The last month I had a lot of food related work and learned heaps of new little tid bits of info that I'm dying to share. During the last few weeks I worked at a little Parisian bistro as a sous chef, I also had a cooking lesson with a Michelin star chef in Champagne, catered for a group of 25 in Paris and experimented with numerous meals chez moi.
Here are a few good tips for you of some basic things I learned!
1) Some of the best carrots grow in sand, not dirt. They are sweeter. The best known is the carotte de Creances which is grown in the sandy soil of lower Normandie near the town of Cotentin. They use special fertilizer or local seaweeds rich in sulfur and iodine. Another great sand carrot is just simple called the carrot de sable.
2) Carrott puree is a sweet and delicious pairing with fish instead of potatoes. Foam is achieved my a special tool like a hand blender. Buy one and you'll have very professional looking foam to finish your dishes :)
3) Cooking purple small artichokes in liquor with water or "a barigoule" is DELICIOUS! Blanch them in water and vinegar and then cook them in liquor, water, olive oil, salt, pepper, celery, white wine, lemon juice (to keep them from turning black). This sauce can be condensed down and used as a foam (the flavor is very nice and strong). Finish the sauce with fresh butter and then use a hand blender to create the foam.
4) Artichokes and licorice or fennel pair well.
5) When cooking asparagus steam them so you don't loose any flavor.
6) Use clarified butter. It doesn't burn!
7) A hint of acid in a dish mastered through a soft squeeze of lime is a nice trick to finish a dish. Try zesting some lime into a sauce just at the end. Be careful because lime zest blackens quickly so make sure to do it at the last minute
8) Martini blanc or Sweet Vermouth is a secret finish to a dish as well to add a hint of sweetness.
9) White asparagus should be cooked until they are limp, not crunchy like we like them in the states
10) Foie gras is not too complicated to make, especially if you make it with a salt process. Serve it on lightly toasted bread spread with a thin layer of chutney plated with a pinch of sea salt on the side of the plate and a pinch of paper. Top with a tiny edible flower and chive. Figs pair great with Foie Gras as well.
11) Rhubard is a great spring fruit. It's great with strawberries, some creme friache + whipped cream and a some shortbread served in a rustic preparation. When cutting strawberries always cut off the top of the fruit where it is white just after the steam. This is flavorless. Mint and berries are a great pairing for summer.
12) With FISH keep your pan not too cold or not too hot (too hot and you will draw all the water out of the fish) Seasoning is VERY important. At home we never season enough. Salt brings out flavor. You can't season things on the inside so you need to season it a bit more on the outside to have an nice amount of flavor.
When the fish hits the pan, and its the right temperature it "sings" a bit. Cook it very slowly and gently. This is a way of cooking now. Cuit a l'unilateral-maximum on one side and just finish on the other. Get a nice color by caramelizing the fish. Once it starts to sweat you will see little white glops on the side and this is how you get color! Don't use too much oil, the pan will caramelize it on its own. Touch a fish TWICE when you put it in and when you take it out. It will keep cooking when you take it off the pan so its ok if it's a little under cooked when it comes off. Always finish with a bit of fresh butter to add some flavor.