onion and sauté in a skillet with half a stick of butter. Again, you’ll want to wait until the butter is melted and the foam is gone. After about 5 mins the onions will be almost translucent and slightly golden in color. Then add the mushroom mixture and a little bit of heavy cream (add more cream if it’s not enough of a sauce for you) and season to taste.
Crème fraiche with red grapes, red berries, and mint
While Julie was assigning tasks and explaining to us what the end game was she asked us to make fists with our right hands. She opened up a pint of real crème fraiche and placed a dollop on the back of our hands, because she said that’s how you taste in a kitchen if you don’t have a spoon. It was possible the most delicious thing I put in my mouth the entire time in Paris. We could have eaten with spoon and that would have been an amazing dessert, but alas, we were going to make it better.
So we sliced red grapes in half and removed the seeds with our fingers or a spoon. Julie mixed the grape halves, the red berries, a few tablespoons of sugar and some torn fresh mint leaves in a bowl with the crème fraiche and placed it in the freezer. Throughout our meal she stirred the mixture a few times to make sure things were separating.
Julie served the crème fraiche and berries in small shot glasses as the first of two desserts. And people wonder how I can drink whipping cream from the carton.
Baked apples stuffed with medjool dates, hazelnuts, and pecans
Using an apple corer we removed the core of the apples and set them aside in a baking pan.
In a medium mixing bowl, we mixed chopped medjool dates, chopped hazelnuts, chopped pecans, lemon zest, chopped fresh ginger, room temperature butter (about a stick) and a little bit of sugar (only a few tablespoons since the medjool dates are so sweet already). One of my fellow classmates used the best kitchen utensils possible, her hands, and mashed everything together into a paste. Using the spoon handle of a spoon (it’s easier than the spoon end) we filled the apples with the date and nut mixture and packed them tight.
The apples were then baked in the oven until the skins popped off and the insides were fully cooked and tender. Each apples was served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and it was delicious.
In addition to meeting some very interesting people, we had a great time getting to learn some new techniques in the kitchen and eat a fantastic meal with some delicious wines. Take a cooking class with La Cuisine Paris if you can when you’re in Paris….you won’t regret it.
Thanks Julie, we had a blast!